appeals the juvenile court's truancy order entered after
RLP accumulated several unexcused absences from elementary
school during the 2016-2017 school year. He claims that the
Chimacum School District (the District) failed to take the
data-informed steps required under former RCW 28A.225.020
(2016) to eliminate or reduce RLP's absences before the
District filed the truancy petition.
appeal is moot because the juvenile court subsequently
dismissed the truancy matter, but we address one of the
appeal issues because it involves a matter of continuing and
substantial public interest. We hold that the juvenile court
erred in finding that the District met its obligations under
former RCW 28A.225.020 because the District did not take
data-informed steps to eliminate or reduce RLP's
absences, including application of the Washington assessment
of the risks and needs of students (WARNS), before filing the
beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, RLP was 10 years old
and was a 5th grade student at Chimacum Elementary School.
Starting in September 2016, RLP's family experienced
homelessness for a time. RLP began to miss school regularly.
Many of these absences were excused, but some were unexcused.
November 2, Chimacum Elementary School principal Mark Barga
sent a letter to RLP's mother informing her that RLP had
15 absences and 17 tardies in the current school year and
reminding her that school attendance was compulsory under
chapter 28A.225 RCW.
November 15, Barga met with RLP, RLP's mother, and
RLP's teacher to discuss his attendance problems. They
discussed the fact that RLP did not like getting up in the
morning to go to school, but they agreed that the school
would try different things to encourage him and that his
mother would try to encourage him at home as well. RLP's
teacher suggested that RLP could come to school with his
older brother. Because RLP seemed to like being in the school
office, Barga agreed to allow RLP to spend his recess in the
school office as a rest time if he came to school and
completed certain assignments.
March 10, 2017, the District filed a truancy petition with
the juvenile court, asking the court to assume jurisdiction
over RLP's school attendance. The petition alleged that
RLP "has had seven or more unexcused absences in the
current school month, 10 unexcused absences in the current
school year or has failed to comply with a more restrictive
district attendance policy." Clerk's Papers (CP) at
1. The District stated that its steps to eliminate or reduce
RLP's absences included "[l]etters sent, attendance
phone calls made, meeting with principal, teacher offered for
[RLP] to come to school on bus with older brother who is in
middle school." CP at 2.
fact-finding hearing on April 27, Barga testified regarding
the facts recited above. RLP's attendance had not
improved since the November conference. Barga testified from
the attendance report that RLP had 15.5 days of excused
absences, 22 days of unexcused absences, and 49 tardies.
Barga apparently had not spoken with RLP's mother since
the November conference or sent her any additional
communication in writing.
asked whether the school ever took data-informed steps to
reduce or eliminate RLP's absences, Barga replied,
"What do you mean by that?" Report of Proceedings
(RP) at 14. After defense counsel's clarification, Barga
stated that "we're tracking, I'll call it a
behavior, we're tracking the absences and . . . you can
look at what the absent . . . rate was in November and look
at what the absent rate is now and it's virtually
unchanged." RP at 15. Barga testified that the school
had not adjusted RLP's schedule, but that his teacher had
worked hard to make modifications for RLP and had
"basically individualized the program and the work for
[RLP]." RP at 15. Barga also stated that there were
special services available for RLP that he refused to
mother also testified at the hearing. She stated that the
conference with Barga in November was to discuss RLP's
behavior at school and lack of participation, and that his
attendance was only vaguely touched on. A truancy petition
was discussed at the meeting, but ultimately was rejected at
that time because she, Barga, and RLP's teacher thought
it would be detrimental to RLP's progress in school.
RLP's mother agreed that RLP's teacher had made
efforts on his behalf, but she testified that the District
had not spoken to her further after the November conference
about any additional steps that could be taken to address
RLP's continued attendance issues.
juvenile court entered an order finding that RLP had failed
to attend school as required by chapter 28A.225 RCW and that
the District had complied with its duties under former RCW
28A.225.020 to inform RLP's mother of his absences and to
attempt to eliminate or reduce those absences. The court
assumed jurisdiction of RLP's truancy and ordered RLP to
attend school on a regular basis. RLP filed a notice of
appeal regarding the truancy order.
on June 27, the juvenile court dismissed the truancy matter
because the 2016-2017 school year had ended and therefore the
District's petition no longer was necessary.
Nevertheless, RLP has continued to pursue his appeal.
Truancy Statutes - Chapter 28A.225 RCW
school attendance for children between the ages of 8 and 18
is mandatory unless an exception applies. Former RCW
28A.225.010(1) (2014). In 2016, the legislature enacted
significant amendments to chapter 28A.225 RCW, effective June
9, 2016. Laws of 2016, ch. 205. These amendments
expanded the obligations of public schools to address a
student's failure to attend school, introduced the WARNS
assessment as a tool to assess the risks and needs of
individual students, and made community truancy boards
mandatory for all school districts by the beginning of the
2017-2018 school year. Former RCW 28A.225.020(1) (2016); RCW
respect to a student who fails to attend school without
justification, former RCW 28A.225.020(1) states that public
schools must (1) inform the child's parent after one
unexcused absence in any month, (2) schedule a conference
with the parent and child for the purpose of analyzing the
causes of the child's absences after two unexcused