Legal Updates


November 21, 2017

The 2017-2019 Biennial Budget (Budget) includes a new provision that authorizes school districts to use electronic communications to notify parents or guardians of children’s truancy in certain circumstances.

Wisconsin law previously provided that notice to a parent or guardian of a child’s truancy had to be made by personal contact, first class mail, or a telephone call for which a written record is kept.  The statute went on to say that notice by personal contact or telephone had to be attempted before notice by first class mail could be given.

The Budget amends Wis. Stat. § 118.16(2)(c) to provide that notice of truancy can also be given by “electronic communication,” while preserving a school district’s ability to give notice by personal contact, first class mail, or a telephone call for which a written record is kept.  The amended statute also treats “electronic communication(s)” as one of the means by which notice must first be attempted before it is appropriate to give notice by first class mail.

There are several provisions of the truancy notice statute that remain unaffected by the Budget.  For example, the notice still must notify the parent or guardian of a child’s truancy and direct the parent or guardian to return the child to school no later than the next day on which school is in session or provide an excuse that is recognized under Wis. Stat. § 118.15.  In addition, notice of truancy still has to be given before the end of the second school day after the school district receives a report of an unexcused absence.  Finally, while the school attendance officer continues to bear the statutory responsibility to notify parents or guardians of truancy, the amended statute does clarify that the school attendance officer is personally responsible for attempting to make contact with parents or guardians by telephone call or by electronic communication before giving notice by first class mail.

The amended statute does include certain elements that have not been fully explained.  For example, the statute does not specifically define “electronic communication(s).”  Text messaging and electronic-mail would at least seem to satisfy the plain meaning of this provision in the absence of a more specific definition.  Nevertheless, it may be that email is preferable in light of the fact that it is recognized as an appropriate means of communication by schools for other purposes and is likely to be more compatible with technologies that are currently used by schools to communicate with parents and guardians on other subjects.

The amended statute also notes that electronic communication is not an appropriate means of providing truancy notices to parents or guardians in circumstances where “the parent or guardian has refused to receive electronic communication….”  The amended statute does not specify the means by which parents or guardians should notify school districts of such an election, however, nor does it appear to create any duty for school districts to advise parents or guardians that they have this option.  Consequently, the statute provides parents or guardians with the option of refusing to receive truancy notices through electronic communications, but at least appears to leave it to parents and guardians to discover that they have this option and to decide how to exercise it.

School districts should bear in mind that these changes in the statute only concern standard truancy notices.  The procedures for giving notice of “habitual” truancy under Wis. Stat. § 118.16(2)(cg) and (cr) were not changed by the Budget and, consequently, formal notices given by registered, certified, or first class mail for habitual truancy will still be required when habitual truancy is at issue.

For questions regarding this article, please contact the author, Attorney Kirk D. Strang (email:; telephone: 844.626.0906 toll free), or your Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy, s.c., attorney.

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