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Cyber-Truancy: Addressing Issues of Attendance in the Digital Age

  • Michigan Virtual University

Abstract and Figures

Although mandatory attendance is easily determined in a traditional, brick-and-mortar school, monitoring and enforcing attendance and truancy in an online environment is less obvious. Despite this challenge, virtual schools, especially those that are publicly funded, have a requirement to ensure that students who are enrolled are actually logging on, completing lessons, and “attending” classes in an online setting���is article describes how attendance and truancy laws apply to online students and explores the notion of cyber-truancy. Within the context of Minnesota Virtual High School, one of the �rst schools to develop online attendance policies, we explore the impact and significance of enforcing cyber-truancy policy.
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Volume 46 Number 1
Journal of Research on Technology in Education | 1
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
Cyber-Truancy: Addressing Issues of Attendance in the Digital Age
JRTE | Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 1–28 | ©2013 ISTE |
Cyber-Truancy: Addressing Issues of
Attendance in the Digital Age
Leanna Archambault
Arizona State University
Kathryn Kennedy
International Association for K12 Online Learning
Stacy Bender
Minnesota Virtual High School
Although mandatory attendance is easily determined in a traditional, brick-
and-mortar school, monitoring and enforcing attendance and truancy in an
online environment is less obvious. Despite this challenge, virtual schools,
especially those that are publicly funded, have a requirement to ensure that
students who are enrolled are actually logging on, completing lessons, and
attending” classes in an online setting. is article describes how attendance
and truancy laws apply to online students and explores the notion of cyber-
truancy. Within the context of Minnesota Virtual High School, one of the
rst schools to develop online attendance policies, we explore the impact and
signicance of enforcing cyber-truancy policy. (Keywords: Virtual schooling,
K–12 online, attendance, truancy, Minnesota Virtual High School)
As we progress into the 21st century, one of the key criticisms of the
U.S. education system has centered on a comparison of our schools
to factories, in which students are grouped by age, where progress
occurs through a series of isolated subjects in a lockstep fashion (Gro,
Smith, & Edmond, 2010). ere are a number of inherent problems with
this model, including a one-size-ts-all approach to instruction that sties
creativity, individuality, and innovation. is, coupled with an emphasis on
recall of declarative factual knowledge associated with high-stakes stan-
dardized testing, is particularly disconcerting, considering that the current
generation of students will face some of the most complex and dicult prob-
lems the world has ever encountered.
One of the mechanisms keeping this antiquated system in place is the stu-
dent evaluation process. Outdated measures of student achievement, particu-
larly seat time, or the number of minutes spent in the classroom, continue to
perpetuate underperformance among students, who are still able to graduate
as a function of attending and minimally participating in a face-to-face setting.
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
Within the traditional school model, students are either physically
present or absent. Attendance is dened as physical presence for a prede-
termined amount of time during which the school holds academic pro-
gramming. is becomes a signicant issue for schools when students are
chronically absent, legally referred to as “truant.” Truancy occurs when stu-
dents’ lack of attendance does not t into the excused categories provided by
the laws of the students’ states of residence. To address this problem, states
have written and implemented truancy laws based on traditional, brick-and-
mortar schools. Schools have an obligation to enforce truancy laws not only
because they are serving as caretakers of students under in loco parentis, but
also because it is the responsibility of the state to educate its citizenry. Under
the current educational system, this responsibility ends simply with students
being physically present in a classroom.
Whereas attendance and truancy are not dicult to determine in the
face-to-face classroom, dening truancy at an online school is challenging
to establish and enforce. However, virtual schools have an equal respon-
sibility to assure that students are attending lessons, progressing in their
learning, and benetting from instruction. Especially in the case of public
online schools, including cyber-charter schools, state-led virtual schools, or
district-level supplemental online classes, a legal obligation exists to ensure
that funds are being spent appropriately. With the growing number of stu-
dents attending online learning programs, the concept of attendance needs
to be revisited and redened to determine how to enforce truancy within the
online setting.
is article oers an examination of current truancy laws and the role
that online schools play in the enforcement of these laws. It explores the
concept of “cyber-truancy” through an analysis of Minnesota truancy laws
and the policies and procedures of Minnesota Virtual High School. e
purpose of this analysis is to examine how truancy laws can and do apply to
online students as well as the responsibility of online schools to enforce state
attendance laws, even as they are currently written. We examine these issues
by exploring the truancy laws, policies, and procedures of the state of Min-
nesota and how the Minnesota Virtual High School has implemented these
existing laws.
Review of Related Research
Significance of School Attendance
Regular school attendance has been established as a key factor in student
achievement in school settings (Gottfried, 2010; Musser, 2011; Roby, 2004),
and more recently, attendance has been determined to be associated with
better performance on standardized test scores (Gottfried, 2011). Research
has shown that consistent attendance is a statistically signicant predictor for
improved performance in school (Musser, 2011). In light of this relationship,
Volume 46 Number 1
Journal of Research on Technology in Education | 3
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
monitoring attendance becomes an important factor in assisting students
and families to increase school achievement. In addition, lack of attendance
is an indicator of students who may be at risk and require intervention on
the part of school personnel (Musser, 2011).
A chronic lack of attendance without legitimate reason, or truancy, is
a signicant issue that continues to present a challenge to schools. ere
are many possible reasons for truancy that may be school and/or student
related. School characteristics may include poor leadership, lack of com-
mitment to school improvement, inexperienced administrators, high sta
turnover, and ill-advised policies (Sheldon, 2007). Internal family issues
that aect attendance include socio-economic status (SES), family attitudes
toward education, parental situations, and child abuse and neglect (Teasley,
2004). Balfanz and Byrnes (2012) identify three major reasons for students
missing school: (a) students who cannot attend school due to illness, family
responsibility, homelessness, having to work, or dealing with the juvenile
justice system; (b) students who will not attend school due to bullying, safety
concerns, harassment, etc.; and (c) students who do not attend due to a lack
of value either on their part or the part of their parents, or nothing prevents
them from not attending. Currently, millions of students are missing exten-
sive amounts of schooling, with compounding negative eects (Balfanz &
Byrnes, 2012).
Given the signicant role attendance plays in student achievement, in
addition to the goal of decreasing the likelihood that students engage in
delinquent or destructive behaviors (Sheldon, 2007), schools are responsible
for making sure that students are physically present in classrooms on a daily
basis and, if they are not, taking necessary steps to determine the reasons
behind such truancy. Schools, both brick and mortar and virtual, are respon-
sible for intervening to correct the underlying problem. Not only are they
obligated by state law to enforce truancy statutes, but it is benecial for them
to leverage state resources to help promote student success. e most posi-
tive outcomes are experienced when schools, families, and students work to-
gether to solve the problem of truancy in schools (Gullatt & Lemoine, 1997).
Due to a lack of funding needed to dedicate sta and personnel to pursue
truancy violations, including ling necessary paperwork and spending time
in court, schools are oen reluctant to le truancy petitions (Smink & Heil-
brunn, 2005). Unfortunately, the cost of looking the other way can be more
devastating to society. According to Heilbrunn (2007), dropouts are unpre-
pared to enter the workforce and use additional social services and criminal
justice process services than do graduates. Each dropout costs the public
an average of $800,000 over the course of the individual’s lifetime (Smink
& Heilbrunn, 2005). In addition, as adults, those who were truant are more
likely than others to be incarcerated, live in poverty, have poor physical and
mental health, work in low-paying jobs, use public assistance extensively,
and have children with behavior problems (Baker, Sigmon, & Nugent, 2001).
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
us, attendance issues not dealt with can lead to a destructive cycle of
increased truancy, dropout rates, and subsequent poverty (Smink & Heilb-
runn, 2005).
Virtual Schooling: Growth and Concerns
From 1891 to the present, distance education has evolved and ourished in
the United States. In the past 25 years, K–12 online learning in particular
has emerged as an educational choice for youth around the nation. e rst
virtual school, Laurel Springs, opened in 1991. Today there are countless
numbers of online learning programs for K–12 students. In fact, as of 2011,
K–12 online learning programs are present in every state and the District of
Columbia (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, & Rapp, 2011). ese programs
also vary in their amount of Web-based instruction. While some schools are
fully online, others are blended, oering a mixture of online and face-to-face
Recognizing the importance of preparing students to learn in online
environments, some states have mandated taking an online course or online
learning experience as a high school graduation requirement, includ-
ing Michigan in 2006, New Mexico in 2007, Alabama in 2008, and, most
recently, Virginia in 2012 (Sheehy, 2012). is has led to an increase in the
number of students taking online courses, with district-led online programs
and blended learning initiatives becoming the fastest growing trend in K–12
online learning (Watson et al., 2012, 2011).
Research focused on establishing the eectiveness of online learning has
led to a number completed meta-analyses. ese studies have compared
various learning outcomes from online learning environments to traditional
ones and have concluded no signicant dierence between the two. In addi-
tion, online education resulted in similar outcomes to traditional instruction
(Bernard et al., 2004; Cavanaugh et al., 2004; Means et al, 2009; Ungerleider
& Burns, 2003). With the conrmation of the viability of K–12 online educa-
tion, recent literature has begun to delve into other areas of consideration,
including student characteristics (Roblyer, 2002–2003), teacher character-
istics (Archambault & Crippen, 2009), and teacher preparation for online
environments (Kennedy & Archambault, 2012).
Although online education has been in existence for a relatively short
amount of time, recent advancement shows enrollment in K–12 online
learning continues to grow at an exponential rate throughout the United
States (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, & Rapp, 2011). With this expan-
sion, the issue of monitoring and enforcing attendance becomes problem-
atic. is is because the traditional denition of truancy in a brick-and-
mortar school (a certain number of unexcused absences over a given period
of time) does not easily translate to the online environment. One of the
issues has been that attempting to track seat time in the online environ-
ment is complex. Currently, 36 states have moved more toward completion
Volume 46 Number 1
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Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
or competency-based progress as a method for measuring student progress
through prociency-based diplomas, credit exibility, or seat-time waiv-
ers (Patrick & Sturgis, 2013). A competency-based approach means that
students must demonstrate mastery of specic skills to progress to higher-
level work and earn credits toward high school graduation. Progress toward
meeting predetermined criteria, as established by multiple measures, rather
than an arbitrary number of minutes spent sitting in a classroom, deter-
mines when students complete a class and fullls the requirements neces-
sary for graduation (Sturgis & Patrick, 2010). However, this progress must
be carefully monitored to ensure that students are, in fact, moving forward
and mastering the necessary skills. is requires a carefully coordinated plan
with ongoing formative assessment that drives instruction.
With advances in K–12 online curricula and instruction, the possibility
for individualized instruction based on mastery is increasingly feasible. In
the online environment, students are not bound by traditional age group-
ings that may or may not correlate with their skill levels in particular content
areas. However, despite the growing popularity of online education, one of
the challenges has been to ensure that students are in fact “attending” and
receiving instruction as well as progressing in their studies. How is com-
pulsory attendance monitored in the online classroom? How does a virtual
school determine when a student has a problem with excessive absenteeism,
and more important, what do they do when this is the case?
Because many areas of concern with online education, particularly policy
issues such as attendance and truancy, have not yet been examined, we wanted
to explore ways and implications of establishing a mechanism for track-
ing student attendance in the online environment. Given the nature of this
advancement, the issue of attendance and truancy in the online environment,
or cyber-truancy, needs to be considered. us far, this topic has not been
addressed systematically in the literature, but as online programs continue to
grow and expand to serve an ever-increasing number of students, exploring
models of how to deal with attendance issues in virtual settings is critical.
e purpose of this study is to examine how truancy laws can and do
apply to online students, as well as the responsibility of online schools to
enforce state attendance laws, even as they are currently written. Using a
case-study design, we examine these issues by exploring the truancy laws,
policies, and procedures of the state of Minnesota and how these existing
laws have been implemented at Minnesota Virtual High School.
Theoretical Framework
School engagement has been identied as important to overall student suc-
cess and school completion (Finn, 1993). According to Finn’s Participation-
Identication Model of School Engagement, active student participation,
along with a feeling of identication with the school, are vital aspects to
graduation (Figure 1, p. 6). Student participation can be determined by
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
school attendance in addition to coming to school prepared and participat-
ing in various activities, including those that are extracurricular. According
to Finn (1993), “Attendance is a particularly important participatory behav-
ior throughout the school years because non-attendance prevents the young-
ster from being exposed to learning activities and to other eorts to promote
his or her involvement” (p. 10, emphasis in original). Student participation
in activities is directly related to successful school performance, which pro-
motes identication, by which students internalize a feeling of belonging as
part of the school (Finn, 1993).
Finns model concentrates primarily on the behavioral as well as the aec-
tive aspects of school engagement. One can measure behavioral elements by
examining attendance, avoidance of disciplinary action, classroom partici-
pation, and involvement in extracurricular activities. Aective measures
include feelings of belonging and identication with school. As Finn (1993)
notes, “As long as early participation is accompanied by some rewards for
success, a sense of comfort or ‘belonging’ can develop and become internal-
ized. e inuence of performance rewards plus the increased identication
with school serve to perpetuate youngsters’ active participation in the class-
room and the school environment generally” (p. 15). If students are actively
engaged in their school environment, then they are more likely to persist in
the face of diculty and avoid negative outcomes, including failing classes,
dropping out, and/or engaging in delinquent behaviors (Finn & Cox, 1992).
What remains to be seen is how school engagement in a traditional environ-
ment translates to an online one, and what mechanisms need to be in place
to encourage students to continue their participation and help them develop
a sense of identity within an online school.
In addition to behavior and aective aspects, there are also cognitive
measures of engagement, including motivation, self-regulation, and strategy
use. Banduras social cognitive theory (1989) emphasizes the importance of
modeling and observation of others’ behaviors as a primary mechanism of
Figure 1. Participation Identificat ion Model ( Adapted from Finn, 1993 )
Volume 46 Number 1
Journal of Research on Technology in Education | 7
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
learning. It recognizes the signicance of ongoing interactions among be-
havioral, cognitive, and environmental factors and can be applied to online
rough a constructed online environment, students learn via model-
ing and observation. Being an active participant through observation and
modeling in the online environment enables students to learn what is being
taught. Because students learn from and within this environment, those
who are not present are not exposed to the required content, and they have
diculty producing the same results as those who regularly attend. Bandura
outlines four specic aspects of the modeling process: (a) attention—to learn
anything, students must pay attention, (b) retention—students must be able
to remember what they have been paying attention to, (c) reproduction—
students need to translate observation into behavior, and (d) motivation—to
be able to accomplish anything, students must have sucient reinforcement
to want to do so (Bandura, 1989). In addition, certain cognitive measures are
predictors of academic success in K–12 online education, including self-
regulation, self-motivation, the ability to structure ones own learning, previ-
ous experience with technology, a good attitude toward the content, and
self-condence in academic endeavors (Roblyer & Marshall, 2002–2003).
For each of these elements to occur, a student must be present in an online
environment in order to successfully make progress. is progress can then
serve as a measure of attendance rather than seat time.
Taking into consideration the behavioral, aective, and cognitive aspects
of school engagement, by virtue of the state laws in which they are operating,
virtual schools have a legal obligation and responsibility to monitor students
in online environments. is includes whether or not students are logging
on and what learning outcomes they accomplish during this time. Currently,
the extent to which attendance laws are enforced in online environments is
unknown, and this is an area for future research. e current study, however,
provides an in-depth look at how one such virtual school is addressing this
issue. As such, the research questions for the current study are as follows:
1. How do the concepts of compulsory attendance and truancy apply to
the K–12 online learning environment? What is cyber-truancy?
2. How might attendance and truancy be enforced in a virtual school setting?
is study took place in the state of Minnesota at Minnesota Virtual High
School (MVHS). is is a fully online virtual school that oers classes to
middle and high school students throughout the state. MVHS serves ap-
proximately 1,350 students. Students can take single classes to supplement
their traditional, face-to-face schools, or they can choose to go to MVHS full
time. If they choose full time, upon graduation, students receive a diploma
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
from the accredited public charter school, Minnesota Transitions Charter
School, which sponsors MVHS.
e current study used stratied purposeful selection of cases (Patton,
2002). is method allows for researchers to study cases within cases. Specif-
ically, the researchers chose cyber-truancy practices within Minnesota and
particularly those associated with MVHS. In addition, further stratication
is illustrated by the focus on individual students within this context from
various counties to see how the application of cyber-truancy aects them. To
attain this information, the researchers focused on the experiences of Stacy
Bender, dean of students at MVHS, and her processes surrounding the phe-
nomenon of cyber-truancy. It should be noted that her role in the current
research was two-fold: both as a researcher/observer and as a participant.
According to Spradley (1980), two purposes exist for participant observa-
tion: (a) to observe the activities, people, and aspects of a situation; and (b)
to participate in activities that provide useful information and are appropri-
ate given a specic context. Because of her administrative position, Bender’s
role was that of a privileged, active observer throughout the course of the
research. is introduces the potential for bias concerning cyber-truancy,
including how related policies are developed and implemented. However, in
interviewing the dean of students, the two lead researchers sought to mini-
mize this by working together to examine the data, comparing impressions
with each other, and member checking with the dean to ensure accuracy.
In addition, because of the small sample size, generalizing to other settings
is not recommended. Despite the lack of transferability, key characteristics
from this case can help to illuminate and illustrate the importance of explor-
ing cyber-truancy issues and policies.
Data Collection
is study used case-study methods (Yin, 2004). Case-study methodol-
ogy requires detailed investigation of a situation (Feagin, Orum, & Sjoberg,
1991). In this case, it allowed the researchers to examine cyber-truancy in
Minnesota, specically at MVHS. is case study, as in all case studies, helps
to illuminate the intricacies of a given situation using multiple data sources.
We collected data sources from the Minnesota Attendance and Truancy Stat-
utes, Chisago County Truancy Policy, and interviews with the dean of stu-
dents, whose position it is to monitor truancy and enforce attendance in the
online school. We sought documents and sources that would give a complete
exploration and description of cyber-truancy both within the school and in
the legal process (Yin, 1994). e phenomenon of cyber-truancy has shown
up only recently in the media (Bender, 2010).
In addition to collecting the policy documents, we interviewed the dean
of students, who enforces attendance and monitors cyber-truancy at MVHS.
Volume 46 Number 1
Journal of Research on Technology in Education | 9
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
e interviews were semi-structured and used interview guides. e semi-
structure of the interviews also allowed for the use of prompts and follow-up
questions if an answer required clarication. ere were three interviews,
and each interview lasted between 50 and 90 minutes. ere was a need
for multiple interviews with the dean because it allowed time to review the
additional data sources between interviews and ask follow-up questions on
those additional data sources. Interviews centered on asking the dean of
students key questions about dierent student cases of cyber-truancy and
their outcomes. Her position puts her in direct contact with every truant
student at Minnesota Virtual High School. She keeps track of each student
on a tracking sheet, which allows her to have the relevant information about
each student, the steps that MVHS has taken to intervene, and the upcoming
court or county meeting dates that she needs to attend. is sheet also docu-
ments if the student has a truancy agency or social worker who can support
the student in terms of attendance. We conducted interviews with the dean
of students over the phone, recorded them using a digital recorder, and
transcribed them. Phone interviews had advantages in this particular situ-
ation due to the fact that the researcher participant (dean of students) was
located in Minnesota, and the other two researchers were located in Maine
and Arizona. We made contact prior to the interview to build a comfortable
relationship prior to the rst interview (Seidman, 2006).
e interview guides consisted of an explanation of the study and ques-
tions to answer and discuss. Questions and prompts for the interviews
included the following:
Dene cyber-truancy.
Describe your process of establishing a cyber-truancy policy at MVHS.
Describe how cyber-truancy is enforced at MVHS.
How do the concepts of compulsory attendance and truancy apply to the
K–12 online learning environment?
How might attendance and truancy be enforced in a virtual school set-
What is the impact of enforcing cyber-truancy policy, and why is it im-
What are examples of students who have been aected by the enforce-
ment of cyber-truancy?
What motivates you to help students who are truant?
Data Analysis
We analyzed data using multiple methods. We analyzed the policies with
the help of the dean of students’ interviews, both during interviews as well
as via note-taking that the dean had done on her own. Prior to interviews,
we reviewed the policies and the deans notes on the policies. During the
interviews, we asked questions based on our reviews and the dean’s notes.
10 |
Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
Based on the deans additional explanations, we were able to understand the
decisions that were made to align attendance policy with K–12 online learn-
ing environments. She was able to provide a historical background as well
as a description of the problems that sparked the policy creation. She also
explicated the goals of the policy and addressed the feasibility and impact of
implementation (Karger & Stoesz, 2009). e analysis of these documents
allowed us to better understand a problem, suggest possible solutions, and
examine the results of implementation in a given context.
In addition to analyzing the documents, we transcribed all interviews
with the dean of students verbatim. en we listened to the interviews a
second time to ensure that the transcriptions were accurate, noting pauses
and emphases where applicable. We then assigned open codes to each of the
interviews by using meaning-units as points of separation. We read the data
and coded, focusing on excerpts that elicited qualities of applicants and the
actions that ensue based on those qualities. Codes that we used included
open (rst level), focused (second level), and selective (third level) (Strauss
& Corbin, 1998). en we reviewed the data to see what themes were con-
sistent (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). We used memoing to help move the coding
of the data to a more analytic level by seeing how codes at dierent levels of
analysis worked together to create a greater understanding. ese steps col-
lectively provided a way to identify common themes within the interviews.
Data Validation
Qualitative research is validated dierently from quantitative research—i.e.,
“formal comparisons, sampling strategies, or statistical manipulations that
control for’ the eect of particular variables” (Maxwell, 1998, p. 91). In addi-
tion, validation of qualitative research relies more on trust and authenticity
(Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). To ensure credibility, transferability, dependabil-
ity, and conrmability, we used member checks, feedback, and discrepant/
negative instance scans. Aer we collected and analyzed the data and wrote
conclusions, we asked the dean of students to review the ndings. is
ensured the depiction stayed true to the actual experience (Guba & Lincoln,
1994; Miles & Huberman, 1994). Finally, while we were analyzing data, we
checked to make sure that we could nd no discrepant/negative instances
that counteracted the ndings (Miles & Huberman, 1994).
Minnesota’s Online Learning Law
Examining Minnesotas state law pertaining to online education reveals that
per-pupil state funding follows students from their traditional schools to the
online setting (Minnesota Statute 124D.095). As a result, an online school
is a public school, and its students then are subject to state attendance and
truancy laws. As with many issues related to education, laws and deni-
Volume 46 Number 1
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Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
tions regarding truancy dier in each state. In Minnesota, Statutes 120A.22
and 260A require that, once students enroll in school or by age 7, they must
attend school every hour of every school day through the age of 18, unless
or until they are formally withdrawn with parental consent aer age 16. e
law grants schools the ability to dene what is considered an excused or
unexcused absence (see Appendix A, p. 24). e diculty lies in being able
to apply an outdated compulsory attendance law to an online environment.
Attendance Enforcement at MVHS
According to the dean of students, MVHS uses a competency-based calcula-
tion to determine what attendance means in the online classroom. Fund-
ing is not based on the number of hours that a student “sits” in the online
classroom; rather, it is based on course completion and credits earned by the
students. Because students can work at any time of day/night from any place,
the only common denominator among them is progress completion. What
takes one student to complete in 1 hour may take another student 3 hours.
However, the required number of assignments to be completed in a spe-
cic course remains constant for all students in that course. While the path
students take to that completion will likely dier, the anticipated outcome
is the same. From the dean’s perspective, the reason that the conversion to
progress-based attendance makes sense is that attendance requires a con-
stant. In seat-based schools, this constant is time in a school building. is
does not work for online schools, so a constant needed to be based on the
goal of the virtual school. What made the most sense as a goal was students
passing classes and earning credits.
e progress model assumes that the goal is students passing classes. It then
divides that requirement over the course of weeks, and ultimately days, in the
school term. Based on this goal, MVHS school ocials determine the required
percentage of increase in each class per week toward full completion. Most
students take a minimum of ve classes each semester. School ocials divided
the total percentage of completion needed to earn credit by the number of
weeks in a semester and multiplied it by ve classes. is equates to a 25% in-
crease needed (cumulatively considering all classes) per week for attendance.
Aer deliberation and consideration, MVHS administration collectively de-
termined that each 5% increase amounted to one school day based on a 5-day
school week, as is found in traditional schools. For example, if a student fails
to make 10% progress in a particular week, that student would be considered
absent for 2 days (Table 1, p. 12).
Aligning student progress toward course completion with a number of
days based on a predetermined expectation provides virtual schools a way to
calculate attendance. Although this formula may not work for other online
programs, the policy necessitates computing a specic amount of progress to
a “school day.” In doing so, existing attendance and truancy laws that do not
directly speak to online learning processes become applicable. Translating
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
and dening truancy vocabulary words (attendance, unexcused absence, ex-
cused absence, etc.) for the online environment in a way that county ocials
can easily interpret allowed MVHS to use and enforce existing compulsory
attendance statutes.
Academic Considerations
e dean also indicated that students who become truant because of academic
struggles will also be identied and will have academic interventions rather
than truancy interventions. Using progress as a measure allows MVHS to
monitor who is struggling academically as well as those students who are ab-
sent/truant. In either case, identifying students who are struggling to progress
is vital. e investigation into why a student is behind is part of the interven-
tion teams responsibility to know how best to get students to meet their goals.
e majority of students who require truancy intervention need it because
they simply are not accessing the curriculum or because they are not spending
the time necessary to master the content in their coursework. ese students
need formal intervention designed to assist the school in getting them online
or registered back in a traditional classroom setting. Oen, these students
either have the ability but lack the motivation, or they are not able to self-regu-
late enough to complete their studies online.
Feasibility of Truancy Enforcement in Minnesota Virtual Schools
One of identied themes included truancy enforcement in the state of
Minnesota. is is a topic that the dean expounded on during her inter-
views with the researchers. In enforcing the truancy statutes, each of the 87
counties in Minnesota diers in its method and approach. Whereas some
counties place students on probation, others provide social services to assist
students in reestablishing acceptable attendance. Despite the variation, the
responsibility for the initial reporting of truant students falls on the schools.
Once students accrue seven unexcused absences or more, schools must le
truancy petitions in the students’ counties of residence. rough this ling,
schools, county representatives, and families of truant students become con-
nected in an eort to support improved attendance, interpreted in the online
setting as student progress and performance.
Minnesota Virtual High Schools enforcement procedures, including
the development of specic interventions, have continued to develop in
response to students’ needs. Initially, Chisago County ocials approached
Table 1. Example of Student Progress Conversion to Number of Absences
Week 1 Percentage of Work Completion Week 1 Days Absent/Potentially Truant
Student A 5% 4 days
Student B 10% 3 days
Student C 25% 0 days
Volume 46 Number 1
Journal of Research on Technology in Education | 13
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
Wolf Creek Online High School and asked why the school did not petition
truants to county intervention. In response to this inquiry, while employed
at Wolf Creek, the dean of students worked with the county attorney and the
administrative team to review the state statutes and develop a cyber-truancy
policy that would apply to the online environment.When she moved to the
position at MVHS, the dean of students, in collaboration with the direc-
tor, modied this policy to t the needs of the new school. In her current
role, the dean of students is responsible for implementing and enforcing the
cyber-truancy policy as well as the policy of attending all county meetings
and court hearings. She expounded on that process in one of her interviews:
In coordination with the director of the MVHS, I wrote the attendance
policy for MVHS. We used the Chisago (MN) County required atten-
dance elements as our foundation and referred to Wolf Creek Online
High School’s attendance policy for guidance. We then dened the vari-
ous terms (attendance, absence, etc.) based on how they apply to the stu-
dents at MVHS given the Internet-based learning environment found at
MVHS. We chose to use progress as our measurement of attendance rath-
er than amount of time spent online due to the fact that some students
take longer or less time than others to complete the same amount of work;
however, the expectation of the school is that students make progress to-
ward successful completion of their courses. (Int. 2, DS)
e dean explained that, at rst, parents/guardians can struggle with the con-
cept, but that she holds weekly parental webinars to walk through the tracking
spreadsheets, where the information comes from, and how students can achieve
the requirements, as well as to allow parents/guardians to ask questions, which
she reports has proven to be very helpful. In addition, she noted:
e rst line of intervention is always to attemptto have a parent meet-
ing one on one with a truancy intervention sta in order to address
specic issues.Truancy problems tend to be worse when parents/guard-
ians are not receptive to this process. Typically, those who do engage are
able to help resolve the issue without their students requiringtruancy
intervention.(Int. 3, DS)
To assist in the tracking process, an attendance coordinator was hired to
monitor student progress and send warning letters when necessary (see Ap-
pendix B, p. 26). e following September, the department grew with the ad-
dition of another attendance coordinator as well as two truancy intervention
program specialists, whose job it is to intercede before students become legally
truant. e intervention program specialists help students get back on track
to successful course completion by making additional phone calls to students,
assisting students in contacting teachers, and talking parents through the
structure and mechanics of the online platform. is is accomplished using a
tracking system to monitor student progress in the online environment so
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
that personnel are aware of potential issues with student attendance (Fig-
ure 2). Personnel attempt to intervene using communication as a primary
mechanism. MVHS anticipates an increase in course completion as well as
a decrease in truancy lings at the county level because of the addition of
these positions and procedures. e dean of students described more about
how attendance and truancy might be enforced in a virtual school setting
and what impact that enforcement may have:
Attendance and truancy can be enforced in the virtual school in the same
way that it is in a seat-based school. e main dierence is what is being
measured (progress vs. time in a seat). Similar consequences and inter-
ventions can be used in the online setting: parent/student/school meet-
ings, referrals to counties to intervene, and court attendance if the truancy
cannot be remedied. In Minnesota, students who do not attend school
for 15 consecutive days or more must be dropped from their schools’
enrollment. Enforcing cyber-truancy policies supports student engage-
ment, learning, and course completion. Students who do not attend are
not learning and jeopardize their graduation date. is is not an easy part
of the online school as it requires personnel and resources; however, its
positive impact makes it important. One of the most important impacts
is that students who are not doing well in the online environment can
be identied sooner and counseled to change their behavior or change
school settings. (Int. 2, DS)
Figure 2 is an example of a student’s Excel spreadsheet used at Minnesota
Virtual High School to track weekly, progress-based attendance. Each stu-
dent has a spreadsheet to track their individual attendance because there are
87 counties in Minnesota, and each county requires dierent information
when ling a truancy petition or requesting an intervention. e spread-
sheet includes all of the information required in the 87 counties.
e numbers in each of the columns next to the class names represent
the course grade the student has earned in that class as of the last date in
the week. To attain this information, sta members run a report and then
input the numbers. A sta member with knowledge of macros in Excel has
written a macro to make this possible without too much sta time. Prior to
this method, MVHS used to copy and paste the numbers into each students
e numbers in the bold boxes are the result of formulas used to deter-
mine the progress that a student has made over the week and his/her atten-
dance for the week. e “Total Percentage of All Classes to Date” designates
a cumulative sum of each weeks snapshot, which in turn calculates the
course grade in all classes. A formula conveniently does the calculations for
the school. e “Weekly Increase” section provides the dierence between
the current week and the week prior; this number should be 25 or higher if
a student is in full attendance for the week. And again, a formula does this
Volume 46 Number 1
Journal of Research on Technology in Education | 15
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
work for the school. “Days Absent Each Week” is a row that represents the
subtraction of the “Weekly Increase” divided by 5 from the number of days
in a week (5) and determines the number of days that a students has been
absent each week, which allows them to have negative absences and make
up work or work ahead in the system. And nally, the “Cumulative Absences
in Term” constitutes the total absences a student has had in the term. is
particular row is very important in Minnesota because when a student ac-
cumulates seven absences, he/she is considered truant and could be sum-
moned before a judge.
It is important to note that that this approach does not assume that time
must be spent online each day. In fact, it is based on the premise that ongo-
ing progress to complete course content/assignments needs to be made on
a regular (in this case, weekly) basis. e focus of this approach to online
attendance is to promote exibility, productivity, and accountability. While
the formulas that Minnesota Virtual High School uses are described, a simi-
lar concept could be applied to any virtual school to track the attendance of
students. e dean of students at MVHS has assisted other virtual programs
in developing a similar concept.
Despite these eorts to track students and aer the interventions, if a student
continues to accrue unexcused absences, MVHS les a truancy petition in the
student’s county of residence, provides documentation of the absences, and
makes appearances in court as required by the counties. e way that Minnesota
Figure 2. Example of M VHS attendance tracking .
16 |
Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
counties execute their roles in the attendance and truancy statutes diers as
much as the landscape of Minnesota itself. Although the statutes provide guid-
ance to the counties, there is not a mandated course of action that they must
follow, and each county enforces in varying ways. From the deans perspective
and experiences in dealing with a myriad of counties on truancy enforcement,
some counties take a punitive approach while others take a preventative or
restorative approach and use punitive measures only as a last resort. e follow-
ing descriptions represent identied themes associated with various counties.
Punitive Approach
Counties that lean toward a punitive approach call students and families
directly into court without any county worker outreach prior to court. e
judges in these counties may give one chance for change in behavior, but
subsequently, a review hearing of 30 days may be set. At the review hear-
ing, the student’s school attendance is questioned. If the student has met the
attendance requirement, the judge may dismiss the case. If the student has
continued to be absent without excuse, the judge will sentence the student
to time at a “consequence camp,” resulting in community service or a ne. In
many circumstances, the judge will order the student to attend a traditional
school rather than the online school as a way to provide a more structured
environment with more typical rules in place. In these counties, MVHS
reports to the court about the students attendance (progress), and the court
determines the path for the student. From the deans perspective, this ap-
proach does not necessarily focus on the underlying problem and is more
reactive in nature. It penalizes students for not attending and associates a
consequence for their past actions. Although it might remove students from
online settings who are not a good t, it may not get at the root of what is
causing the cyber-truancy, which could lead to continued problems.
Preventative/Restorative Approach
Other counties take an approach that attempts to prevent further truancy or
involvement with the court. In these instances, a diversion worker—either a
social worker or probation ocer—will meet with the family, question the
cause of the truancies, and attempt to assist the family in complying with the
law. In these cases, the social worker connects the families with social ser-
vices, counseling, and other agencies to alleviate issues that may be underly-
ing causes of the students truancy. e diversion worker follows the family
closely and ensures that criteria for staying out of court are met. e school
and the diversion worker collaborate together in these cases to guide the
family to correct choices for attendance compliance. e goal of a preventive
approach is to identify the root cause and work to prevent cyber-truancy
from happening in the future. A more preventive approach accesses social
services to assist students and their families in solving existing problems as-
sociated with attendance.
Volume 46 Number 1
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Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
e following section describes examples of individual cases that the
dean of students provided as a result of her direct interaction with indi-
vidual students who were truant and their cases within the court system. She
selected the proled students to illustrate the dierent approaches counties
take when it comes to cyber-truancy, in addition to the outcomes that might
result. She also chose them to illustrate the dierences that exist with indi-
vidual student situations.
Impact of Cyber-Truancy Enforcement: Individual Student Cases
Natasha1. Natasha, a 10th grade student, had truancy issues at her high school
throughout 9th and 10th grade. Attempting to avoid court proceedings, she
enrolled at Minnesota Virtual High School in the fall. Natasha found that
work and friends took priority over school. She became truant by MVHS’s
denition, which included not logging in to the online curriculum for days
and weeks at a time.According to the dean of students, while extreme, this is
not entirely uncommon in Minnesota. Many students who end up in court
because of a traditional truancy violation based on seat time will register for
an online school thinking that they will be able to avoid the judicial system.
Due to her issues with cyber-truancy, the attendance team at Minnesota
Virtual High School referred her to her county of residence. Natasha’s coun-
ty used a punitive approach. Typically, students who live in punitive counties
oen choose to return to traditional schools, as they ultimately learn that the
standard of attendance based on seat time is easier to follow than that of an
online school using a competency-based approach.
A social worker determined that, due to her history with truancy, Natasha
needed to go directly to court. When her family heard this, they chose to
re-enroll Natasha in her local, traditional school. e social worker assisted
the family in communicating with the district about an appropriate school
placement. When the student went to court, the judge issued stern words to
Natasha and required that she complete community service hours as well as
return for a review hearing in 60 days. e judge warned that Natasha could
be sentenced to time in juvenile detention if she missed even a single day of
school in those 60 days. Natasha returned to court, and her case was dis-
missed because she had followed all of the judges orders.
Allison. Allison, a seventh grade student, enrolled at Minnesota Virtual
High School while her parents went through a divorce. Allison lived with her
mother, who worked the rst shi and had to leave Allison at home during
the day. Her mother’s expectation was that Allison would do her schoolwork;
instead, Allison spent her time elsewhere. She became truant, and the at-
tendance team at MVHS notied her mother through letters and phone calls.
Because this did not resolve the issue, the attendance team referred Allison
1 Pseud onyms a re used to p rotect s tuden t identi ties.
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
to her county of residence for truancy. Allison’s county uses a preventative
approach, which allowed social services assign a social worker to identify the
issues leading to truancy, work with the school, and take steps to return Al-
lison to attendance without the need for punitive action. Despite this restor-
ative approach and intervention, Allison’s truancy continued, and the county
contemplated referring the student to court. In this case, the dean of students
at MVHS was able to intervene and provide Allison with very concrete in-
structions concerning her participation in the online setting, and she told her
that if she did not follow these directions, she would be dealing with the court
system in her county. Fortunately, Allison chose to follow the guidelines, and
because of this, she avoided court, stayed enrolled at the online school, and
became a successful student, earning As and B’s in her classes.
Marcus. Marcus, an11th gradestudent, enrolled at MVHS during the sec-
ond semester of the school year. Marcus was on probation for fraudulently
charging on his mother’s credit card, and as part of the probation order, he
was to attend school each and every day. In Marcus’ case, the countywas
punitive due to his prior illegal actions.However, they also allowedMarcus
to remain in the online school, hoping that the punitive approach would get
him toattend.To help him succeed, the school intervened by identifying the
barriers to attendance, working with Marcus to help him see that attendance
was in his best interest through conversations with the dean of students. e
truancy interventionist worked with Marcus tocomplete daily and weekly
checklists. As Marcus completed his assignments, he discovered that he
wasa successful student.By engaging more with the school and the curricu-
lum, his eorts were reinforced, which led him to see himself assuccessful
rather than as a failure. e truancy intervention sta built on this success
by having conversations with Marcus about his future, allowing him to con-
nect his current success with future dreams.
Within a few weeks, the probation oce from the student’s county of resi-
dence contacted the school to request weekly attendance records. Coincid-
ing with the request, Marcus had a bad week and did not attend at all.e
probation ocer reported the violation, and Marcus, his family, and a school
representative were required to attend a court hearing. As a result of the
hearing, Marcus was required to serve a weekend at the local consequence
camp, where he had to perform community service, attend group sessions
about behavior, and complete missed school work. is sequence of events
occurred again before Marcus realized that he could make positive changes
and healthy choices to avoid consequences. Soon, he began to realize that he
was good at school work. In a conversation with the dean of students, Mar-
cus shared that he would like to attend college someday and possibly become
a social worker. He recognized the amount of time and commitment on the
part of the probation ocer, and he wanted to be able to do that for others.
Due to the nature of his oense, Marcus will remain on probation for another
year, but he continues to stay on track and is keeping up with his coursework.
Volume 46 Number 1
Journal of Research on Technology in Education | 19
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
In the case of MVHS, enforcing mandatory attendance required coming
together to establish a common understanding of what it meant to attend
in an online setting, including developing denitions of attendance, unex-
cused absences, and excused absences. Although this presented a challenge
at rst, it was decided that progress on instructional activities toward course
completion could be converted using an agreed-upon formula. Once this
was established, tracking and enforcing attendance became straightforward,
and MVHS was able to use a consistent interpretation of existing attendance
laws that were originally intended for use in traditional, brick-and-mortar
settings. is is important because it allowed the virtual school to implement
enforcement of chronic unexcused absences in addition to oering better
understanding of the benets of addressing cyber-truancy. Several themes
are evident from the current study, including the fact that ensuring student
success in K–12 online learning environments requires additional resources,
communication, and education for stakeholders.
Additional Resources
Although it may seem like a dicult task, enforcement of truancy statutes
is mandated by state law. MVHS has taken up this charge by committing
resources to follow through to monitor the individual progress of students,
keep track of absences, and enforce cyber-truancy. is takes dedicated sta
who are well versed in the curriculum, system tracking, and working with
families to address potential problems. MVHS decided to create several
positions, including two new attendance coordinators as well as two truancy
intervention program specialists, and dedicated an administrative role to
oversee the process. is investment in human resources has yielded positive
results in helping to keep students on track in the online environment. Other
students, for whom online education is not a good t, should be counseled
into more traditional settings. In fact, truancy courts have ordered students
to return to brick-and-mortar schools, as was the case with Natasha.
Due to signicant documented issues of student dropout and attrition rates
in addition to lack of achievement in online settings (Hawkins & Barbour,
2010; Miron & Urshel, 2012; Rice, 2006; Smith, Clark, & Blomeyer, 2005), vir-
tual schools need to take an active role in overseeing students’ progress, which
may require additional sta focused specically in this area. If progression is
not occurring, it is incumbent upon the virtual school to dedicate resources to
investigate the situation, determine what level of intervention should be made,
and evaluate the outcome. In some cases, this might include utilizing existing
state attendance and truancy laws to access social services.
With personnel in place who can monitor student progress, communication
becomes a vital component. MVHS has found that keeping track of student
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
Volume 46 Number 1
Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
progress in the online environment allows for early intervention. At times,
this simply means notifying a parent/guardian (see Appendix B, p. 26). e
school must also make sure that parents understand what is required of
students, how MVHS is calculating absences, and what needs to be accom-
plished to avoid being considered absent. Although parents/guardians may
not understand the concept at rst because they are more familiar with the
traditional notion of seat time, communication through parental meetings,
webinars, and e-mails serve to explain how students can achieve the require-
ments. is communication is also important to acquaint parents/guardians
with the tracking mechanisms used to determine attendance in the online
setting so that they can help to ensure student progress. In addition, these
opportunities provide parents/guardians a chance to ask questions and
gain clarication. Communication becomes a critical factor in the online
environment when it comes to cyber-truancy. is encompasses convey-
ing expectations unique to the virtual setting, not only to students and their
family members, but also to members of the judicial system, including social
workers, probation ocers, and truancy judges.
Misconceptions Surrounding Online Education
Another implication from this study is that misconceptions about online
education continue to persist, and education is needed to council students,
families, and the court system on the appropriateness of online educa-
tion depending on a number of factors. ese might include predictors of
academic success in K–12 online education, including self-motivation, self-
regulation, the ability to structure one’s own learning, previous experience
with technology, a good attitude toward the content, and self-condence in
academic endeavors (Roblyer & Marshall, 2002–2003). Other considerations
may be the level of support oered at home and by the virtual school, as well
as the specic reasons students might be seeking their education online. Stu-
dents may assume that classes at MVHS are easier, but this is not the case.
Oen these students nd that an attendance standard based on progress is
more dicult to meet than one using seat time. Additional education and
accurate counseling is required to assure the right t and to seek a preven-
tive approach to attendance problems in the online environment.
As with all research studies, the current investigation has limitations that need to
be acknowledged. First, the topic of cyber-truancy is one that has not been ex-
plored in the literature. Because of this, a review of related policies from virtual
schools on a national scale is not yet available. An understanding of how virtual
schools from the across the country are addressing or ignoring this issue is an
important topic for future research. Secondly, this study employs a qualitative,
case-study method to explore how one virtual school in Minnesota is dealing
with issues of attendance in the online environment. As a result, ndings are not
Volume 46 Number 1
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Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
generalizable to the broader context of online schools. Although the approach
described has experienced success at MVHS, this may or may not be the case
in a dierent setting. Despite these drawbacks, the issue of cyber-truancy is a
signicant issue that needs to be examined further.
Monitoring, encouraging, and enforcing attendance are key responsibili-
ties of school personnel (Sheldon, 2007) to ensure that students are in fact
receiving instruction. However, without updated policy that pertains directly
to the online environment, virtual schools are le to interpret existing atten-
dance laws, many of which originated in the later part of the 19th century.
e concept of attendance in K–12 online education needs to be redesigned
to meet the needs of a growing number of online students. Until this can be
instituted, virtual schools would benet from establishing procedures for
enforcing existing truancy statutes. Because these laws dier among states,
it is essential that online schools investigate the statutes in their states and
construct an attendance policy that is understandable to all stakeholders,
including students and families, school personnel and administration, and
judicial system employees.
For online schools to assert and maintain a credible presence as a vi-
able form of schooling, they must adhere to the state and federal statutes
governing educational practices. In the same way that virtual schools are
mandated to comply with federal No Child Le Behind (2001) policy, they
must also be held accountable for state attendance and truancy statutes.
With the growth of online education across the nation, states have a duty to
write policies that dene and govern attendance and truancy in the online
environment. is may involve equating progress within a course to a given
number of school days until attendance laws can be revisited to include
language specic to online education.
At the same time, virtual schools would benet from establishing proce-
dures that enact cyber-truancy policies. is may include communicating
with students and parents about absences and truant behavior, interven-
ing for students in an eort to alleviate the causes of the truancy, and ling
truancy petitions when necessary. e purpose of doing so is to intervene
when a student may be struggling so that action can be taken and assistance
can be immediately provided where necessary. Without careful monitoring
and enforcement, students who are not visible in the online environment
run the risk of falling through the cracks. At a time when students—many of
whom are already at risk—have turned to online education as an alternative
to a traditional setting, schools must pay particular attention to attendance
as measured by performance. While the notion of cyber-truancy continues
to evolve, it must be addressed if K–12 online education is going to continue
to be a viable and realistic choice for 21st century students.
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Copyright © 2013, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), 800.336.5191
(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
Author Notes
Leanna Archambault is an assistant professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at
Arizona State University. Her research interests focus on teacher preparation and professional
development for online and blended classrooms; educational policies and practices in online
settings; and eective methods/modes of content delivery to help educators understand and teach
future generations about the key economic, environmental, and social challenges of our time.
Please address correspondence regarding this article to Leanna Archambault, P.O. Box 37100,
Mail Code 3151, Phoenix, AZ 85069. E-mail:
Kathryn Kennedy is the knowledge manager/researcher for the International Association for
K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Her research interests focus onpreservice and inservice teach-
er, technology specialist, and school librarian professional development for technology integration
and instructional design in traditional, blended, and online learning environments.
Stacy Bender is the dean of students at Minnesota Virtual High School (a program of Minnesota
Transitions Charter Schools). Her research interests focus on student accountability and success,
online attendance policies and procedures, truancy laws nationwide, and how to engage parents
with online schools.
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Appendix A
Minnesota Attendance Laws
These laws apply to all students, regardless of age, who are enrolled at any publicly
funded school in the state of Minnesota. Once students enroll at a publicly funded
school, they subject themselves to these laws.
Minnesota Statute 120A.22 (Compulsory Instruction)
Defines students who are required to attend school.
Allows for students aged 16 and 17 to withdraw from school with parent’s writ-
ten consent after student and parent attend a meeting with school personnel to
discuss education options.
Allows for student aged 18 and older to withdraw from school on their own accord
Allows schools to define excused versus unexcused absences.
Minnesota Statute 120A.30 (Attendance Officers)
School boards may authorize attendance officers to investigate truancy or non-
attendance at school and enforce all laws and district rules regarding school
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(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
Attendance officers must notify parents or guardians when students reach habitual
truancy or continued nonattendance of school.
Attendance officers must also report to county of residence any student who is
habitually truant.
Appropriate intervention services should be provided.
Minnesota Statute 120A.34 (Violations; Penalties)
Defines educational neglect (keeping a child from education).
States that penalty of such is a petty misdemeanor.
Minnesota Statute 121A.40–121A.56 (Pupil Fair Dismissal Act)
Defines exclusion, expulsion, suspension, and other reasons why students may be
kept from attending a particular school.
Allows for readmission of a student given certain guidelines.
Minnesota Stat. 126C.05, Subd. 8 (Average Daily Membership)
Defines how number of students on a daily basis are counted.
States that students absent from school for 15 consecutive schools days during the
regular school year or for 5 consecutive school days during summer session shall
be dropped from the roll and classified as withdrawn.
Compulsory attendance provisions cited in section 120A.22 still apply based on age.
Allows for re-enrollment of students if space is available or if student resides in
district of school.
Truancy Laws
These laws apply to all students under the age of 18 years who attend any school—
including a homeschool—in the state of Minnesota. Because students must be
enrolled in some form of school environment after the age of 7, these laws apply to
all students aged 7 until their 18th birthday. Counties vary on their enforcement of
the truancy law because of parent/student ability to withdraw from school at age 16;
however, several counties pursue truancy until the day of the student’s 18th birthday.
Minnesota Statute 260A.02 (Definitions)
Defines continuing truant student as one who is absent without excuse for 3 or more
class periods on 3 days in middle school or high school.
Minnesota Statute 260A.03 (Notice to Parent or Guardian When Child is
Continuing Truant)
Requires that the school notify the parent or guardian of the following:
The student is truant
The definitions of excused absences
How to report those absences
That parents are obligated to compel attendance of the child
That the parent and child could be subject to juvenile or family court proceedings
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Journal of Research on Technology in Education
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Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender
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(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
Requires that the school attempt to intervene and make appropriate efforts to
resolve the student’s attendance problems.
Minnesota Statute 260C.007, Subd. 19 (Habitual Truant Defined)
Defined habitual truant student as one who is absent without excuse for one or more
class period on 7 school days if the student is in middle school or high school.
Places habitual truancy under the prevue of county attorneys as a Child in Need of
Protection matter.
Requires that the school attempt to intervene and make appropriate efforts to
resolve the student’s attendance problems.
Minnesota Statute 260C.143 (Procedure; Habitual Truants, Runaways, Offenders)
Attendance officers report habitual truants to the county of residence and follow
their procedures.
County of residence may file notice that habitual truants must appear before a judge.
Parents are notified in every case and required to appear with habitual truant in court.
Peace officers may transport habitual truant to court or to school as needed.
Child’s absence from school presumed to be due to parent’s failure to comply with
laws if the child is under 12 years old.
Child’s absence from school presumed to be due to the child’s intent to be absent
from school if the child is older than 12.
Appendix B
Sample Communication Letter to Parents—5 Days Unexcused Absence
Dear Parent or Guardian of _________________,
We are concerned about your student’s lack of progress in our school. How can we help?
Expectations of successful students at MN Virtual High School are outlined below:
Students consistently log 20–25 hours/week of documented learning on the
Students make adequate weekly progress (25% or more overall completion per
Students communicate questions, computer problems, and school struggles with
the school immediately so as to be able to make adequate weekly progress.
Students attend all required testing days as per school policy.
Your student has been absent without excuse for at least 5 consecutive days. State
law requires that students who do not attend school for 15 consecutive days must be
removed from the school’s enrollment.
In addition, your child is considered to be a continuing truant according to Min-
nesota law. Depending on your county of residence, your student may be referred to
the county attorney’s office. If that occurs and you receive notification from the county
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(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
attorney’s office, you and your student must comply with all requests and orders
from that office. The point of all interaction with the school and with the county is to
impress upon the student the importance of school attendance and work completion
as well as what the school requires of your student in order to avoid further truancy
interventions by the school or by your county of residence. In order to resolve this mat-
ter, your student’s school attendance (logging in and completing work) must improve
If you have reason to believe that these absences should be considered excused
absences, please obtain proper verification (doctor’s note, funeral information, etc.)
and provide that documentation within 3 days of the absence. Please note that the
curriculum is available to students 24 hours each day, 7 days each week. Therefore,
excused absences are granted in extreme circumstances. Please email the attendance
If your student continues to meet the criteria for unexcused absences and accrues
7 or more days of unexcused absences, your student will be considered a habitual
truant, and the school may file a truancy petition on your student in accordance with
the procedures within your county of residence.
Minnesota state law requires every child under the age of 18 to attend school
each day. Children 16 and 17 years old must have parental permission and formally
withdraw from school to discontinue attendance. We are mandated by law to refer tru-
ant students to the County’s Attorney Office, but we would very much like to see your
student’s attendance improve before county intervention. Please refer to the student
attendance policy if you have further questions.
If your student’s case does get referred to the County Attorney’s Office and your
student is found to be truant, the court will make orders so that your child goes back to
school and is no longer truant. While every county in Minnesota differs in its approach to
truancy, they all take truancy seriously. The court can order that your child be assigned
a probation officer or the court may order the county’s social services agency to provide
service to your student. In addition, the court can order community service work hours
and has the authority to take away a student’s driver’s license or learner’s permit.
Minnesota law states:
260A.03 Notice to Parent and/or Guardian When Child is a Continuing Truant
Upon a child’s initial classification as a “continuing truant,” the school attendance officer
or other designated school official will notify the child’s parent or legal guardian, by first
class mail or other reasonable means, of the following:
That the child is truant
That the parent or guardian should notify the school if there is a valid excuse for
the child’s absence
That the parent or guardian is obligated to compel the attendance of the child at
school pursuant to Section 120A.22, and parents or guardians who fail to meet
this obligation may be subject to prosecution under Section 120A.34
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(U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777 (Int’l),, All rights reserved.
That this notification serves as the notification required by section 120A.34
That alternative programs and services may be available in the district
That the parent or guardian has the right to meet with the appropriate school
personnel to discuss solutions to the child’s truancy
That if the child continues to be truant, the parent and child may be subject to
juvenile court proceedings under Chapter 260C
That if the child is subject to juvenile court proceedings, the child may be subject to
suspension, restriction, or delay of the child’s driving privilege pursuant to Section
260C.201, education programs, and, in extreme cases, out of home placement
Dean of Students
... 280). Archambault et al. (2013) also identified their research scope of basic virtual school policies as being novel in nature, having no representation in the existing literature. Many researchers make note of the existing data as being too insufficient to draw more universal conclusions (Barbour & LaBronte, 2019;Cavanaugh et al., 2004;Engelbertink et al., 2020;Gillis & Krull, 2020;Ho et al., 2014;Jena, 2016;Zhu & van Winkel, 2016). ...
... In terms of supporting engagement among classmates, synchronous learning was seen to offer increased avenues for peer-to-peer learning while allowing for teacher involvement throughout, thus increasing effectiveness (Crea & Sparnon, 2017;Johnston et al, 2014). Synchronous VLEs that include video also offer opportunities to be present to a class setting in a way that attends to learning retention, academic engagement, resiliency, and self-regulation (Archambault et al., 2013;Driscoll et al., 2012). When VLEs employ best-possible real-time communication, education processes can be more active, constructive, cooperative, and more attentive to a student's meta-cognitive abilities than the traditional classroom (Cavanaugh et al., 2004). ...
... At an institutional level it can be said that most schools are not equipped to create VLEs where students can thrive, even those schools that are virtual by design. The infrastructure required to create a holistic learning experience for the student, and one that embodies fair and equitable working conditions for the online educator, requires a considerable investiture of human resources and technological tools (Archambault et al., 2013;Cairns et al., 2020;Jones, 2015). Many LMSs that institutions use for online learning are bulky and inefficient (Gillis & Krull, 2020;Jones, 2015;Kumar & Owston, 2016;Lee et al., 2016) which can lead to their being used as places where information is simply disseminated, rather than genuine VLEs where the design and curriculum content can come together to connect students with each other for interaction and collaboration (Jones, 2015;Stone, 2019). ...
Full-text available
The purpose of this scoping review is to isolate and investigate the existing data and research that identifies if the synchronous face-to-face visual presence of a teacher in a virtual learning environment (VLE) is a significant factor in a student’s ability to maintain good mental health. While the present research on this explicit interaction among VLE implementation and student mental health is limited, the material suggests a framework for strong utilization of VLEs. Overall, our research has shown that authentic, high quality VLEs are ones that have as their primary focus the communication between students and their teachers and between students and their peers. This communication is best generated through synchronous connections where there exists the ability to convey the student’s immediate needs in real-time. Our research results and discussion will outline how a team approach that brings together teachers, students, administration, counsellors, mental health support staff, instructional designers, and ICT specialists is necessary to create a genuinely enriching VLE where both learning and social-emotional needs can be met. The authors present a case for further study in order to reveal the nature of the interaction among VLEs and student mental health.
... 113). Archambault et al. (2013) described the effectiveness of an online program that offered webinars in which parents could ask questions and gain understanding of their multiple roles and responsibilities. ...
... Students who lack selfmotivation have lower success rate in online classes (Savenye, 2005). On the other hand, in online learning environments, when students are not present, they have difficulties in producing the same results compared to the ones who attend the classes (Archambault, Kennedy, & Bender, 2013). As a result, for the success of students in online classes student's attendance and motivation are important factors. ...
Full-text available
This study determines Turkish in-service teachers’ perceptions of their technological competence in learning and teaching process. In the study, case study method was employed. The participants of the study consisted of 23 in-service teachers working in Turkey during 2019-2020 academic year. The questionnaire technique was used in obtaining the data. For this purpose, six open-ended questions were prepared. In the analysis of the data, content analysis was employed. The findings of the study showed that most of the teachers use technology in preparing the course content and presenting it to the students, for in-class and out-of class activities. It was also obtained that most of the teachers feel inadequate in using technology in education. Lastly, teachers indicated that online systems used during pandemic process enabled the continuity of education, provided opportunity for teachers to improve themselves, increased family support and provided flexibility.
... A student showing up in class indicates interest to learn. It is easy to enforce mandatory attendance in a classroom setting; however, it is challenging in an online course where students can falsify their attendance or refuse to join the class (Archambault et al., 2013). Perfect student attendance during virtual classes is unlikely, and the absences of these working students affected their contribution to the class. ...
Full-text available
The study explored the priorities and intentions of working students who manage the challenging roles of being a student and a worker. This qualitative study used a descriptive phenomenological design. Five (5) working students from a state university volunteered to be the informants of the study and were selected through the snowball sampling technique. Data collected were analyzed using Braun and Clarke's six-step thematic analysis resulting in five themes. Results showed that 93 The Normal Lights Volume 16, No. 2 (2022) working while studying was perceived to be challenging yet financially helpful. Students faced time constraints with school tasks, leading to poor grades. Hence, working students tended to have difficulty managing both roles, and the pandemic forced them to work that negatively impacted their academic performance. The study suggested that universities provide more flexibility for working students with options to adjust study loads for working students.
... Weijers, Ganushchak, Ouwehand & de Koning (2022) says class attendance is equally important in face-to-face and online education (Nieuwoudt, 2020), there are specific challenges related to attending online classes. For example, for an online class, it is easier for students to pretend to be present and to not login into the online class altogether, and it is more difficult to enforce class attendance compared to physical classes (Archambault et al., 2013). During the COVID-19 pandemic, online class attendance has become even more challenging and teachers have reported a significant drop in class attendance (Meeter et al., 2020). ...
... Although class attendance is equally important in physical and online education (Nieuwoudt, 2020;Rapposelli, 2014), there are specific challenges related to attending online classes. For example, for an online class, it is easier for students to pretend to be present or to not login into the online class altogether, and it is more difficult to enforce class attendance compared to physical classes (Archambault et al., 2013). During the COVID-19 pandemic, online class attendance has become even more challenging and teachers have reported a drop in class attendance (Meeter et al., 2020;The New York Times, 2020). ...
Full-text available
Class attendance is an important predictor of academic success, but students encounter behavioral barriers preventing them from attending. In this experimental study, we investigated a commitment intervention to improve online attendance among university students (n = 973) during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the experimental condition, we asked students to commit to attending all classes and divided this group into students who made the commitment and those who did not commit. The data was analyzed from a psychological perspective (the effect on the individuals who responded positively to the commitment request) and a policy perspective (the effect for all individuals that received the request). No intervention effect was found when comparing students’ attendance in the experimental condition to the control condition, but students who made the commitment attended class more often than non-committing students and those in the control condition. Exploratory analyses revealed that the intervention effect was found in the course with lower attendance, indicating that a ceiling effect possibly prevented the intervention from showing results regarding attendance. However, exploratory analyses also revealed selection bias as a possible explanation for the effects. Additionally, the intervention backfired for non-committing students, reducing their attendance. Future research should focus on different strategies to improve online attendance.
... Students can become overwhelmed by many choices (Shapiro, 2008). They may also fail to behaviorally engage without a clear understanding of the purpose of lesson and may even stop logging on to class (Archambault et al., 2013). Teachers should choose a few types of materials that meet their purposes and satisfy the other elements of the 4A Framework to maintain engagement (see Fig. 1). ...
With the large increase in online instruction, including remote instruction with online materials during the COVID-19 pandemic , there also was an increase in the use of instructional materials that were made to be displayed online or were digitized for online use. However, teachers have not had access to guidance about how to select and evaluate online instructional materials for classroom use. The lack of guidance has the potential to harm historically excluded populations of students and could frustrate teachers as they learn to teach with digital materials. The purpose of this paper is to share the 4A Framework for evaluating online instructional materials. The framework is organized around the premise that quality online instructional materials are accessible, promote active engagement, advocate for inclusion, and are accountable for their relationships to standards and data privacy. Each feature is discussed and examples of teacher work in applying the framework are shared.
Full-text available
Objectives: This paper examines the perspectives of academic staff and students at the American University of Madaba (AUM) on cyber-truancy during the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing challenges and proposing solutions to enhance student engagement in online learning. Methods: Case-study methodology requires detailed investigation of a situation. To attain the required information, two methods of data collection were utilized, namely, a structured (Likert scale) questionnaire and an interview distributed to a representative sample of AUM’s academic staff and students. The data was analyzed by using SPSS. Results: The study found the following results. First, all respondents show a high level of awareness of the cyber-truancy. Second, technological and behavioral factors contribute to increasing truancy rates among students. Third, the novelty of the experience as well as enforcing strict policies are crucial challenges that hinder online learning. Conclusions: The paper concludes with suggested solutions, which include enforcing strict policies to curb cyber-truancy, enhancing parental control, and spreading awareness among students regarding the detrimental effects of cyber-truancy.
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Self-regulated learning (SRL) is a style of academically effective learning in which students must set goals and develop strategies before beginning to learn. Learners must monitor and regulate their cognition, motivation, and conduct, as well as reflect on their learning process, under this pandemic environment. Online learning is catalyzing a pedagogical shift in how we teach and learn. There is a shift away from top-down lectures and passive learners to a more participatory, collaborative approach in which students and teachers co-create the learning process. Instructors should use the right method to ensure that their students can benefit from the online learning environment. In this study, we acquired, summarized, and analyzed 45 publications published between 2012 and 2021 on diverse subjects relevant to SRL, with a focus on SRL techniques and problems in an online learning context. In order to provide a thorough study, this review incorporates many models, phases, and a few extra SRL-related subjects.
The closure of school buildings due to COVID-19 and the resulting rapid transition to online education dramatically altered the lives of educators, students and parents. While previous literature demonstrates the vital role of parents in effective online education (Hattie, 2020; Liu et al, 2010), pre-pandemic literature focuses on parents and students who have opted in to online education. As such, the outbreak of COVID-19 has presented new challenges for understanding the relationship between parents and their child/ren's online learning. Since the start of the pandemic, studies have emerged exploring parental experience adjusting to their child/ren's online remote learning (Bhamani et al, 2020; Brom et al, 2020; Dong et al, 2020; Garbe et al, 2020; Lee et al, 2021). However, less is known about the online learning experiences during COVID-19 of families with children enrolled within international schools. Accordingly, the present study draws upon insights from 44 parents of children attending international schools who took part in 22 focus groups, across three countries and in three languages. The study investigates the parental experience with online education and unpacks four themes that emerged from the data: challenges faced by parents, parental perception of their child/ren’s wellbeing, impressions of the learning quality and parental suggestions for consideration by school leadership. With these findings, school leaders have a unique opportunity to leverage lessons learned and support parental growth so that families, educators and students may all contribute to the promise of a brighter educational future.
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Since the end of World War II, social science research has become increasingly quantitative in nature. A Case for the Case Study provides a rationale for an alternative to quantitative reserach: the close investigation of single instances of social phenomena. The first section of the book contains an overview of the central methodological issues involved in the use of the case study method. Then, well-known scholars describe how they undertook case study research in order to undersand changes in church involvement, city life, gender roles, white-collar crimes, family structure, homelessness, and other types of social experience. Each contributor contronts several key questions: What does the case study tell us that other approaches cannot? To what extent can one generalize from the study of a single case or of a highly limited set of cases? Does case study work provide the basis for postulating broad principles of social structure and behavior? The answers vary, but the consensus is that the opportunity to examine certain kinds of social phenomena in depth enables social scientists to advance greatly our empirical understanding of social life. The contributors are Leon Anderson, Howard M. Bahr, Theodore Caplow, Joe R. Feagin, Gilbert Geis, Gerald Handel, Anthonly M. Orum, Andree F. Sjoberg, Gideon Sjoberg, David A. Snow, Ted R. Vaughan, R. Stephen Warner, Christine L. Williams, and Norma Williams.
In this paper we argue that public education in the United States is essentially an industrial process organized to produce a finished product. Rising government spending on public education, and the lack of an established rubric to evaluate school performance or accountability deems our analysis relevant and timely. Viewing education as an industrial process will allow policy-makers to obtain more accurate measures of costs and develop appropriate funding mechanisms. Furthermore, regulators may use managerial accounting concepts, particularly activity based costing, to establish future school performance evaluation rubrics.
Results are reported on a preliminary use of the Educational Success Prediction Instrument (ESPRI), a measure designed to discriminate between successful and unsuccessful students in virtual high school (VHS) courses and provide a basis for counseling and support for future VHS students to make them more effective online learners. When used with 135 students in 13 virtual high schools, the instrument was found to discriminate with high accuracy and reliability between groups of successful and unsuccessful students. Suggestions are given for how ESPRI results might be used to help VHS students, and recommendations are discussed for further research in this area.
The author discusses the context in which absenteeism and truancy occur through an analysis of risk and protective mechanisms and suggests best practice methods based on a review of literature and research on several successful absenteeism and truancy prevention and reduction programs. The author suggests ways that school social workers can participate in truancy prevention and reduction projects through collaborative efforts with other school professionals, community organizations, social services agencies, parents, and school children.