Attendance is officially “compulsory” everywhere – until the age of 16, typically. Attendance issues can be punishable at authorities’ discretion. Principals can suspend students for it and provinces/territories even have legal bodies, such as “attendance boards,” with the same powers as civil trials, and legal authority individuals, such as “School Attendance Officers,” with some police-like power/role, both of which can criminalize students and parents for absences if the students couldn’t come to a solution of attendance issues through other channels first.

Attendance punishment acts as a channel for criminalization of homeless youth. A typical example of a School Attendance Officer description is found in the Manitoba School Administration Handbook, an official summary of “legislative and regulatory authority [and] principal and school board responsibilities.” The School Attendance Officer exemplifies police-like powers/role, the mandate to invade students’ private lives and peer relationships, and not the collaborative type of relationship some interviewees said would have supported them in avoiding homelessness:

School Attendance Officer: Every school board must appoint one or more school attendance officers who have jurisdiction in the area of attendance over each child in the division/district. … The school attendance officer, upon receiving a report concerning student absence, must initiate an investigation to confirm that the child is unlawfully absent. The attendance officer may then serve, in person or by certified mail to the person having control or in charge of the child, a notice obliging this person to cause the child to attend school or be liable to prosecution under The Public Schools Act. … The attendance officer may enter any place of public entertainment, any workplace, or any other place where a child of compulsory school age could work or congregate with peers, and he/she may conduct the child to the school where he/she is supposed to be in attendance. [bold added for emphasis]

Manitoba provincial school policy criminalizes to some degree for absence, for parents definitely and sometimes the student. Students are therefore incentivized to give up on school altogether, to avoid this criminalization of parents/family. The Manitoba School Administration Handbook states, “If a compulsory school-age student has [already] been suspended or expelled, his/her parents would be exempted from liability for non-attendance.”

Therefore, the only way out of mandatory attendance is to get suspended or expelled, which can be achieved by giving up on attending school, whereas if one were to attend school as much as one could, if this fell under required minimums, one would run the risk of one’s parents being criminalized.

Manitoba provincial policy mandates providing some kind of “alternative programming” for currently suspended or expelled pupils. The section of Manitoba’s Public Schools Act titled Appropriate Disciplinary Consequences in Schools Regulation mandates that a principal must “ensure that educational programming is available to a student who has been suspended for more than five days.” It also states,

“A school board that expels a resident pupil must make reasonable efforts to ensure that alternative programming is made available to the pupil, if the pupil is of compulsory school age. Alternative programming includes (a) providing the pupil appropriate supports to perform school work at home; (b) permitting the pupil to enroll in a different school in the school division or school district, o r a different program in the same or a different school; (c) facilitating the pupil’s participation in an activity or program that is an approved activity or program under the Activities and Programs — Learning to Age 18 Regulation, Manitoba Regulation 139/2011; or (d) facilitating the pupil becoming enrolled in an adult learning centre or in the distant learning options administered by the department.”