Section 351.12. Learnfare.
(a) Subject to the implementation schedule set forth in section 131-y of the Social Services Law, social services districts are required to establish a learnfare program. The purpose of the learnfare program is to prevent children from dropping out of school and to improve the attendance of children in school.
(b) Social services districts must provide every applicant for and recipient of public assistance whose household includes a child enrolled in school in grades one through six with written notification that their child will be subject to the learnfare program. The notice must be provided at the time of application for public assistance and at the beginning of the school year. The notice must inform the applicant or recipient of the attendance requirements of the learnfare program, the consequences of a child's failure to meet such requirements and the rights of the child and parent or guardian in the learnfare program. That portion of the notice that sets forth the consequences of a child's failure to meet the requirements of the learnfare program must be printed in bold face type.
(c) In order to implement the learnfare program, social services districts participating in the program are required, in cooperation with school districts, to develop a plan setting forth arrangements with schools for obtaining attendance reports, providing school-based counseling services and encouraging parental intervention and cooperation with the school to encourage attendance. The plans must include protection for the confidentiality of the identities of students subject to the provisions of this section, consistent with the provisions of section 136 of the Social Services Law, and must provide for the designation of one school administrator to administer the learnfare program in each school. The plans must be submitted to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and approved by appropriate staff of the office prior to implementation of the learnfare program in a social services district. Any amendments that a district proposes to make to its plan must be approved by the office before the amended plan is implemented. All plans submitted to the office pursuant to this section must be submitted in time to meet the implementation schedule set forth in section 131-y of the Social Services Law.
(d)(1) A child enrolled in grades one through six who is receiving public assistance must attend school. If a child subject to the provisions of this section accumulates at least three unexcused absences in any academic quarter, without good cause, the child must be referred to counseling services in the school. The social services district, or the school district if so provided for in the plan, must initiate a conference with the child's parent or other head of household to notify him or her that the child is being referred to counseling and the reason for the referral. If the social services district determines that such services are either not available or not appropriate, the services may be provided directly by the social services district or by other government agencies or not-for-profit or other available community providers.
(2) Any counseling provided pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subdivision must include, but is not limited to, an appropriate discussion of the expectations of the school regarding attendance requirements, the consequences of the child's unexcused absences from school, and a review of the child's home and school environment to determine whether that environment may have caused the child's unexcused absences. After the counseling is completed, the social services district or the school district must prepare an intervention plan that will address the needs of the child to ensure that there are no more unexcused absences.
(e) If a child subject to the provisions of this section has accumulated five or more unexcused absences from school during an academic quarter without good cause, the social services district must withhold $60 from the child's household's public assistance grant for three consecutive months. The amount withheld from the household's grant must be returned to the household if, in the following academic quarter, the child has no unexcused absences. If the grant reduction was the result of absences in the last academic quarter of the school year, the plan described in subdivision (c) of this section may provide options for a child to use in order to receive restoration of amounts withheld including, but not limited to, attendance in summer school. The payment of any withheld amounts must be disregarded in determining eligibility for and the amount of benefits in the month such benefits are restored and the following month.
(f) A child has good cause for an unexcused absence from school when unsafe or unsanitary conditions at the school present a threat to the child's physical or emotional health, safety or welfare or other circumstances exist that justify absenteeism pursuant to the rules of the local school district or, if a statewide standard for the determination of such absences has been promulgated pursuant to the Education Law, such statewide standard will govern. If a child is suspended from school, the suspension will be treated as an excused absence for the purpose of this section.
(g) As a condition of eligibility for public assistance, the parent or guardian of a child in grades one through six must consent to the release of any school attendance records necessary for the conduct of the learnfare program. Such parent or guardian also must cooperate in providing the social services district with the child's report card or other information necessary to establish the child's school attendance record.
(h) Prior to imposing any fiscal sanction pursuant to this section, a social services district must provide the household with timely notice of its intention to impose such a sanction and inform the household of its right to request a hearing pursuant to Part 358 of this Title.
(i) For purposes of this section, the learnfare administrator is required to determine whether a child's absence from school is authorized or unauthorized.
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