Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Kelli R. McCormack Brown, Ph.D.


school attendance, Absenteeism, Social constructionism, Qualitative methodology, School personnel


Despite a multi-disciplinary, international literature, little research has drawn attention to the phenomenon of school refusal within the school. Most research on school refusal follows a positivist paradigm, focusing on the student, instead of examining the role of schools. Using a qualitative design and a social constructionist framework, this study explored how school personnel perceive school refusal, focusing on the social interactions, processes, and perceptions that construct their understanding. The study was conducted in a large school district in the Southeastern United States.Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with school personnel at the middle school (N=42), high school (N=40), and district level (N=10).

Interviews at the school level included assistant principals, school psychologists, social workers, health services staff, guidance counselors, teachers, attendance office staff, and school resource officers. The district level interviews included personnel in departments related to guidance, psychology, school health services, and social work. Observational data was collected within the schools selected for interviews (N=10). Thirty-eight out of 68 middle and high school principals in the school district completed the Survey of School Refusal.Findings suggest that school personnel rarely use the terminology set forth by the professional literature to describe the spectrum of school refusal. Further, analysis revealed that personnel delineate students who refuse school according to their own categorizations formed through day-to-day experiences with students. Personnel's constructions of school refusal differed based on legitimacy of the reason for refusal, motivation for refusal, grade level, and barriers, which were physical, mental, emotional, social, and societal in nature. Overarching dynamics of typifications of students included parental control, parental awareness, student locus of control, blame, and victim status.

These typifications influence how personnel react to students they encounter, particularly in deciding who needs help versus punishment presenting very real implications for students.The findings from this exploratory qualitative study make a significant contribution to this literature. The findings support the use of social constructionism in understanding school personnel's construction of school refusal. Implications for education, public health, and school health practice are presented and include recommendations for policy, training, prevention, early intervention, and future research.