In public schools, students that do not attend school without having excused absences from school are said to be truant. Truancy simply means that the child is absent from school without providing a valid reason for their absence, or their absence has not been approved.
However, other examples include when parents fail to notify the school in a timely fashion regarding their child’s absence. Additionally, disagreements may arise regarding who is actually responsible for supervising students when they attempt to leave the school premises during the school day.
Truancy laws, as well as compulsory school attendance laws, vary considerably from state to state. Additionally, each state has its own minimum and maximum age limits for required free education (i.e. public school). Generally speaking, children are required to attend school starting at age five, and must stay in attendance until the age of eighteen.
In terms of the minimum age limit in which free education must be offered, most states have stated that that age is 5 years old, although some states maintain an age of 4 years old. In terms of the maximum age limit in which free education must be offered, the ages range from 21 years old to 26 years old.
Generally speaking, if your child is at least 7 years old or they have not finished 6th grade, they are truant if they have 5 unexcused absences from school in a row; or, 7 unexcused absences from school in one school year. Additionally, if your child has finished 6th grade and is not yet 17 years old, they are considered to be truant if they have 7 unexcused absences from school in a row, or 10 unexcused absences from school in one school year. It is important to note that in some states, if your child misses one half of a day or more and the school considers that as a “day,” it will count towards the truancy limit.
What Steps Should I Take If My Child Is Sick?
Parents who disagree with schools regarding excessive absences for their chronically ill child should check the school’s record. There are many instances in which children with asthma or other illnesses will go to a health room on the school campus in order to report an illness. The school nurses in the health room will document these illnesses and make a report, which provides good documentation for parents to show all occasions in which their child left school.
Additionally, schools are required to develop a health plan in order to accommodate children with illnesses. These are generally referred to as 504 plans, and are intended to prevent further discrepancies associated with attendance.
Unexcused absences are, quite simply, an absence from school that has not been excused. Again, state laws vary in terms of what may constitute an unexcused absence. An example of this would be how in the state of Maine, an “excused absence” could be any of the following:
- A medical appointment that must be made during the school day;
- Observing a recognized religious holiday;
- A family emergency;
- A planned absence for a personal or educational purpose; and
- Educational disruption that is caused by a student’s homelessness, unplanned hospitalization, and/or placement into foster care.
What Happens If My Child Gets Caught?
Research indicates that high levels of truancy result in students dropping out of school, as well as increased chances of:
As such, parents should immediately discuss the issue with their child in order to determine the root cause of their truancy. Being aware of a specific school’s truancy policy, and making best efforts to adhere to that policy, is also recommended.
Additionally, the child’s school is required to maintain records of attendance. As such, if a child has enough unexcused absences to be considered truant, the school district will notify the parents and potentially file a truancy petition with family court.
It is important to note that school officials generally have the discretion to decide whether to refer an act of truancy to juvenile court. In all states, the school is generally the first body responsible for enforcing truancy laws. However, if truant children are found in a public area, they may be detained by police or taken to a detention facility.
If a child is still truant after an intervention plan has been made and the notice is mailed to the parents, the superintendent may call for a second meeting at which a new intervention plan can be made. In some states, the school may ask the local district attorney to come to this meeting.
After receiving notice, the child must attend school within 3 days. Failure to do so may allow the school to contact local law enforcement in order to refer your case to court.
Can Parents Be Punished If a Court Finds the Child Truant?
Truancy consequences for parents largely depend on where the parents live. Such consequences can include:
- Mandatory community service; and
- Mandatory parenting classes.
Additionally, many states hold parents accountable for their children’s truancy. Arizona was the first state to implement laws intended to encourage parents to take an active role in their children’s education. These laws are also an attempt for all parties to take truancy laws and school attendance more seriously.
An example of this would be how in Virginia, parents can be fined and jailed for failure to adequately supervise school-aged children. This includes ensuring that they are attending school. Another example would be how in Pennsylvania, parents can be fined and jailed if they have not taken reasonable steps in order to ensure that their child is attending school.
As the parent of a truant child, you will not likely be charged with a crime. However, in some states, you may be charged with committing a civil violation. Examples of punishments associated with a civil violation include, but may not be limited to:
- A criminal fine of up to $250;
- Being ordered to take action that will make your child go to school;
- Mandatory parent training classes;
- Being ordered to attend school with your child;
- Being ordered to adhere to the school’s intervention plan;
- Mandatory community service at your child’s school; and/or
- Court-ordered counseling or other such services.
Can Children Be Punished If a Court Finds the Child to Be Truant?
In terms of truancy court procedures that might apply directly to the child, this again largely depends on the state, as well as how often the courts have found the child to be truant.
Generally speaking, a child may be:
- Required to attend a special program, such as an alternative education program; and/or
- Required to surrender their driver’s license for up to six months. The intention behind this specific punishment is that it will be more difficult for the child to be truant if they have limited access to private transportation.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Truancy Court?
If you are facing truancy court, or have any questions associated with your state’s truancy laws, you will need to speak with an experienced and local government lawyer. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options under your state’s specific truancy laws. An attorney will also be able to represent you and your child in court, as needed.