Education Law: Truancy

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 What Is Truancy?

Truancy is a term that generally refers to a child being absent without permission or good reason from their school. It is important to note that each and every state has specific laws that define and address truancy. As such, it is important to consult with your local state as to the legal definition for truancy in the state, as well as what acts are considered to be truancy.

Every state has legal statutes that provide for the compulsory attendance of children in schools, as well as conditions for a student’s attendance at public schools, and the rules and regulations for the conduct of students while present at school.

In general, in public schools, students that do not attend regularly school without having valid excused absences from school are said to be truant. In short, truancy refers to a child being absent from school without providing a valid reason for their absence, or their absence has not been approved.

Whether or not a student is considered to have a valid excuse depends on whether the excuse provided is acceptable to the specific school district in which they reside.

In general, students are typically considered to be truant in the following situations:

  • If the student stays home from school, with or without a parent’s permission, in order to avoid going to school;
  • If a student is habitually absent from school, such as by having more than 10 unexcused absences in a six month period; and/or
  • If a student has a number of unexcused absences in a small period of time, such as 3 absences in a week long period.

Importantly, when a child is considered to be truant, an attendance officer having jurisdiction in their school district may report the child to an officer of the juvenile court. Then, if it is determined that the child has indeed been truant, the student or parents of the student may be punished for the child’s truancy. Punishment for truancy may include in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, or even Class C misdemeanor charge.

For example, in the state of Texas, failure to attend school cases and parents contributing to nonattendance cases are charged as Class C misdemeanors, which can carry maximum fines up to $500 on each case plus the costs of court.

A truancy lawyer is a lawyer that specializes in representing parents or children that have been charged with truancy. Specifically, a truancy lawyer will be familiar with juvenile courts and understand the ins-and-outs of family courts. They will be familiar with the laws of your local school district and state, and help parents or children that have been charged with truancy negotiate their case and have the fines or punishment brought against them or their child dismissed or lessened.

Until What Age Must a Child Attend School?

As mentioned above, every state and district will have their own statutes that define truancy and address the age requirements for school attendance. However, in general, children who are six years old by September 1st must be enrolled in a school, or other acceptable program, and attend that program until they turn 18 years of age.

Importantly, there are exemptions from attending a public school and school attendance in many different cases may be excused, including the following situations:

  • The child attends a private or parochial school;
  • The child has a temporary physical or mental condition that makes their attendance impractical and has a doctor’s note that supports their condition;
  • The child is at least a certain age such as 17 years old, and is attending a course that is preparing them for a high school equivalency exam;
  • The child has already completed their education by receiving a diploma or equivalency certification;
  • The child is homeless or has established a residency away from their parent or guardian; and/or
  • The child meets any other exemptions provided in their state laws on truancy.

What Happens If My Child’s School Believes My Child Is Truant?

As mentioned above, if a school believes that a child is truant, then an agent that has jurisdiction in their school district may report the child to an officer of the juvenile court. From there, the juvenile court may choose to impose punishments on the child’s parent(s). The school itself may also file a suit for education neglect against the parent(s) of the child.

In general the truancy procedure is that first the parents or guardians of the child will typically be summoned to appear before a justice of the peace or municipal-court judge in their district. At that hearing, the parent must bring the named child if the court summons directs them to do so, and provide a reason as to the child’s truancy.

Importantly, if a parent receives a court summons and doesn’t appear with the named child, both the parent and the child could each be charged with a Class C misdemeanor for failure to appear in court, in addition to a Class C Misdemeanor for truancy. The child’s parent should be prepared for the hearing by bringing all the documents that show why the child has been absent from school.

Once again, legal consequences for truancy may include legal fines, court orders for the child to attend a certain program, court ordered counseling sessions, or court ordered community service.

Can Parents Be Punished If a Court Finds the Child Truant?

As mentioned above, yes, parents may be punished if a court finds their child truant. Truancy consequences for parents will depend on the jurisdiction in which they live and the laws that cover truancy in that jurisdiction.

Examples of common legal consequences include:

  • Legal fines;
  • Mandatory community service;
  • Court orders to work towards a diploma or equivalency certificate; and/or
  • Mandatory parenting classes.

In addition to the above consequences, many states will also impose additional penalties on parents that fail to have their child regularly attend school or school equivalent. For example, in Virginia, parents can be fined or even jailed for failure to adequately supervise school-aged children.

This obligation to supervise includes ensuring that their children are attending school. In Pennsylvania, parents can be fined and even jailed if they have not taken reasonable steps in order to ensure that their child is regularly attending school and not truant.

Parents of a truant child will not likely be charged with a crime upon their first violation. However, in some states, a parent may be charged with committing a civil violation, such as educational neglect. Examples of punishments associated with a civil truancy violation include, but may not be limited to:

  • Fines of up to $250;
  • Being ordered to take certain actions intended to make one’s child go to school;
  • Mandatory parent training classes;
  • Being ordered to attend school with one’s child;
  • Being ordered to adhere to the school’s intervention plan submitted to the court;
  • Mandatory community service at the school of one’s child; and/or
  • Court-ordered counseling classes or other related services.

Can Children Be Punished If a Court Finds the Child to Be Truant?

In short, yes, children may also be punished in many cases if a court finds the child to be truant. As far as the exact punishments that may face for truancy, that will once again largely depend on the specific laws of the jurisdiction in which the child resides. Additionally, the penalties will also depend on how often the court has found the child to be truant, as well as the child’s age.

In general, the following are all examples of punishments that a child may receive for truancy:

  • Fines;
  • A court order to attend a special counseling program, such as an alternative education program; and/or
  • A court order to surrender their driver’s license for up to six months, with the intention being 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 charges for truancy, or if you have any questions associated with your state’s truancy laws, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced government lawyer.

An experienced government attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options under your state’s specific truancy laws. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you and your child in court, as necessary.


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