Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed October 11, 2023
Truancy laws are designed to promote school attendance. They set expectations for when and how often students should attend school. These laws recognize that every school day is important for a student's learning. When students consistently miss school, their education often suffers. This is especially true if the student often has tardiness or full-day absences.
Generally, students must attend school during all school days in the school year. By law, children of certain years of age (usually ages six to 18, depending on the state) must be enrolled in school. They must attend public school, private school, or a home school program.
This article provides a brief overview of truancy laws.
A Brief Overview of Truancy Laws in the United States
Truancy is also referred to as skipping school. All states define it as unexcused absences from school. “Unexcused" means the student has left school property without parental or school permission. But the fact is, all states require school-aged juveniles to attend school. Truancy is a status offense; it only applies to people of a certain age. In the United States, truancy laws are primarily state-level statutes. They enforce school attendance. These laws outline the responsibilities of students, parents, and schools in ensuring a student's regular attendance.
The school age of a juvenile varies from state to state, with most states requiring attendance either from age six to age 17 or from age five to 18. There are a number of exceptions. Consider Pennsylvania, for example. In PA, the school age is between eight and 17. In Illinois, the school age is between ages seven and 16.
Also, what states consider “regular" attendance can vary. This usually involves a specified number of school days (or calendar days) in a calendar year. The laws typically specify a certain number of unexcused absences within a given period. An example is five unexcused absences within a semester. This is considered the threshold for truancy.
Truancy laws apply during school hours and school-sponsored activities. These absences are not just limited to the school building. They apply both on and off school grounds. This includes extracurricular activities, school bus rides, and any event that is part of the school program. They also apply to any school function under the school staff's jurisdiction.
Different states have differing standards for what constitutes truancy. For example, in Pennsylvania, a truant is a school-aged juvenile who has been absent without excuse more than three times in the current school year. However, a juvenile in Louisiana is truant after the fifth unexcused absence in a given month. If that student is 18 years old or older, they are then considered a dropout.
School Authorities and Truancy
The school principal and other school officials are crucial in managing attendance. School administrators enforce the school's attendance policy. They also enforce the state's truancy laws. School personnel are often involved in tracking attendance. They must ensure that student behavior aligns with the expectations outlined in the school's code of conduct.
Schools follow specific procedures when a student crosses the truancy threshold. A written notice is typically sent to the student's parents when a student misses too much school. This notice details the student's conduct, including their absences and tardiness. If the issue continues, the student might receive a referral to school authorities. If sanctions are given, they are given under truancy rules and laws. Law enforcement can also be informed.
Consequences of Truancy
School discipline for truancy may involve various disciplinary measures. This might include after-school detention. Or it might mean in-school suspension. It could even result in out-of-school suspension for repeated infractions. Disciplinary action is generally taken that aligns with the school board policy. The board of education develops this to guide school-based actions. School employees enforce these policies.
Some schools may involve students in an intervention plan. This can include counseling, alternative education programs, or even community service. It's important that any disciplinary action includes due process. This ensures that the student's rights are protected under federal law.
Special Cases in Truancy Laws
There are exceptions to truancy laws. For instance, excused absences are generally not counted as truancy. This might include situations like illness, family emergencies, or a death in the family. Special education students may have an IEP (individualized education program). In their IEP, they may have different student attendance requirements. This depends on their specific needs.
In some cases, school authorities might grant an exemption. Exemptions usually require a formal process. They also need approval from the school board or a designee staff member.
The Role of the Community in Truancy
Student well-being is the shared responsibility of the whole community. Community members play a crucial part in promoting quality education for every student. These members can include law enforcement and mental health providers. They can also include substance abuse counselors.
School administrators, local businesses, and non-profit organizations can partner to create supportive environments for students of all grade levels. Whether kids are beginning kindergarten or nearing the end of their high school careers, this can help students. They can provide after-school activities like tutoring programs (in subjects like English). Other educational services can supplement the work done during school hours.
Moreover, community leaders can actively combat issues hindering student discipline. An example may be the misuse of controlled substances. By collaborating with law enforcement and substance abuse counselors, communities can offer preventive programs and provide resources to help students make healthier decisions.
Also, the U.S. Department of Education and local school boards work to ensure fair enrollment processes. They also advocate for adequate resources for all students. This helps promote a fair learning environment for all students.
Getting Legal Help With Truancy Cases
Understanding truancy laws is key to promoting a positive school environment. School is a place where every student has the chance to learn and grow. Whether you're a student, a parent, a school official, or a community member, we all have a part to play in supporting regular school attendance and ensuring each student's well-being. You should be informed of your school district's attendance laws and rules.
In some cases, it may be necessary to seek legal help. This could be the case if a student's due process rights have been violated. You may need help if the student disputes the school's classification of an absence as unexcused or if they have been designated as a truant. Legal professionals can help guide families through the process, explaining the rights and responsibilities under state laws. They can assist if the case escalates and involves law enforcement. They can help you navigate the juvenile justice system. They can also communicate with the student's school and law enforcement agencies.
Speak to an education attorney about your case today.
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