Skipping school is something most students do at one point or another. In fact, most schools have an unofficial “senior ditch day” that is celebrated by cutting class near the end of the year. But it turns out that when a minor misses too much school, she can actually be labeled as “chronically truant,” which could even result in criminal penalties for the student or her parents. Fortunately, most people can avoid these charges if they better understand the law.
Is Skipping School a Crime?
California public schools receive money for every student in class on any given day. When a student skips class, it ends up costing the school money. Of course, the state hasn’t outlawed truancy simply to keep school funding; legislators want students to get a good education by attending class and they also know that the safest place for minors to spend their time is in the classroom. That being said, a minor isn’t going to have to head to court just because he skipped school one day.
A student isn’t considered truant under California state law until she has three or more unexcused absences, which means missing 30 or more minutes in a given school day. Even after that point though, a school must only discuss the situation with the student’s parents. At four absences, the school must notify the district’s superintendent or attendance supervisor who will be responsible for monitoring the situation. Once a student has missed five or more school days, she will be considered habitually truant and the school may choose to refer the case to the District Attorney or juvenile court. It is at this point that the habitual truancy has actually run afoul of California state laws and both the child or parents cold be charged with crimes.
Possible Criminal Penalties for Truancy
Obviously truancy is a much more minor crime than say, shoplifting or gang activity. In fact, most truancy cases are never referred to the court. As a result, the consequences are not as serious either. Teens sentenced for truancy charges are generally subject to mandatory education classes or probation.
Parents are required to send their children to school. While truancies are not always a parent’s fault, when habitual absences are a result of the parent’s behavior, the school may refer the parent to the District Attorney. If the parent faces criminal charges, he may be fined up to $500. If a student is in kindergarten through 8th grade and misses 10% or more of the school year, the parent could face more serious consequences including up to $2,500 in fines and one year in jail.
Parents (or others responsible for the truancy) may also be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which can carry penalties of up to one year in jail and $2,000 in fines. As you can imagine, it is particularly important for those facing these charges to work with a top criminal defense attorney.
Avoiding Truancy Charges
Not every absence is considered a truancy. Absences may be excused for illness; medical, dental or optometrist appointments; or for funerals of immediate family members. Additionally, the law only applies to students between the ages of 6-17 who attend public school. Students 5 and younger or 18 and older and those who attend private school cannot be charged with truancy. Because the law makes no exception for students with mental or behavioral issues that make school attendance difficult, it is often beneficial for these students to attend private school.
If you or your juvenile child has been accused of chronic truancy, contact Peter M. Liss to discuss the right defense for your case. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Creative Commons Image by Rafael Sato