In the context of primary school, even the most dedicated students fall short in the feat of achieving perfect attendance. Coaxing your children to attend school each and every day is the ultimate goal for most parents, but it just isn't realistic. The unpredictability of life may lead a student to miss a day or two, but that's not a big deal, right? Wrong.
Pennsylvania has placed a large emphasis on school attendance for children of compulsory school age. In fact, there are laws in place, known as truancy laws, that permit law enforcement to become involved in the event a child is reported to accrue too many unexcused absences. It's undeniable that absence from school is an issue. Researchers have concluded that absences are correlated with delinquency in juveniles. However, whether or not the criminalization of school absences has actually minimized or remedied this issue is a question that has gone unanswered.
The demographic of people who will be disproportionately affected by the enforcement of truancy laws are not the children, as most presume, but parents. Law enforcement, school administrators, and the courts hold parents, guardians, or any person in parental relation to the child accountable for truancy in all circumstances. Being the parent of a truant child could cost you hundreds of dollars in fines, and even land you a jail or prison sentence in severe cases.
If you have been accused of aiding or abetting your truant child, it's important you immediately get in contact with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you in justifying a child's absences or in reducing the obligations that may be placed on you or child after a truancy violation. Your next step would be to gain an understanding of what you'll be up against. This article will address the truancy laws and penalties enforced in the state of Pennsylvania.
Truancy Laws in Pennsylvania
Compulsory attendance requirements
In Pennsylvania, children of “compulsory school age” - ages 8 to 17 - must attend either a regular public school, charter school, a licensed private school, or an approved homeschooling program. The person(s) caring for the child (which could be parents, a guardian, or a relative) has a legal duty to ensure that this child attends school.
There are exceptions to the compulsory school age requirement. A student who is at least 16 years of age, and maintains employment full-time during school hours does not have to attend school. The student must obtain an “employment certification” from his or her school district.
Statutory law defines truancy as “three or more school days of unexcused absence during the current school year by a child subject to compulsory school attendance.” A child is categorized as “habitually truant” when he or she accumulates six unexcused absences within a given school year.
Each school district has its own respective regulations and policies regarding excused and unexcused absences. This information is located in the district's student handbook or can be accessed online. In most circumstances, schools will only consider an absence excusable if a child has either suffered an illness, experienced a family emergency or death of a family member, has medical or dental appointments they must upkeep, or is partaking in educational activities and travel that the school has provided. Any other excuses that do not reflect the reasons given in your school's handbook in any capacity are legally considered an unexcused absence.
Unfortunately, an absence due to a child's inclination to avoid being bullied, or a genuine fear of being physically endangered at school is not considered an acceptable reason to be absent. The law leaves it up to parents to report these issues in hopes that the school will eventually mitigate these issues.
Procedures for truant children
Pennsylvania law has created two distinctive procedures for when (1) a child is truant, and for when (2) a child is habitually truant.
In regard to truant children, the law requires schools to notify a parent or guardian of this behavior in writing within ten school days of a child's third unexcused absence. This notice must provide:
- A description of the consequences if a child becomes habitually truant
- Information that is presented in the mode and language of communication preferred by a parent; and
- An offer of an attendance improvement conference
When a child is deemed habitually truant, the procedure schools must follow differs based on the age of a child.
- Children under 15 years old: the school must refer a child to either a school-based or community-based attendance improvement program or the county children and youth agency. In cases involving the latter, the school has the authority to file a citation against a parent in a magisterial district court.
- Children 15 years old and above: the school must refer a child to either a school-based or community-based attendance improvement program or the county children and youth agency.
In every case, regardless of age, schools have to prove that they made multiple, meaningful attempts to involve parents in attendance improvement conferences prior to referring them to court. The law also explicitly states that schools cannot suspend, transfer, expel, or reassign a child (due to truancy) in a fashion that excludes them from a regular classroom education.
Individuals who are found guilty of a truancy - parents, guardians, relatives, and people in parental relations with a child - will be ordered to pay a fine of up to $300, pay court costs, or be sentenced to a complete a parenting education program. In some cases, parents are even ordered to perform community service within the school district for up to six months on behalf of their child's truant behavior. If said responsible person fails to comply with a court's orders, he or she may serve up to five days in a county jail.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully represented children who've committed truancy and habitual truancy violations. To avoid the consequences of unlawful absences, or for the reduction of your sentence, contact him today at 215-535-5353.