California’s state Constitution declares public education to be an essential and fundamental right for all. The state takes public education very seriously and has strict attendance requirements for all students between the ages of 6 and 18. Children between these ages who are frequently absent or tardy – as well as their parents – are subject to disciplinary action.
California Attendance Policy
California laws are not meant to punish students who are repeatedly absent or tardy. Rather, the laws are intended to encourage consistent and timely attendance so that children can receive all benefits of a public education. Students who attend private school, programs for the mentally gifted, are home-schooled, receive tutor instruction, or have part-time work permits are not subject to California truancy laws.
A grading system is used to track students who violate the California truancy laws. A student is labeled as “truant” if he or she, with a valid excuse, has:
- Three absences;
- Three tardies; and/or
- Three absences of 30 minutes or greater.
Any combination of the above factors can be used in labeling a student as a truant. A student is labeled as habitually truant if he or she misses school 5 or more times without a valid excuse.
California imposes certain requirements on the school once a student is considered to be truant. The following breakdown explains the minimum requirements imposed on a school in response to a student’s continued absences.
First Notice of Truancy “T1”
After the first three combined unexcused absences and tardies, the school is required to notify the parent or guardian. The purpose is to alert the parents to their child’s absences and/or tardiness in order to afford the parent the opportunity to fix the problem at home.
Second Notice of Truancy “T2”
After a student’s fourth unexcused absence or tardy, the school is required to report the student to the attendance supervisor or school superintendent. Most California schools have special attendance task forces set up to help students who have a problem with truancy.
Third Notice of Truancy “T3”
A student’s fifth unexcused absence or tardy requires the school to contact the parent and attempt to arrange a meeting. The meeting is intended to help parents, students, and the school understand the reasons for the truancy and to figure out a solution.
Once a student misses five days without an excuse, he or she is labeled as chronically or habitually truant. Schools have a myriad of options to help habitual truants, including:
- Referring cases to the Student Attendance and Review Board (SARB) for further investigation;
- Holding mandatory hearings with the parent, student, and school attendance liaison;
- Requiring the student and/or parent to enroll in mandatory time-management and counseling courses with proof of attendance; or
- Referring cases to the District Attorney if the situation calls for extreme intervention.
Consequences for Truancy – Students
The purpose of California’s truancy laws is not to punish students who miss school, but rather to get those students who are chronically absent back into the classroom so that they can enjoy the benefits of a public education. As a result, the consequences for truancy are designed to discourage truancy. Truancy and/or chronic truancy may result in:
- License suspension, restriction, or delay of driving privileges;
- Parental accompaniment to school;
- Mandatory educational programs; or
- Referral to Juvenile Court.
The Student Attendance and Review Board (SARB) is an oft-used tool to help truant students get back on track. SARB is utilized as an alternative to court – for both students and parents – and encourages all involved to find solutions to the truancy problems. Schools who maintain SARBs reserve the power to refer students to juvenile court for further disciplinary action should the student not respond to the efforts of the SARB.
Consequences for Truancy – Parents
Parents are the first line of defense against truancy. The state views a parent’s responsibility to getting their child to school as fundamental. As a result, the consequences for a parent of a truant student can be significant. If schools determine that a case warrants a referral to the local District Attorney, parents can face criminal charges for their child’s truancy.
Failure to Compel a Student to Attend School. A parent may be assessed fines of up to $500 after receiving notice of their child’s truancy. The state maintains that it is a parent’s responsibility to encourage and compel their children to attend school and to get there on time.
Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor. In some cases, a parent may be charged with this Class A Misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Chronic Truancy. If a parent of a child in grade Kindergarten – 8th grade allows that child to miss 10% or more of school, that parent may be charged with this Class A Misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. It is important to note that the state has no exemptions for public school students who have medical issues, emotional or behavioral problems, or are enrolled in special education classes. However, each case is assessed on the facts and circumstances of which it is comprised, so it is unlikely for a court to hand down such a severe punishment if the parent is making concerted efforts to get their child to school.
California firmly believes that public education is a right each student in the state is entitled to receive. To discourage truancy California requires adherence to strict attendance guidelines. If a student misses (or is tardy for) three or more days of school the school is required to notify the student’s parent(s). If a student continues to engage in truant behavior, the school may require a hearing to discuss the problem and develop a solution. If a student is chronically truant, he or she may face penalties, and his or her parent may face criminal charges.