Charges For Unexcused Absences From School
Under Florida's "compulsory education" law, every child 6–16 must attend school. In addition, all states require juveniles who are school-aged to attend school, which may be public, private, parochial, or even online. Habitually missing school negatively impacts the student's academic performance and can result in serious penalties for the student and criminal charges for the parents.
If you or your child is facing truancy charges, it can be beneficial to have a truancy lawyer on your side who understands education law. Knowledgeable representation is an essential factor in receiving a more favorable outcome for you and your child.
What Is Truancy?
Truancy, or skipping school, is unexcused absences from school with or without the knowledge of a parent or guardian. Under the Florida Statute §1003.26, parents must provide reasons for each student's absence, and the school must then determine if the absences are excused or unexcused. Schools will contact parents to inform them of the unexcused absence to prevent patterns of nonattendance.
School Attendance Laws
All children between the ages of 6 years old, or who will be 6 years old by February 1st of the school year, and 16 years old are required to attend some form of schooling, which covers kindergarten to 12th grade. Once a child turns 16, they are no longer required to attend school and may submit a formal declaration of intent to terminate school enrollment. During the age range of compulsory education, absences from school must be documented with a reason, which may be excused or unexcused as outlined by that school's policies. You can find specific policies for your school district in the student handbook. If you did not receive one at the start of the year, you can request a copy through the school. Additionally, many schools make a copy available online.
For the most part, it is up to the school district to decide what reasons for absences are excusable, how many excused absences are allowed, and what documentation is required as proof. However, certain "insurmountable" reasons are guaranteed under Florida law, such as injury or illness. If an absence is excused, the student will not receive any academic penalties and will be allowed to make up assigned work within a reasonable timeframe. Some excused absences include the following.
- Illness Or Injury
- Death In The Immediate Family
- Religious Holidays Or Events
- Medical Or Dental Appointments
- State/National Competitions
- College Campus Tours
- Other Special Events
- Required Court Appearance Or Subpoena
In most cases, unexcused absences are preventable reasons for students not attending class. Depending on the school district, a certain number of tardies (arriving late to school) may also count towards the number of unexcused absences. Examples of unexcused absences include but are not limited to the following.
- Family Vacations
- Out-Of-School Suspension
- Non-Compliance With Immunization Requirements
- Traffic Or Car Problems
- Missing The Bus
When a student regularly misses school, it is often considered a sign of larger issues in their lives, whether at home or within the school environment itself. Habitual truancy can also be an indicator of underage drinking or drug use.
Truancy Consequences For Students
Florida outlines very specific procedures for schools to follow regarding truancy. After five unexcused absences over a month, or 10 unexcused absences throughout 90-days, the school's child study team will review the child's case and schedule a meeting with the parents to discuss possible solutions. If unexcused absences continue to accrue, the team will suggest other options such as alternative education programs, attendance contracts, and referrals for social services. If the parents feel that these intervention strategies are unnecessary or inappropriate, they may appeal to the school board. However, if the problem persists, the school may file a truancy petition in juvenile court.
After a hearing, the student may be required to pay a penalty, attend alternative classes, enroll in weekend or summer school, perform community service, or participate in behavioral therapy. If the student has had more than 14 unexcused absences over 90 days, they will also lose their learner's permit or driver's license, or have their application for one denied. If it was determined that there are issues with drug or alcohol abuse, the student may have to undergo random drug testing and possibly take a drug education class.
If truant behavior continues, the child may be placed under the juvenile court's control or deemed as a "child in need of services." If the child continues to disobey court orders, they could be placed in a juvenile detention center or group home. They may also be put on probation and be required to check in with a probation officer periodically.
Penalties For Parents Of Truant Students
If interventions at the school level have failed and the truancy case has been escalated to juvenile court, parents may face criminal charges. Parents who cannot show that they were unaware of the absences or tried their best to keep their child in school may be found guilty of a misdemeanor, which can carry a sentence of up to 60-days in jail and a $500 fine. In addition, when a parent is determined to be complicit in or the cause of their child's truancy, parents and their children may be required to attend therapy or other services. Parents also risk losing custody of their children if they are found dependents of the juvenile court. An exception to this would be if you wrote to the superintendent at the beginning of the school year to say that you could not afford to provide your children with school clothes.
How Our Juvenile Truancy Lawyers Can Help
If your child's school is treating your child as a truant, an experienced truancy attorney can help you decide on the next steps to take, determine how to get out of truancy charges, and the best course of action to protect your child's rights. Suppose the truancy case has already proceeded to juvenile court. In that case, Adam Stout can represent both you and your child in the court hearings and defend your rights as a parent if you are facing misdemeanor or contempt charges. The juvenile justice system is separate from the ones adults go through, and the differences can be confusing. The juvenile defense attorneys with Stout Defense, P.A. can provide a free case consultation to help you determine the best course of action.