Truancy: What it is and How to Avoid it
Families looking into cyber school and other alternative methods of education may be doing so due to difficulties with their local school district. Before withdrawing a student, however, it’s important that parents understand Truancy Laws and how to avoid truancy issues. This blog will help you navigate this topic, and provide some solutions to avoid your child being truant!
What is Truancy?
In short, truancy occurs when a child of compulsory school age has 3 unexcused absences during the school year. A student with 6 or more unexcused absences is considered habitually truant. In Pennsylvania, the compulsory school age is defined as ages 6 to 18, so Truancy Laws apply to any student in the state in that age range. Absences do not have to be consecutive to qualify for truancy; they can occur at any time during a single school year.
What is an Unexcused Absence?
While the definition of truancy is clear and easy to understand, parents are sometimes unsure about what constitutes an unexcused absence. An unexcused absence, in its plainest sense, is any absence from school that is not accompanied by a valid excuse submitted to the child’s school within three days of the absence.
Every school must have a documented attendance policy and absence guidelines so that parents know what is considered excused and unexcused, and parents have the right to request access to those policies. Most schools allow absences for medical needs, family emergencies, and college/post-secondary institution visits. Activities like educational trips or family vacations, however, may not be considered legally excused absences, so it’s important to check with your school on their policies.
Moving to a New District
It’s important for families who are relocating to a new district to be aware that truancy laws still apply. Parents are expected to enroll their child immediately upon moving to the new district, even if their place of residence is transitional or temporary. If you’re planning to move but don’t know the new school district, you can look it up by address on this site. Parents should reach out to their new district as part of their preparation for moving so that they can complete enrollment without a lapse in attendance.
Truancy and Traditional Homeschooling
In Pennsylvania, parents have the right to traditionally homeschool their children. However, there are Homeschool Laws that must be followed and documentation that must be submitted to the district. Failure to comply with these laws can result in truancy issues. You can learn more about PA homeschool laws on the HSLDA website. You can also read more about the differences between cyber school and traditional homeschooling on our blog.
Consequences of Truancy
PA Department of Education (PDE) guidelines provide recommendations to schools regarding a notification plan for truant and habitually truant students. In general, parents can expect to be notified in writing about unexcused absences, actions that must be taken, and consequences of further unexcused absences.
PDE recommends that when truancy occurs, schools conduct a School Attendance Improvement Conference (SAIC). The SAIC includes the following participants:
- The child/student
- The child's parent or guardian
- Other individuals identified by the parent/guardian who may be a resource
- Appropriate school personnel
- Recommended service providers
During the SAIC, the child's absences and reasons for the absences are examined in order to improve attendance. This meeting provides opportunities to address issues such as educational environment, academic difficulties, and physical or behavioral health issues.
At the conclusion of the conference, the school creates a written School Attendance Improvement Plan (SAIP). The Plan will include instructions for accessing academic and social/health supports from the school and community organizations, an outline of family/parent and student responsibilities, and details regarding rewards and consequences of future behavior.
CYS and Magistrate
If a child continues to be truant, the district may contact either the local County and Youth Services (CYS) Agency or the magisterial district judge (or both). If contacted, CYS will conduct an investigation and work with the family to re-engage the student in school. If the magisterial district judge is contacted, a truancy hearing is scheduled.
Truancy Hearing and Penalties
At the truancy hearing, the judge decides if the parent is in violation of compulsory attendance law and, if found guilty, determines the penalty. Penalties can include fines of up to $300, community service, or the completion of an appropriate course or program designed to improve school attendance. If the student continues to be truant, fines can increase to up to $750 and the parent can be sentenced to serve time in jail.
For the student, continued truancy can result in the suspension of their driver’s license for up to 6 months; students who do not yet have their license won't be eligible to apply for a license for up to 6 months after their 16th birthday.
Perhaps the most significant consequence of truancy is the effect it has on a student’s learning. When students are habitually truant, they are more likely to fall behind their peers in reading and math, repeat a grade, or even drop out of school.
In addition, study after study shows that students who earn their high school diploma have a higher income, enjoy more steady employment, and have better health outcomes than their peers who do not complete high school.
It’s undoubtedly best to resolve truancy issues as early as possible. If you’ve received notification of an unexcused absence, contact your school right away to resolve the issue. It may be as simple as providing an excuse for the absence, or it may be an opportunity for you to work with the school to resolve a potential issue quickly.
If truancy has continued and you are asked to attend an SAIC, make sure to attend it. This is an opportunity to really tackle the issues that may be keeping your child from attending.
Once a truancy situation is referred to the court or CYS, steps for resolving the truancy will be determined by the agency handling the case. Because there are now legal consequences at stake, it’s crucial that you follow any and all directions provided to you by the agency.
Avoiding Truancy is the Best Option
Obviously, avoiding truancy is the best option when it comes to school attendance. If you start to notice your child is reluctant to go to school, be sure to talk to them about what might be causing their apprehension. If necessary, reach out to your child’s teacher for insight about what might be going on, or contact your school counselor for help in figuring out what may be worrying your child. Often, the longer a problem continues, the harder it becomes to solve. Addressing issues early is important and can help bring about the best resolution.
Bullying at school can be very difficult for both parents and students. Children may not want to go to school as a result, and parents may feel unsure about what to do. It's important to make sure that bullying doesn't lead to unexcused absences and truancy. If you suspect your child is being bullied, contact your child's school immediately. Don't be afraid to contact multiple staff members, including their teacher, school counselor, principal, and even school superintendent. If your school is unable to resolve the issue, check into the resources listed below for help. If you feel you must withdraw your child from school, make sure you have a plan in place to avoid truancy, whether that is traditional homeschooling, cyber school, or a private school.
Children with special needs can have difficulty at school when their needs aren't being met. Whether your student already has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or you think they need one, if you believe their needs aren't being met, it's important to speak up. Contact your child's school if you want to request an evaluation for your child or feel their IEP isn't being followed appropriately. As with bullying, don't be afraid to contact multiple staff members. If your school is unable to resolve the issue, check into the resources listed below for help. If you feel you must withdraw your child from school, make sure you have a plan in place to avoid truancy, whether that is traditional homeschooling, cyber school, or a private school.
More Truancy Resources
- Pennsylvania School Attendance Improvement and Truancy Reduction Toolkit
- Public School Code of 1949 - Omnibus Amendments Act of Nov. 3, 2016
- What Parents Can Do - provided by Gateway School District (click link on page to download)
Remember, truancy is an important issue, but doesn't mean the end of your child's education. With these tips, you can address it and help your child along their path to success.
NOTE: This blog post was originally published in April 2021 and has been updated for accuracy of content.
About the Author: Andie Byron is Assistant Director of Enrollment Communication at PA Virtual.