Children have different rights and obligations under the law than adults. The law recognizes that children, or juveniles, are still developing, and until they reach adult age they must comply with laws that are slightly different than those which apply to adults.
One of the legal duties that the law imposes on a juvenile -- a person under the age of 18 -- is the requirement to attend school every day it is in session. A child who does not attend school on a regular basis is considered truant. Truancy is a juvenile offense that can lead to various consequences for the juvenile as well as his or her parents or legal guardian.
States have different definitions of what it means to be truant. Typically, a student is not considered truant until he or she misses a specified number of school days without a valid excuse. For example, a state may define truancy as missing three full days of school in a single month, or 10 full days of school in a single year. States may also consider a child truant if the child is late without an excuse. For example, a child who is more than 30 minutes late for any class three or more times in a single month may be deemed truant.
Even if a child is habitually absent from school, the child is not truant unless those absences occur without the permission of the child's parent or legal guardian. For example, a state may establish that four unexcused absences in a month is enough for child to be truant. However, if that child is kept out of school for five days by the child's parents because of a family emergency, those absences do not count in calculating truancy.
When a child is absent from school, it typically falls to the school to first contact the child and the child's parents or guardian to notify them of the absence. As part of this process the school district typically notifies the parents or guardian in writing, by phone, or in person, and may send a truancy officer or school official to the child's home.
When a teen is truant the teen's school will often hold a meeting where the child, the child's parents, teachers, and school administrators will discuss the truancy problem and determine what actions they can take to solve it. If the truancy problem persists, the school will notify the juvenile court of the problem by filing a truancy petition. The petition notifies the court of what has happened and asks it to take action in the case.
When a juvenile violates a law, the juvenile is dealt with through the juvenile justice system and not the criminal justice system. A teen may be sent before a juvenile court after the school's efforts to reduce truancy have failed, though when this happens differs between states. Once before a juvenile judge, the court holds a hearing and can, upon finding the teen truant, impose a range of penalties.
Juvenile courts have much greater discretion when handling cases and can impose a wide range of punishments on both teens and the teen's parent or legal guardian. The kinds of penalties given differ widely between cases and states. The court will issue the penalties it deems appropriate, and a teen who violates the court's orders may face additional penalties
Juveniles, and their parents or legal guardians, have the right to be represented by an attorney any time they face any type of action in the juvenile justice system. While the juvenile system allows courts far more leeway than the criminal justice system does, an attorney is the only person who can provide you with legal advice if you're facing a teen truancy situation. An attorney experience with the local juvenile courts, prosecutors, and judges can provide you with advice based on both experience and the juvenile laws in your state. Truancy can lead to serious consequences for both the teen and the teen's parents or legal guardian. You should never proceed in any truancy case without a criminal defense attorney at your side.