Truancy Among Teens: Laws and Consequences

Learn what can happen if a student misses too much school and truancy laws come into play.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated December 11, 2023

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 adulthood, they must comply with laws that are slightly different than those that apply to adults. One such legal duty is to attend school, regularly.

What Is Truancy?

Each state has compulsory school attendance laws. These laws generally require children between the ages of 6 to 18 to attend school and allow for only a limited number of absences. A child who has too many unexcused absences may be considered a truant under the law.

How Many Unexcused Absences Is Too Many?

Each state defines truancy differently. Some states define truancy in terms of days missed per month or in a school year. For instance, a law might consider a student truant if they have more than two unexcused absences in a single month or five unexcused absences during the school year. Some states use percentages, such as missing more than one percent of the past 120 days of school. Depending on the law, being late for class might be considered as an unexcused absence.

Do Excused Absences Count in Truancy Calculations?

Excused absences don't typically count for truancy purposes. To be excused, the student typically needs parental permission and the absence must be for a permitted reason, such as illness, family emergency, ongoing treatment, or health-related appointments. However, a parent or guardian who repeatedly pulls a child from school for non-permissible reasons could face truancy actions.

What Is a Truancy Letter or Notification?

When a child is absent from school without permission, the school will usually contact the child and their parent or guardian by phone, email, or mail to notify them of the absence. Repeated absences will often trigger a formal notification, such as a truancy letter. A truancy letter places the student and parent or guardian on notice of their obligations to provide timely excuses for absences and the consequences of failing to do so.

The letter might ask the parent or legal guardian to meet with school attendance officials to discuss what actions will be taken. For instance, school officials might direct the student and parents to participate in a truancy intervention course. If the student or parents fail to comply with the agreement, the school officials may refer the truancy matter to social services or a juvenile prosecutor.

What Is a Truancy Officer?

In some cases, schools or local governments have truancy officers who track and enforce attendance violations. (Schools or states may call truancy officers by other names, such as attendance officers.)

What Powers Do Truancy Officers Have?

A truancy officer might send out the truancy letters or notifications described above. The officer could also go to the student's home to inform the parents or discuss the situation with them.

In some states, a truancy officer might step in and file notifications with the courts or child services when a parent has been unable to get the child to go to school or is unwilling to take responsibility for the child's school attendance.

Can Truancy Officers Arrest Kids?

Some states allow truancy officers to "arrest" a truant child but only for the limited purpose of bringing the child to school or back home. Truancy is not a crime. While habitual truancy could result in a juvenile proceeding, it's considered a status offense (one that can only be committed by a minor) that doesn't generally allow for criminal detention or arrest.

What Are Truancy Charges?

Truancy charges generally mean the matter has been referred to juvenile court. Many states require notification to the parents and student and time for corrective action before the issue heads to court. Some laws call for an investigation or require other remedial action or services to be provided as well.

Who Files Truancy Charges?

A prosecutor, local or state agency, or truancy officer often files truancy charges (also called a petition) with the juvenile court. At this stage, the court will have jurisdiction (authority) over both the child and the parents or guardians.

Truancy Consequence for the Child

Juvenile court judges have several options when it comes to truancy proceedings. The judge's orders will vary depending on the reasons for the child's truancy, the child's willingness to go to school, and the parent's role in the matter. For instance, the judge might order the child to:

  • be delivered to school by their parents every day
  • attend summer, online, or weekend classes
  • report to a truancy service center to receive needed programming or interventions
  • report to a truancy officer or probation officer
  • participate in a community service project
  • undergo counseling or treatment, or
  • submit to drug or alcohol testing.

The judge could also take away a child's driver's license or delay licensing until the child turns 18.

Truancy Consequences for the Parents

The judge can also issue orders against the parents or guardians in a truancy matter. These orders might include requiring the parents to:

  • deliver the child to school every day
  • go to individual or family counseling, or
  • attend parenting or anger management classes.

If the parents fail to take responsibility for the child's supervision, the judge might order them to pay fines or refer the matter to adult criminal court. The proceedings could also result in removal proceedings if the parents are abusive or negligent.

Talk to a Lawyer

Truancy might seem like a minor matter, but it can snowball quickly and end up in court. Talk to a lawyer who has expertise in juvenile or family law if you have questions or need representation.

Talk to a Defense attorney
We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you