Schools often use truancy court as a way to retaliate against Parents. We know the tricks and we beat schools at their own game.
TRUANCY AND SCHOOL ATTENDANCE ISSUES
Although some children are happy to go to school each day, many families deal with occasional or frequent school attendance problems. It is important to understand how to deal with absenteeism because it can have a negative impact on your child’s education and there can be legal consequences for you if your child misses school.
WHAT CAUSES ATTENDANCE PROBLEMS?
There are many reasons a student may be chronically absent. Two common reasons for absenteeism are illness and school refusal. If your child has a health condition or illness that is preventing them from attending school, their school absence can be excused and, in some cases, they may be entitled to home instruction by a certified teacher. However, if your child is refusing to attend school, perhaps due to do anxiety or depression, the situation may be less clear-cut.
WHAT IS SCHOOL PHOBIA AND HOW DO I DEAL WITH SCHOOL REFUSAL?
For many parents, school refusal, sometimes referred to as school phobia, can pose a daily challenge. School refusal is defined as a “disorder of a child who refuses to go to school on a regular basis or has problems staying in school.” Fear related to attending school or performance in school has been termed “school phobia.” Possible causes of school refusal and school phobia, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, are: stressful life events like moving or starting school, fear of academic failure, separation anxiety, and fear of social situations or bullying.
A school counselor or teacher may be able to help if your child is experiencing school phobia. You should also talk to your child about their feelings and fears. When dealing with school refusal and school phobia, it is critical to determine whether your child simply does not want to attend school or whether there is a deeper problem, for example bullying or mental health concerns. If your child has severe school phobia, it may be an indicator that they have a learning disability or health conditioning entitling them to special education. If this is the case, you may want to consider having your child privately evaluated or requesting a special education evaluation from your school district. If your child already receives special education, a school refusal plan can become a vital part of an effective Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) or 504 Plan.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF MY CHILD MISSES A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF SCHOOL?
Aside from negative academic outcomes, there are potential legal consequences of your child missing school. Excessive unexcused absences from school, also known as truancy, can land students and their parents in juvenile court. Truant students may even be required to enroll in alternative education, complete community service, or serve time in a juvenile detention facility. Parents and guardians can also face fines, be required to participate in counseling if their child is found truant, and in some cases, even face jail time.
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY ABOUT TRUANCY?
Truancy laws vary state by state, but every state is required to define and enforce truancy within their school districts. Many states follow similar patterns for enforcing truancy laws.
TRUANCY LAWS IN NEW JERSEY
For example, New Jersey law requires that children ages 6-16 attend school. (N.J.S.A. 18A:38-28 through 31). Students are considered truant if they have 10 or more unexcused absences cumulatively. (N.J.A.C. 6A:16-1.3). However, there are several valid excuses for missing school that do not constitute truancy under New Jersey law; for example: religious observance, college visits (up to three days per school year for grades 11 and 12), closure of district transportation that prevents a child from being transported to or from school, and temporary or chronic health conditions if the student receives home instruction from a certified teacher. (N.J.A.C. 6A: 16-10.1, 6A: 32-8.3(h)). Students are considered present when they participate in school-sponsored programs. (N.J.A.C. 6A32-8.3). Further, students on in-school suspensions are deemed present while students on out-of-school suspensions are considered present if they receive home instruction from a certified teacher. (N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.2(a)5).
TRUANCY LAWS IN PENNSYLVANIA
To compare, Pennsylvania law requires students of “compulsory school age,” which typically means students ages 6-18, attend school. (24 PS §13-1327). A student who is absent 6 or more school days in a school year is “habitually truant” under Pennsylvania law. (24 PS §13-1326). Absences may be excused for school-sponsored programs, illnesses, family emergencies, medical or dental appointments, and other urgent circumstances (as determined by the school district). (24 PS §13-1326). Fear of physical harm or actual danger, however, is not considered a valid excuse for school absence. If a student is found truant, they may be required to perform community service, complete a training program, and have their eligibility for a learner’s permit or driver’s license suspended. (24 PS §13-1333.3). Parents of truant students may be required to pay a fine and court costs of up to $500 per offense, complete a parenting education program, and, if they fail to pay a fine or participate in a mandated education program, they can even be sent to county jail. (24 PS §13-1333.3).
WHAT IF MY CHILD WITH AN IEP MISSES SCHOOL
Students with disabilities may be more susceptible to chronic absenteeism due to increased likelihood of illness, frequent appointments with medical providers and therapists, and school phobia or other anxieties. The student’s IEP team should hold an IEP meeting to discuss the impact absenteeism has on the student’s educational program and develop a plan to address school refusal and ensure the student’s educational needs are met.
Some parents may elect to keep their children home from school if they feel that the school is not providing an appropriate education for their child with a disability. To avoid truancy proceedings, these parents should ensure that the child receives sufficient home instruction designed to meet the student’s IEP goals from a qualified instructor.
Parents who advocate on behalf of their child with a disability often face retaliation from the school district in the form of truancy proceedings. Retaliation means that a school district uses its resources to punish or prevent parents of children with disabilities from advocating on behalf of their children or engaging in other protected activities. School districts violate federal law when they retaliate in this manner and victims of retaliation are entitled to compensation. If you suspect you or your child is being retaliated against, you may want to consider seeking legal assistance.
You are your child’s best advocate. If you feel that your child has been denied their educational rights, please contact a lawyer at Montgomery Law today for your free consultation. 215-650-7563.
[Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This information should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as creating of any form of attorney-client relationship.]