Did you know, a parent who fails to have a minor student who is under their care attend school regularly can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for up to 60 days and a fine up to $500? With back-to-school season upon us, it is important to understand school truancy laws across the state of Florida, the impact they have on lower income families, and the impact on children with special education accommodations.
Breaking Down the Law:
There is no clear national definition of truancy, as states are able to determine the number of absences and periods of time that make a child truant. Under Section 1003.26 of the Florida State Statute, truancy is defined as a juvenile offense that can be charged to anyone under the age of 16 who fails to attend school on a regular basis. Parents of truant students can also be held responsible under Section 1003.27 of the Florida State Statute. Florida Truancy laws state that any child between the ages of 6 and 16 must attend school. Once a child turns 16, they can file a formal declaration of intent to terminate school enrollment and are then no longer subject to compulsory education after the process is complete. However, anyone who has not yet turned 16 and fails to regularly attend school may eventually be deemed legally truant. The state of Florida considers a “habitual truant” to be any student of elementary school age through age 16 who has:
- Accumulated 15 or more unexcused absences in a three-month period;
- Without the knowledge of their parent or guardian; and
- Are subjected to compulsory school attendance.
Florida has begun to conduct truancy sweeps on parents/guardians, and many have been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and failing to comply with attendance laws. Jacksonville, FL is particularly known for aggressively pursuing truancy. Since they have begun to conduct truancy sweeps on parents/guardians, school attendance is at a 10-year high. While parents can face jail time, counseling, and fines, children also face punishment of their own. If a child is cited for habitual unexcused absences, they may be taken directly to a juvenile detention center. The juvenile court can then issue several different types of punishments on minors including:
- Additional School: A truant student may be ordered to enroll in summer school or weekend classes in order to make up for the days of school missed.
- Drug Screening: The court will sometimes require truant teens to undergo random drug testing and a drug education class if drug abuse is suspected to be part of the reasons for truancy.
- Behavioral Therapy: A truant child may be required to attend counseling sessions.
- Juvenile Detention: There is a possibility that the court will order a teen to a detention center or group home, particularly if this is not their first offense.
- Probation: A court could place a teen on probation for a certain period of time where they would be required to periodically check in with a probation officer.
- Suspended License: Public schools are required to provide the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles with a truant student’s legal name, sex, date of birth, and social security number. These students may not be issued a driver’s license or learner driver’s license from the Department. If they already have a previously issued driver’s license or learner driver’s license, their license could be suspended.
Impact on Low Income Students:
The Center for American Progress found that in 2012, an estimated 7.5 million students were chronically absent nationwide and, according to several other studies, low-income students and students of color were more likely to be absent. Furthermore, research from Johns Hopkins University suggests that of the 15 percent of American students who are chronically absent, a quarter miss school primarily because their families can’t afford transportation or the students are expected to babysit younger siblings or care for sick relatives. The economic burdens that truant students’ families often already face can be compounded by the hefty fines they are ordered to pay under truancy laws.
Impact on Special Education Students:
Many children with learning disabilities are bullied in schools, leading some children scared to go to school out of fear that they might be bullied. This fear of bullying, along with additional challenges in school (such as feeling left behind or underchallenged) can cause special education students to not want to attend school. There can be some assistance in avoiding truancy penalties for special education students if they have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). To learn more about Individualized Education Plans and how to navigate them, check out our previous blogs: Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan Eligibility in Florida & Individual Education Plan Enhanced: Our Top Five Tips.
For students with special education needs, further requirements to prevent truancy charges are provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Public School Districts are required to assess special education students in all areas related to their disability, including the student’s functional performance. Truancy is related to the student’s performance, thus, if a student with special education needs is truant, the school district must conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment in order to determine the reason behind the truancy. Results of these assessments can be then utilized to develop an appropriate Positive Behavior Support Plan to address the truant behavior, hopefully avoiding steep financial penalties and jail time.
Truancy laws can be difficult to navigate and oftentimes have a disproportionate impact on low income and special education students. At the Orlando Law Group, our attorneys help parents understand their legal rights and options for their child’s education. We represent parents in obtaining appropriate legal services for their children and help parents in advocating for their children and their right to a safe and effective education. If you have questions about anything discussed in this article or other legal matters related to education, give our office a call at 407-512-4394.