California truancy laws require children to go to school. The state laws apply to children between the ages of 6 and 18. These children are subject to compulsory education in their school district, whether
- elementary school,
- middle school, or
- high school.
1. What are California’s laws regarding truancy?
California’s truancy laws are found in the Education Code. One of them is California Education Code 48260. This law defines a truant as a child who, without a valid excuse, is:
- absent for 3 full days in a single school year,
- tardy 3 times in a year,
- absent 3 times for more than 30 minutes, or
- any combination of the above.
Students can also be chronically truant. California Education Code 48263.6 defines chronic truants as children who have missed 10 percent of the school year.
- Becky skips the whole school day of public school to go to the beach. She has already been tardy once and missed an hour of class once. None of her absences were excused. By skipping the day, she becomes a truant.
- Without a valid excuse, Josh misses 3 of the first 26 school days. These are unexcused absences. He is a habitual truant.
During the Covid pandemic, many students without access to the internet were involuntarily truant because they lacked the resources to attend online learning.
3. Are there criminal charges related to truancy?
There are some other criminal offenses that are often associated with a lack of student attendance.
For parents, they are:
- Failure to supervise a child’s school attendance (Penal Code 270.1a PC)
- Contributing to the delinquency of a minor (Penal Code 272), and
- Domestic violence.
An underage student accused of skipping class could be charged with related juvenile crimes such as:
- Marijuana possession (Health and Safety Code 11357),
- Drunk driving or DUI (Vehicle Code 23152),
- Violation of the zero alcohol policy for underage drivers (Vehicle Code 23136), and
- Underage DUI with a BAC of 0.05% or higher (Vehicle Code 23140).
Schools try to schedule meetings between the children and parents and school officials such as the attendance supervisor to discuss how to solve the truancy problem. Schools try to put the family in touch with support services in the local district. Alternate educational programs may be available as well.
4. What are the acceptable excuses for truancy?
Minors can only be truants if their absence from school was unexcused.
California Education Code 48205 lists 11 ways a school absence is excused:
- The student is sick,
- A local health officer has issued a quarantine,
- The student has a medical, dental, vision, or chiropractic appointment,
- So the student can attend an immediate family member’s funeral services,
- For jury duty,
- The student is the custodial parent of a child who has a medical appointment or is sick,
- For justifiable personal reasons that have been approved by the school,
- To serve as a member of a precinct board for an election,
- To spend time with an immediate family member on active military duty,
- To go to the student’s own naturalization ceremony and become a U.S. citizen, and
- At the discretion of the school administrator.
Showing that absence from school was excused can prevent being labeled a truant.
Truancy accusations can also be defended with proof that the student is being educated in another way. Examples of alternative education methods include:
- Attendance at a private school,
- Private tutoring, and
- Advanced placement education.
Students can also be exempt from mandatory attendance if they have a part-time work permit.1
5. What are the consequences of truancy?
The consequences of truancy impact both the student and the parent.
5.1. Student penalties
Students who are chronically truant can face repercussions at school.
Most schools in California have created School Attendance Review Boards (SARBs). These Boards have wide discretion to take action to keep a minor in school. They can:
- strip students of school privileges,
- require attendance at meetings with teachers and the student’s parents, and
- require the student to attend counseling.
If the SARB’s actions do not reduce the school absences, it can refer the student to the local Juvenile Court or district attorney.
The Court or prosecutor can issue more severe penalties against a truant student. They can:
- require the student to attend makeup classes,
- put the student on juvenile court probation,
- declare the minor a ward of the court,2 and
- delay, suspend, or revoke a student’s driving privileges.
Throughout, these penalties focus on getting the minor to attend school. They are not designed to punish them.
5.2. Penalties for the parents of a truant student
The penalties for a parent of a truant student are more severe.
If the SARB thinks the parent is allowing their child to miss school, the Board can refer the case to the district attorney, and law enforcement may arrest the parent. Each referral is handled on a case-by-case basis.
If prosecutors think the parents are not making an effort to get their child to school, criminal charges could be brought under Penal Code 270.1a PC – failing to supervise a child’s school attendance. Misdemeanor convictions carry up to:
- 1 year of county jail time, and
- $2,500 in fines.
Prosecutors can file less severe charges for contributing to a child’s delinquency, though. For example, it can be charged as an infraction, which only comes with a maximum fine of $250.
Shouse Law Group is based in Los Angeles, but our attorneys have offices throughout the state, including Sacramento and San Francisco.
- In re A.N., 262 Cal. Rptr. 3d 132, 462 P.3d 974, 9 Cal. 5th 343 (Cal. May 4, 2020).
- Cal. Forms Pleading & Practice (Matthew Bender) ch 513 “Schools: Student Rights And Responsibilities”.