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Juvenile Truancy

In California, all children are required by law to attend school between the ages of 6 and 18, and must have good attendance records as well. The state defines legally truant as a student who misses school with a combination of the following types of absences without a valid excuse:

  • three unexcused absences and/or
  • three tardies and/or
  • three absences of more than 30 minutes

For students who miss school six times or more during the year with unexcused absences and/or tardies the child is considered "habitually truant" and the school may refer a complaint to the district attorney's office for legal action.

The consequences for a student who is declared habitually truant are severe for both the student AND the parents. Under the law, a parent can be prosecuted for the following:

  • "failure to compel" a child to attend school (an infraction with up to a $500 fine for repeat offenders)
  • violation of Penal Code § 272 "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" (a misdemeanor with up to one year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines)

Most recently, the California legislature voted into law SB1317, which creates a NEW category, "chronic truancy." The new law penalizes parents who allow their children in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade to miss 10% or more of the school year to be prosecuted for a misdemeanor with up to one year in jail AND $2,000 in fines. There is no provision for children who have medical problems, or special education children with emotional or behavior issues.

The consequences for older children are also severe. In addition to the legal liability for parents, high school students can be referred to the Juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code § 601 and be placed on probationary supervision. This Juvenile record can unfairly harm a student's ability to go to college and adversely affect job prospects.

Once a student age 13-17 is labeled a "habitual truant," this may also result in a suspension or delay of driving privileges under Vehicle Code § 13202.7. This can raise insurance rates, further increasing the overall cost to the parents.


Alternatives to Juvenile Court

The SARB (student attendance and review board) is supposed to act as a kind of safety net to study each child's or family's issues and needs (i.e., to diagnose & understand the contributing issues) and to brainstorm ways to support the child/family so that persistent attendance and behavior problems can be satisfactorily resolved without involving the juvenile justice system. The law requires that a school district work to find alternatives to help the student remain in school.

In the event the student and parents fail to satisfactorily participate in those programs and maintain consistent attendance, school district SARB officers have the power to refer students and their parents to court in the form of a "601" petition. If that happens, you need a highly experienced attorney who can work within the court system to preserve the child's rights and fight for more productive solutions than penalties alone.


If your child has been referred for truancy, it is STRONGLY RECOMMMENDED THAT YOU HIRE an experienced juvenile defense attorney. Call the Law Offices of Johnson & Johnson today for a free consultation at (925) 952-8900.

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