High school students are subject to several rules and regulations that only exist for them because of their status as students. These types of violations are known as status offenses because they are only violations if you are of a certain class or status. Status offenses mostly only apply to minors. Along with having to do homework and take tests, high school students are required to attend school without any unauthorized absences. If you are facing a high school disciplinary violation, then it is important that you speak to an attorney experienced in high school disciplinary defense as soon as possible.
What is Truancy?
Truancy is better known as skipping school or cutting class. Movies such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off portrayed skipping school as a generally harmless activity to do on a beautiful day while avoiding an over-eager principal. In reality, unauthorized absences from school can lead to significant consequences, including being dismissed from the school. By legal definition, truancy refers to an excessive number of unauthorized absences from school without the knowledge of a parent or guardian. Truancy is known as a status offense, as it only affects minors that are of high school age.
What Are the Risks of Truancy?
The first most obvious risk of truancy is a juvenile being unsupervised without a parent or guardian having any information about their whereabouts. In many cases, parents don't even know their child was truant until after the act of truancy is complete. Aside from this general risk, truancy is viewed as a first step that leads the student to other forms of risky behaviors, such as using drugs and alcohol or acting without regard for the law. When a student starts exhibiting this type of behavior, then he or she is more likely to drop out of school altogether. Taking appropriate proactive measures can help decrease and eliminate these risks.
What Are the Factors that Contribute to Truancy?
Students have various reasons for wanting to skip school repeatedly. Personal issues that students face are often left unseen by adults and other students around them. Several factors can contribute to a student's truancy, including:
- Lack of school supervision
- Overly harsh punishments for minor violations
- Lack of school communicating with a student's parent when their child is skipping school or performing poorly in class
- Lack of interest by parents
- Substance abuse in the home
- Low self-esteem
These are just some of the reasons why a high school student might want to skip class without authorization. If a student does not feel important, accepted, or challenged at school, then they are more likely to look for reasons to avoid going.
What Are the Laws that Apply to Truancy Proceedings?
Each state has its own laws that are specific to what labels a high school student a “truant.” All juveniles that are school age are required to attend a school of some kind. Juveniles can attend a public school, private school, religious school, or some other type of organized schooling that is licensed by the state. The school-age of a juvenile is defined differently in different states. Most states consider school age to start at five or six years old and end at 17 or 18 years old.
To be labeled a truant, a juvenile that is school age must exceed a specified maximum number of unauthorized absences. The number of absences that are required for truancy varies across not just each state, but each school district and school as well. Because of all of these variations in the law and school policy, it is important that you have professional legal assistance if you or your child is facing being labeled a truant for excessive unauthorized absences.
How Can Truancy Be Addressed?
In the past, students who were deemed truant were subject to harsh and often short-sighted disciplinary measures, which usually meant the student was simply kicked out of school. While a school district wants its rules followed and its students punished for breaking the rules, simply kicking a student out of school does nothing to address the problem and actually gives the student what they may have been looking for, a ticket out of school.
In the present day, many schools, school districts, and state agencies have directed their focus on taking proactive measures in an effort to decrease the likelihood of truancy happening in the first place. Successful truancy prevention programs include measures such as:
- Increased involvement of the student's parent(s) or guardian(s),
- Family counseling,
- Court diversion programs if the student is facing juvenile charges,
- Mentorship, and
- Appropriate training for police officers and other law enforcement.
This is a partial list of strategies and measures that schools across the country are taking to try to prevent truancy before it ever happens.
What Are the Legal Ramifications of Truancy?
Even though truants are being treated differently and are often steered down a path away from the juvenile court, many still find themselves in juvenile court facing delinquency actions. If this happens, then the student can find themselves on probation or ordered to complete certain conditions such as performing community service. In some cases, judges will even decide to send juvenile truants to juvenile detention for a set period. Depending on state law, judges may even assess fines to the juvenile's parents and further subject them to court orders such as required parenting classes or family counseling sessions. Many parents are surprised to find out that judges in juvenile cases often have the authority to require parents to also follow court orders when their children are before the juvenile court. A failure to follow court orders can even result in a juvenile's parents being jailed depending on the situation and controlling state law.
How Can You Dispute an Allegation of Truancy?
Allegations of truancy will typically allow for a formal hearing or disciplinary proceeding of some sort that will allow the student the chance to defend themselves before a finding is made. In a truancy disciplinary proceeding, the student may want to submit evidence to demonstrate that he or she was not truant or may have other defenses that can show that the absences were actually excused or were necessary because of an emergency.
In most formal truancy hearings, the student has several rights, including:
- Being informed what specific rules he or she violated
- Being represented by legal counsel
- Putting forward evidence on behalf of the student
- To have witnesses testify on behalf of the student
These rights are afforded to students by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Students have a basic right to education. If that right is being threatened by a school board potentially suspending or expelling a student, then the student is given the opportunity to defend themselves through an appropriate legal proceeding. If the student is not afforded an opportunity to defend themselves, then this can be used to seek reversal of a decision. This procedure is available for truancy and other status offenses that affect high school students.
Public vs. Private School Truancy Actions
While all education institutions are required to provide their student bodies with safe and structured learning environments, the difference between public and private schools can be vast. The simple difference is that students have different rights when they attend a public vs. private school. When a student attends a public high school, his or her rights are based on state and federal law. Whatever truancy process a public school has in place must conform to the appropriate state and federal law.
Private schools, on the other hand, are considered independent and are allowed to set their own standards and code of conduct for their students. Private schools are not bound by the same regulations that public schools face when making policies for their students to follow. These differences can greatly influence how a truancy action is both pursued and defended.
Is a Truancy Violation Added to a Student's School Record?
Student school records not only contain identifying information about a student, such as their name, address, and birth date, but they also contain personal information such as standardized test scores, medical records, and school disciplinary actions. Truancy violations will almost certainly be added to a student's school record if they are found in violation. If a student has an individualized education program (IEP) or participates in after-school activities such as sports or student government, then that information will likely be found within his or her student record.
Who is Allowed to View School Records?
School records are protected by both state and federal law. Under federal law, student school records are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This law allows parents and guardians to inspect their children's student records. Students who have reached 18 years old are also permitted to view their own records. Others who are allowed to view a student's school record without the need for consent include:
- School officials
- Financial aid officials
- Law enforcement authorities
If a student's school record is viewed by an unauthorized person, then this invasion of privacy would be in violation of FERPA, which can result in the educational institution losing federal funding. Appropriate state law may also result in penalties for the educational institution that allowed the unauthorized transmission of the student's school record. If your child has disabilities, then their records are given stronger protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).
Can You Request a School Record to Be Changed?
Under FERPA, parents, as well as eligible students, have the right to ask for changes to a school record when the record contains information that is inaccurate, misleading or violates the student's rights. It is important to note that FERPA does not allow challenges to disciplinary decisions or a student's grades. If the educational institution denies the proposed change to a school record, then parents and eligible students are afforded the right to a hearing. Since mistakes occur more commonly than most realize, it is recommended that parents and guardians stay apprised of what is on their children's school records in case there is a need for a correction. If you are looking to access a school record, FERPA requires schools to provide the records within 45 days after a request is made for it.
How an Attorney Can Help Your Child in a Truancy Case
High school disciplinary violations operate quite differently from other types of court or other administrative hearings. Students are afforded a more limited set of Constitutional rights than adults are, and an attorney experienced in representing students facing high school disciplinary violations will understand these differences and how they will affect you and your case. An experienced attorney can assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case and can further help determine what the best approach in defending your case is. If you are looking to have an experienced professional negotiate with your child's school to work out an appropriate resolution, then an attorney may be able to help you achieve that goal. If you have legal questions, then call us at the Lento Law Firm so we can help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about high school disciplinary violations such as truancy, then it is important that you direct them to an experienced high school discipline defense attorney. It is essential to know what your child's high school is looking for and the legal standards that are in play when assessing a truancy case. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and skills that are necessary to help put you in the best position for success. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are the right choice, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.