California is Tough on Public School Absences with Truancy Laws

Public education is a serious issue in the State of California, with as much as $76.6 billion dedicated each year to ensuring public school students are afforded the opportunities they need to thrive. To protect this investment in the education of California’s youth, the state is home to some of the country’s most stringent attendance policies.

Students – and parent of students – who fail to regularly attend school are subject to serious consequences. California’s truancy laws are not intended to punish students who do not attend school. Instead, the truancy laws are intended to get students on the right track and back into the classroom. Parents of truant students, however, can face punitive consequences if they fail to compel their child(ren) to attend school.

Keeping Kids in School – California Truancy Laws

California students between the ages of 6 and 18 are subject to California state truancy laws. Only those students who attend private school, are tutored or home-schooled, enroll in programs for the mentally gifted, or have part-time work permits are exempt from California’s attendance and punctuality requirements. Failure to attend school on a regular, punctual basis can result in revocation of certain privileges for students, and even jail time for parents.

California defines a student as truant if he or she has any combination of:

  • Three unexcused absences;
  • Three unexcused tardies; and/or
  • Three absences exceeding 30 minutes.

California defines a student as chronically truant – for which more severe penalties are imposed – as a student who misses school, or is tardy, on 5 or more occasions.

What is an Excused Absence from School in California?

California Education Code § 48205 defines when a pupil shall be excused from school. This includes when the absence is:

  1. Due to the pupil’s illness.
  2. Due to quarantine under the direction of a county or city health officer.
  3. For the purpose of having medical, dental, optometrical, or chiropractic services rendered.
  4. For the purpose of attending the funeral services of a member of the pupil’s immediate family, so long as the absence is not more than one day if the service is conducted in California and not more than three days if the service is conducted outside California.

For a complete list, click here.

Your Student Is Missing School – Now What?

California has created a process that schools must follow once a student has been deemed to be truant. The process is intended to alert the student, parents, and school counselors to the truancy problem and to devise strategies and solutions to get the student back into the classroom. The process includes the following milestones and steps:

  • T1: After a student’s third unexcused tardy or absence the school is required to notify his or her parent/guardian. The purpose is to bring the impermissible lapses in school attendance to the attention of the parent/guardian so that they can be afforded the opportunity to fix the problem at home. At this point in time, parents often become more involved in their students’ transportation to and from school, which helps to solve the problem.
  • T2: After a fourth unexcused absence or tardy the school must report the conduct to the district superintendent or, if applicable, attendance supervisor. The purpose is to alert the school district, internally, to a potential problem. The attendance supervisor can begin preliminary preparation for steps that may need to be taken if the student continues to miss school.
  • T3: After a fifth unexcused absence or tardy the student is labeled as chronically or habitually truant. California truancy laws require the school to attempt to schedule a meeting between the parent, student, and appropriate school officials. The school must make a good faith effort to schedule the meeting. At the meeting, the student, parents, and school will attempt to determine the reasons for the chronic truancy as well as solutions to get the student back into the classroom on a regular and continuous basis. Schools often use this meeting as a measuring stick to determine whether referral to an internal Student Attendance and Review Board (“SARB”) or District Attorney is necessary.

Consequences for Truancy and Habitual Truancy in California

Student Consequences

Once California public school students are labeled as truant or chronically truant, he or she may face significant consequences. Schools have a great deal of discretion in how they approach each individual truancy case and often look to the specific factors underlying the chronic absences. The primary goal of California’s truancy laws is to get truant students back into school so that they can reap the benefits of a well-funded educational system.

Consequences for students deemed to be truant or chronically truant may include:

  • Referral to the district’s School Attendance and Review Board (“SARB”);
  • Compulsory meetings between the student, parent, and school;
  • Compulsory counseling courses with required proof of attendance and completion; and
  • Referral to the District Attorney or Juvenile Court.

Many California schools have established SARBs, which are established to help students and parents work through underlying problems contributing to truancy. SARBs are an intermediary and are often championed as a great way to reach students without needing to refer them to the District Attorney or Juvenile Court for probationary hearings.

If a student’s truancy is not something that has been successfully solved by a SARB, the board may refer the student to the local juvenile court or district attorney (Visit our juvenile crimes page for more info). Truant students who are referred to court are subject to more significant repercussions, including:

  • Delay of the grant of driving privileges;
  • Revocation or suspension of driving privileges;
  • Mandatory educational courses; and/or
  • Probation.

Parent or Guardian Consequences

In California, parents have a responsibility to compel their child(ren) to attend school. Failure to do so can result in serious consequences – including steep monetary fines and time in jail. If a school believes that a parent is not providing the support their child needs, the case may be referred to the local District Attorney for disciplinary intervention. In some cases, parents of a truant child may face criminal charges.

A parent may be fined up to $500 if he or she fails to compel their child to attend school. It is a parent’s responsibility to ensure their children are receiving the benefits of a California public school education.

A parent may be fined up to $2,00 and may face up to one year in jail if a court determines that he or she contributed to the delinquency of their child.

A parent of a chronically truant child in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade may be fined up to $2,500 or may face up to one year in jail if he or she permits their child to miss 10% or more of school days.

Parents of students who require special education courses, have mental disabilities, or chronic medical, emotional, or behavioral problems may want to seek alternatives to public education if those students are more likely to miss school. There are no exceptions to the law for public school students.

However, consequences for truancy cases in California are determined on a case-by-case basis. It is unlikely that the state would encourage punishing a parent for problems beyond their control, so long as they make a good-faith effort to provide their child with a good education and access to school.

California, in allocating over $76.6 billion in state funds each year, makes a huge investment in the education of its children. To ensure that children reap the benefits provided by this investment the state imposes strict attendance policies. The state has devised a process to help those students who have demonstrated attendance and punctuality problems. Through this process, schools work to find solutions with both truant students and the parents. In some cases, consequences may be imposed to deter truancy and encourage family involvement in education.


Juvenile Crimes