Ohio lawmakers are currently deliberating legislation, House Bill 410, that would significantly modify Ohio’s current truancy system. Please note that the information in this article is current as of the Fall of 2016; however, the bill is expected to pass in late 2016. Readers are advised to consult legal counsel regarding changes in the law and how those changes apply to specific situations.
Q: How does Ohio law define truancy?
A: Ohio law defines truancy as an absence from school without excuse. The truancy laws apply to students between ages six and 18 and identifies two types of truancy: 1) habitual truancy, and 2) chronic truancy. The difference between a habitual and a chronic truant is the number of days the student has been absent without permission.
A habitual truant is absent from school without a legitimate excuse for five or more consecutive days, seven or more school days in one school month, or 12 or more school days in one year. (H.B. 410, if passed, would describe a habitual truant as one who is absent without legitimate excuse for “30 or more consecutive hours, 42 or more hours in one school month, or 72 or more hours in a school year.”)
A chronic truant is absent from school without a legitimate excuse for seven or more consecutive school days, 10 or more school days in one school month, or 15 or more school days in a school year. (H.B. 410, if passed, would eliminate the term, “chronic truant.”)
Q: Who is responsible for making sure a student attends school?
A: The student’s parent, guardian or caretaker is responsible for ensuring that the student attends school.
Q: What is the school’s responsibility once a truant student is identified?
A: The school district must provide one written notice, warning the student and the student’s caretaker of the legal consequences of being a habitual or chronic truant, and insisting that the student be compelled to attend school immediately.
Q: What must a parent, guardian or caretaker do after being notified that a student is truant?
A: The parent, guardian or caretaker must see to it that the student attends school immediately. If this does not happen, the school may require the person who is responsible for the student to attend a parental education program, or the school may file a complaint against the parent, guardian or caretaker in juvenile court.
Q: Must schools have a truancy policy?
A: Yes, the policy should address habitual truancy and intervention strategies and may include the following actions that the school district could take:
1) Provide a truancy intervention program for a habitual truant.
2) Provide counseling for a habitual truant.
3) Ask or require the parent, guardian, or caretaker to attend parental involvement programs.
4) Ask or require the parent, guardian, or caretaker to attend truancy prevention mediation programs.
5) Notify the registrar at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, if the student is of driving age.
6) Take legal action against the student’s parent, guardian, or caretaker.
7) If the board has created an alternative school, the school district must incorporate assignment of a habitual truant to the alternative school in its truancy policy (as an intervention strategy).
Q: What legal actions can be brought against a parent, guardian, or caretaker of a truant student?
A: A school district may file a complaint in the juvenile court of the student’s residential county against both the truant student and the student’s caretaker. The complaint against the student might allege that, in behaving as a habitual or chronic truant, the student was unruly or delinquent. The complaint against the student’s caretaker might allege parental neglect for failure to attend a parental education program or for failure to compel the student to attend school. It should be noted that if the student’s caretaker proves that he or she attempted to compel the student to attend school, but was unable to do so, the court may discharge the complaint against the caretaker. Upon discharge, the school must file a complaint against the student, alleging that he or she is a delinquent, unruly, and dependent child.
Q: What can happen if the student’s caretaker is found guilty?
A: The person or persons responsible for the student may be fined up to $500, required to perform up to 70 hours of community service, or both. The repeated failure to make sure a truant student attends school may also result in criminal charges, a misdemeanor in the first degree, for contributing to the delinquency of a student. In addition, if a child is adjudicated unruly or delinquent for habitual or chronic truancy, the juvenile court may require the parent, guardian or caretaker to participate in a community service or truancy prevention mediation program and a parental education or training program.
Q: What consequences are there for students who drop out or are habitually truant?
A: Although most truancy laws impose a penalty on the parent or guardian of the student, state law also imposes a direct consequence on a student by suspending the driving privileges of any student who drops out of school or is habitually absent. When a student withdraws from school entirely for any reason other than a change of residence and is not attending any other school, the school district is obligated to report this fact to the registrar at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the juvenile court. The registrar will then suspend the student’s driver’s license or permit or deny issuance of a license or permit if one has not been issued yet. This suspension will be in effect until the student turns 18 or until the superintendent informs the registrar that the student is now attending school.
A school district may pass, at its discretion, a resolution applying the above statute to habitually absent students as well. If such a resolution is passed, the parents of a student who is absent without legitimate excuse for more than 10 consecutive school days or a total of 15 school days, will be given written notice. The parents and the student may then choose to appear before the superintendent and challenge this information. After the appearance, the superintendent may give notice of the habitual absences to the registrar at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the juvenile court. Again, the license or permit will be suspended until the student turns 18 or receives a GED or high school diploma, or until the superintendent informs the registrar that the student has completed at least one semester or term and has not been absent for more than 10 consecutive school days or 15 total school days.
This “Law You Can Use” legal information column provided was by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by Mary-Kathleen Aldrich, a Columbus attorney, and updated by John E. Britton, a partner in the law firm of Ennis Britton Co., LPA.