Although truancy may seem like a minor offense, in Florida, it can have serious consequences for children, teenagers, and their guardians. If your child has been charged with truancy, it is important to have the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can ensure that your child’s interests are protected.Current Law
In efforts to improve academic performance, the Florida state legislature has instituted penalties for a child’s consistent failure to attend school. According to state policy, each school superintendent is responsible for enforcing attendance for all students as well as supporting local law enforcement in its efforts.
Public schools are further required to implement a series of steps in enforcing school attendance, including:
- Contacting a student’s parent to determine the reason for an unexcused absence;
- Reporting to the school’s principal, who will refer the case to a child study team, if a student has had at least five unexcused absences within one month or ten unexcused absences within 90 days;
- Scheduling a meeting with the parents of a child exhibiting patterns of nonattendance to discuss potential remedies; and
- Notifying the school superintendent that a student has multiple unexcused or unexplained absences.
If a meeting with the child’s parents does not result in a resolution, the school’s child study team must:
- Conduct an evaluation for alternative education programs;
- Design an attendance contract; and
- Attempt to establish communication between the teacher and the child’s parents.
If a student refuses to comply with a compulsory school attendance program, the school superintendent has the option of filing a truancy petition with the local circuit court. When the petition is filed, the clerk of the court issues a summons to the student’s parent or guardian, directing both the parent and the student to attend a hearing. The petition must include:
- The student’s name, age, and address;
- The student’s guardian’s name and address;
- The name of the school where the student is enrolled;
- A description of the efforts the school has made to improve the student’s attendance;
- The number of contacts between the school and the student’s parent; and
- The number of days the student did not attend school.
Courts must hold a hearing concerning the petition within 30 days of its filing. If, at the hearing, the court determines that a student had an excessive number of absences, it can order the student to attend school and the child’s parent to ensure that the student attends. Courts are also given discretion to order other sanctions, including requiring the student and his or her guardian to:
- Attend alternative classes as well as perform community service for up to six months;
- Participate in parent aide services;
- Participate in intensive crisis counseling or community mental health services;
- Participate in service provided by voluntary or community agencies; or
- Attend vocational or job training services.
A failure to comply with the sanctions can result in a court’s using its contempt power and referring the case to a staffing committee, who will file a child-in-need-of-services petition.
Truancy may not seem serious like a serious offense, but it can lead to more grave offenses in the future. If your child has been charged with truancy, an experienced juvenile lawyer’s advice can help to ensure that he or she does not suffer unnecessarily harsh consequences. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free consultation.