Children may miss school for lots of reasons. Students may be sick, afraid of being bullied, or too depressed to attend. If they have not had success in school, they may start to dread going. As students get older, parents may find it harder to make children attend. One response to poor attendance is to label the student as a "truant." This article will deal with truancy laws.
Q. Do students have to go to school? Who has to make sure they attend?
Iowa has a compulsory attendance law. This means the "custodian" of a child between the age of 6 and 16 is responsible for making sure the child attends school. A custodian may be a parent, guardian, or other caretaker. This article will just use the word parent.
Q. What is truancy?
Truancy means being absent from school without reasonable excuse. A child who has too many unexcused absences may be called "truant." On the other hand, as long as there is an acceptable reason for missing school - he or she is not truant.
Q. How serious is truancy?
If a student is actually truant, it is a very serious matter. Under the compulsory attendance law, if a student is absent from school the parent should make sure the school knows why. If a child is truant, it could eventually result in the parent being prosecuted - being criminally charged with a simple misdemeanor.
Q. What would have to happen before a parent could be prosecuted because the child is truant?
Several things would have to happen before there could be prosecution. First, the school is required to make extra efforts to work with the parents to stop the truancy. This may include an "attendance cooperation process" where the school truancy officer meets with the parent to figure out what can be done to stop the unexcused absences. The school and the family may agree that counseling or other services would help make sure the student doesn't miss school unnecessarily.
If the problem is still not solved after all options have been exhausted, then the situation may be referred to the county attorney for mediation. Remember, this is only if a child is truant. If a student has many absences, but they are all excused, the law does not allow the school to refer the matter to the county attorney. Of course, a school can still be concerned about too many excused absences. The school can work with the parent to help the child miss fewer days - but that is not a truancy issue that could be referred to the county attorney.
When the situation is referred to the county attorney for mediation, representatives of the school, the parent, and a mediator are supposed to have a detailed discussion and make a real effort to reach an agreement. The agreement should say what both the school and the parent will be required to do so the student doesn't miss school unnecessarily. Parents can only be prosecuted if they refuse to take part in mediation or if they break the terms of a mediation agreement. At that point, it would also be possible for the truant child to be referred to juvenile court if mediation breaks down.
Q. How can a parent avoid truancy problems?
Iowa law leaves it up to each school district to establish a policy for how many unexcused absences a student must have before being considered truant. Also, each school district should have guidelines about when an absence will be considered excused or unexcused. There should be a student/parent handbook for each school explaining these things as well as other important school policies. It is very important for parents to be sure they understand the school policies and contact the school promptly about a student's absences.