Live in Texas? What Should You Know About Changes to Truancy Laws?

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Getting young children up, dressed, and ready for school can be a challenge. By the time your child has hit his or her teen years, this can feel like an impossible task. With less supervision from both parents and teachers, teens may begin skipping classes or stop attending school entirely.

Although some prosecutors will bring truancy charges against teens who skip school, potentially leading to fines or even jail time, a law taking effect on September 1, 2015 could mean that you (as the parent) are punished more harshly for your teen's actions than your teen himself. Read on to learn more about how these changes in Texas's truancy laws could affect your future.

When may a teen be charged with truancy?

Each state sets its own truancy laws and guidelines. In Texas, these laws are fairly harsh. After a student has racked up 10 or more unexcused absences during a single school semester (generally a 6-month period), he or she is referred to "truancy court." A student who attends this court and is properly chastened, agreeing to improve his or her attendance, may face only a fine of $195.

However, failure to pay this fine or abide by other terms and conditions set by the truancy court could result in jail time until the fine is paid or other agreements are reached. Some schools may choose to send students who have been through truancy court to an alternative school, or even sentence them to detention after the court's proceedings are complete.

This law is made more complex by the definition of an "excused absence." Although you may assume that any time you send in a note for your student's absence (whether due to illness, a family emergency, or pre-scheduled vacation), this absence is excused, this is not always the case. School administrators are likely to have the final word with regard to whether your student's absence was excused or unexcused. This can mean that your child could be sent to truancy court even if you've known (and approved of) each specific absence from school.

What changes are coming to Texas's truancy laws?

In an effort to decriminalize school absences, the Texas legislature has enacted a law that seeks an alternative method to reform those who skip school frequently. However, some parents are concerned that this new law instead shifts the burden to them, rather than to their teen. After September 1, 2015, students who begin to rack up excessive absences will have their parents notified, and these parents will be required to attend a face-to-face meeting with their child and school administrators to try to address the problem.

Students who continue to miss class could be forbidden from driving to school or parking on school grounds. Truancy court will still exist, but the maximum fine should be only $100, rather than a standard fine of $195.

If the school administration determines that a child is missing school not due to their own desires or actions, but a parent's negligence, this parent will also be referred to truancy court, and could be assessed a fine of up to $500. If the neglect is deemed severe enough to warrant misdemeanor charges, the parent could find themselves facing jail time and even more substantial financial penalties.

While ensuring your child or teen's attendance at school is important for multiple reasons, it's also important to be aware of these changing laws so that you'll be able to make sure any absences your child has are excused. If your teen has begun skipping school for fun, he or she may be taken aback at the thought of losing his or her driver's license or facing a fine. Learn more about the law changes by contacting a criminal law attorneys.