October 13, 2000
By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst
You asked how the law defines truancy and who is responsible for enforcing school attendance laws when parents fail to send young children to school.
A school-aged child is considered truant if, having been enrolled in school, he is absent without a proper excuse four or more times in one month or 10 or more times in one school year. By law, children are considered to be of school age if they are between the ages of five and 16 (18 starting on July 1, 2001). The attendance laws contain certain exceptions for children between five and seven and between 16 and 18 and for children whose parents provide equivalent instruction outside of school.
Depending on the circumstances, different officials are responsible for enforcing truancy laws. Local boards of education are required to monitor unexcused absences and have policies and procedures for dealing with truancy. Boards must turn to the Superior Court for help when a student's parent or guardian refuses to cooperate. Boards can hire attendance officers to investigate student absences and present violations to prosecutors. Finally, local police have authority to check to see whether school aged children are truant and, if they are, to send them to school. Police can also arrest habitual truants.
DEFINITION OF TRUANT
Current law defines a “truant” as a child between the ages of five and 16 who is enrolled in a public or private school and has four unexcused school absences in a month or 10 in any school year (CGS § 10-198a(a). A “habitual truant” is a child between the ages of five and 16 who has 20 unexcused absences from school during a school year (§ 10-200). Effective July 1, 2001, these definitions will apply to children between the ages of five and 18, unless, when a child turns 16, he has his parents' consent to drop out of school or unless he has graduated from high school (PA 00-157).
By law, local and regional boards of education, local police, and courts are responsible for enforcing the mandatory school attendance laws when parents fail to send their children to school or provide them with equivalent instruction. Their responsibilities vary depending on the situation.
Boards of Education
The law requires each local board of education to adopt and implement policies and procedures to deal with truants enrolled in their schools. Boards must monitor individual unexcused absences of children in grades K-8 and make a reasonable effort to notify the student's parent or person having control over him when the child is absent. They must also, within 10 days of the student's fourth unexcused absence in a month or 10th in a school year, hold a meeting with the students' parents to discuss the situation. If a parent fails to attend the meeting or fails to cooperate with the school in addressing the problem, the superintendent of schools must file a written complaint with the Superior Court alleging the child's family is a “family with service needs” (§ 10-198a).
By law, a “family with service needs” (FWSN) is, among other things, one that includes a child up to age 16 who is habitually truant or overtly defiant of school rules and regulations. School and town officials, the police, social service agencies, and other parties can file a complaint with the Superior Court alleging that a child's family is a FWSN. The court must refer such complaints to a probation officer for investigation.
If the court finds that the child's family is a FWSN, it can (1) refer the child to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or a school district, (2) commit him to DCF for up to 18 months (with a possible 18-month extension), or (3) order him to remain at home under probation or school supervision (§ 46b-149).
In addition to requiring boards of education to use the FWSN process, state law also allows a board to appoint attendance officers. Attendance officers operate under the direction of school principals or superintendents. They must investigate pupils' absences or irregular attendance and present violations of school attendance laws to prosecutors (§ 10-199).
State law allows local law enforcement officers to stop any child under age 16 during school hours to determine whether the child is truant and, if he is, to send him to school. The law also requires law enforcement officers to arrest habitual truants who are beyond control of their parents during school hours (§ 10-200). Police officers who arrest truants must do so only on the basis of a warrant issued by a judge (§ 10-202).