Under the “compulsory education” laws in North Carolina, children between the ages of 7 and 16 must attend classes at a public, private, or home school until they graduate. The requirement also applies to children younger than 7 who are already enrolled in school. Students who cut too many classes before they’re 16 could end up in juvenile court. And parents who don’t try to get their kids to school might be fined or even sent to jail.
Below is a summary of North Carolina’s laws on school attendance, absences, and the responses to truancy. (Because states can change their laws at any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statute using this search tool.)
What’s an Excused Absence?
Parents must follow the local school district’s policy for letting school personnel know when and why their children are absent. North Carolina generally allows local principals and districts to excuse children from school for any unavoidable reasons that the State Board of Education doesn’t consider unlawful. Under the board’s rules, valid reasons for temporary absences include:
- illness or injury
- medical or dental appointments
- caring for a sick child if the student is the custodial parent
- a death in the immediate family
- religious observances
- going to required court appearances
- taking advantage of valid educational opportunities (such as serving as a legislative page), and
- visiting with a parent in the military who’s been called to duty, is on leave, or has just returned from combat deployment.
If students can’t go to school because they don’t have proper immunizations, their absences will be treated like suspensions rather than excused absences. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 115C-378(c), 130A-155 (2019).)
Penalties for Parents of Truant Students
Schools in North Carolina must notify parents as soon as their children have had three and six unexcused absences in the same school year. After the parents received the notice, school counselors should work with the family to identify the causes of the attendance problem and steps to address it, including adjusting the school program and getting support services for the child. Meanwhile, social workers may investigate and report on the situation.
Once a student has racked up 10 unexcused absences, the principal will meet with the parents and decide whether they’ve sincerely tried to get their child to school. When the answer is no, the parents could face criminal charges for violating the state’s compulsory education laws. If they’re found guilty of the misdemeanor, the parents may have to pay a fine and perform community service. More convictions for the same crime could even result in jail time. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 115C-378(f), 115C-380, 15A-1340.23 (2019).)
Legal Consequences for Truant Students
North Carolina law doesn’t impose fines or penalties directly on truant students. But if the principal finds that the parents tried their best to send their child to class, the school may file a complaint in juvenile court. A "habitual" truant could then come under that court’s supervision, with all the possible consequences that involves. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§115C-378(f), 7B-302 (2019).)
Talking With a Lawyer
If the school has reported your child to the juvenile court for truancy, consider speaking with a lawyer. No matter where you are in the process, an attorney experienced in juvenile law should be able to explain how you can protect your child’s rights, as well as the consequences of claiming that you can’t control your child. And if you’re facing misdemeanor charges for violating North Carolina’s compulsory education laws, you should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney.