Under the “compulsory education” laws in Texas, all children must attend school from the time they're six years old (or are enrolled in first grade) until they turn 19. There are exceptions, and some students may leave school early if they meet the Texas requirements for dropping out at age 17 or 18. Although the state has decriminalized its treatment of truants, some parents could face criminal penalties for not making their children go to school.
What Kinds of Absences are Excused?
Under Texas law, students may be excused from school for any reasons accepted by their teachers, principals, or school superintendents. The state requires schools to excuse students for certain reasons, including:
- observing religious holy days
- going to health care appointments
- spending up to five days with a military parent who’s leaving for combat duty, has just returned from a long deployment, or is on leave
- spending up to four days to pursue enlisting in the military, and
- attending the student’s naturalization ceremony or appearing to finish the paperwork to become a citizen.
Also, children who have a temporary physical or mental condition that makes attendance impractical, they can be excused during their treatment and recovery. (Tex. Educ. Code §§ 28.086, 25.087 (2019).)
Consequences for Truant Students
In 2015, Texas changed the way it deals with truant students. Instead of sending them to juvenile court, the state now has a multistage process focused on addressing the underlying causes of attendance programs. When a student has three or more unexcused absences in a six-month period during the same school year, the district will either:
- refer the student to counseling, mediation, or other services; or
- require the student and parents to follow a behavior improvement plan.
If those prevention measures fail and students rack up 10 or more absences in six months, schools will refer them to truancy court unless those absences resulted from pregnancy, homelessness, being in foster care, or being the main bread-earners in their families. Although truancy isn’t a crime, this civil court may order the truants to take “remedial” steps, including:
- attending school regularly
- attending a tutorial program or a high school equivalency prep course
- performing community service, or
- attending a special program that provides training or help with things like substance abuse, counseling, or job skills.
The truancy court may also order a suspension or delay of the student’s driver’s license or permit. (Tex. Educ. Code §§ 25.0915, 25.0951; Tex. Fam. Code §§ 65.003, 65.009, 65.103 (2019).)
If students don’t obey the truancy court’s orders, they could be found in contempt of court and have to pay a fine. After the third time they violate those orders, children who are under 17 could then face proceedings in juvenile court. (Tex. Fam. Code §§ 65.251-65.259 (2019).)
Truants could also have their enrollment revoked if they have five unexcused absences in a semester, which means they won’t be able to progress to the next grade. (Tex. Educ. Code § 25.085(g) (2019).)
Penalties for Parents of Truant Students
Truancy courts may order the parents of truant students to do certain things like participate in counseling, take special classes, or perform community service. If parents disobey those orders, they could be charged with contempt and face fines, up to three days in jail, and/or community service. Parents could also face misdemeanor charges if they were criminally negligent by not forcing their kids to go to school. (Tex. Educ. Code § 25.093; Tex. Fam. Code § 65.253 (2019).)
Talking With a Lawyer
If the school is treating your child as a truant, consider speaking with a lawyer. An attorney experienced in education law should be able to explain the consequences that your child might face, the steps you can take to avoid those consequences, and how you can protect your child’s rights. A juvenile law attorney could represent your child in truancy court or juvenile court, if matters get to that stage. And if you’re facing misdemeanor or contempt charges related to your child’s truancy, you should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney.