A “truant” is defined as a student who misses school. “Truancy laws,” also called “compulsory education” laws, are designed to keep kids in school. Different states handle these laws with differing degrees of punishment. Some punish the truant students themselves. Others give penalties to the parents of truant students. Some states have abandoned truancy laws altogether.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the states, there have been questions about how to conduct school. As vaccines are distributed and states open up, the education system is attempting to keep up with the changes caused by the pandemic. It has been difficult to decide how to continue. What effect, if any, has the COVID-19 pandemic had on truancy laws? The short answer is, the laws themselves have not changed.
Virginia’s Compulsory Education Laws
In the state of Virginia, minors between 5 and 18 are expected to attend classes. There is no “aging out” like there is in many other states.
Kids who are exempt from truancy laws include:
- Students who are homeschooled
- Students who have severe medical conditions
- Prodigious students who received a high school diploma early
- Students who have been expelled or face other legal troubles
Chronic truancy is a Class 3 misdemeanor in Virginia. The penalty does not, however, fall upon the students. Parents of truant juveniles can be charged, and the penalty is a fine of up to $500. Juveniles can end up on probation and be treated as children in need of services or supervision.
Problems with COVID-19 and School Attendance
Everyone in America has had difficulty catching up to COVID-19. Across the nation, absences have doubled. Statistics show that, on average, at least 10% of juveniles are missing. Absences have gone up even among juveniles who are attending class in person.
The trouble with remote learning is that student attendance is difficult to track. For one, students must log in, and some districts may not even require that. Any adult who uses a computer to clock in for work can tell you how easy it is to forget. This is even more difficult for school kids who are not used to signing in, and very young students may find logging in difficult to master. A juvenile could be faithfully, studiously working on a paper or project, but still, be regularly absent by forgetting to log in.
Attendance problems point in the other direction as well. Clever juveniles can find ways to log in and never actually attend their classes or do their work. Some students may be uncomfortable or forgetful about using cameras during a session, which adds to the difficulty.
Moreover, there are juveniles who do not have the option of attending classes physically or online. The economic impact of the pandemic cannot be overlooked. Outside forces such as homelessness or a lack of internet connectivity hinder a juvenile’s ability to get an education, online or not.
How Truancy Is Being Addressed
Technically, the laws have not changed. Chronically absent students could still see their parents facing legal troubles. Traditionally, truancy allegations are handled in a partnership between schools and law enforcement. Schools monitor attendance and send reports to the police for missing students.
What has changed is not the law, but how schools are handling absences. Only 5% of surveyed schools have said they are seeking legal recourse for attendance problems. Many schools are showing compassion and self-awareness by not reporting absences to law enforcement. Districts are experimenting with ways to keep juvenile students present and engaged. Some have begun using the services of “coaches,” who regularly check in on students, keeping them on task between video classes.
Schools are using alternative methods to encourage attendance. Many are turning to the families themselves, and some are seeking the services of social workers. Recent surveys have shown that administrators are avoiding expulsions for absences, too, with only 6% saying they will pursue that option.
If you find yourself in legal trouble for your child’s absences, talk to a lawyer today. It is unfair and unrealistic for the law to be cracked down on now, given our current social climate. Don’t just accept a misdemeanor charge, a fine, or have your juvenile placed on probation when you and your children are doing your best during these trying times.
If you are a juvenile or parent of a juvenile facing consequences for a truancy charge, call (703) 940-0001 or contact us online today. Your first consultation is free, and we can help try to keep this already difficult time from becoming even more challenging.