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If you need to consult with an attorney regarding truancy, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.

School Attendance and Truancy

Pennsylvania requires every child of mandatory school age to attend school. Mandatory school age begins when the child's parents or guardians choose to have the child begin school, which cannot be later than eight (8) years old until the age of seventeen (17) years old. It does not include any child who holds a certificate of graduation from a regularly accredited senior high school.

Mandatory school attendance requirements may be met either by (1) attending the public schools (including public charter schools), (2) attending non-public schools, (3) participating in a tutoring program approved by the school district superintendent, (4) participating in a home schooling program conducted by a parent, (5) enrolling students who are 15 or 16 years old in a private trade or business school; or (6) enrolling in an approved college by a senior high school student prior to graduation. Standard exemptions to mandatory school attendance include regular, full-time employment under a certificate or work permit under circumstances provided in the law. If a child is not enrolled in a public or non-public school, each education choice listed here has special requirements that must be followed. You should get accurate advice if you are considering one of these choices.

Truancy means leaving school during school hours without school permission or being absent from school for a reason which is not legally excused. Legal reasons for absences include illness, medical appointments, and religious observances. You should check your school's handbook for a complete list of legal reasons for absences. Truancy means either unexcused or illegal absences from school. An unlawful absence of a child of mandatory school age without a legal reason is an illegal absence. When a child beyond mandatory school age is absent without a legal reason, the absence is unexcused but no truancy charges will be filed.

Teachers and principals are required to report to the superintendent when a child of mandatory school age receives three illegal absences. Upon verification of the illegal absences, a written notice is sent to the parents which must contain the dates of the absences, the statement that they were illegal, that the absences represented a violation of the mandatory attendance law, a warning that such violation represents a summary offense and carries a penalty, and that the school district intends to proceed against the parent and child without notice if another illegal absence occurs. If the student continues to be truant after the transmission of the written notice, the school must offer the student and parent a student attendance improvement conference, which aims to develop a plan to reduce the student’s truancy. The conference must be held, even if the parent declines to participate or fails to attend. The school must document the conference. Thereafter upon the next illegal absence, the school district may begin truancy proceedings before the local magisterial district judge ("Judge").

When a truancy proceeding is begun by the school district, both the parent and the child will be required to appear at a hearing before the Judge. The Judge may (1) impose a fine on parents for truancy of up to $300 per offense, for the first offense, up to $500 per offense for the second offense and up to $750 per offense, for a third and all subsequent offenses, (2) require parents to pay court costs, or (3) sentence parents to complete a parenting education program. If the parents show that they took reasonable steps to ensure the attendance of the child, they will not be convicted of a summary offense. If the parents are not convicted, and the child continues to be truant, the child may be fined up to $300 or be referred to the Office of Children & Youth to deal with the problems which result in truancy.

A Judge is permitted to suspend a sentence given to a parent or child if the child is no longer habitually truant. A Judge may also order the parents to perform community service for up to six months.

Truant students may have their Pennsylvania motor vehicle operating privileges suspended for 90 days for a first offense and six months for a second offense. Truant students who are unlicensed are prohibited from applying for a learner's permit for 90 days for a first offense and six months for a second offense, beginning on their 16th birthday.

After the first notice of illegal absence has been sent to the parent and child, no further notice is required for a school district to prosecute future illegal absences. Each illegal absence after the initial notice can be treated as a separate offense.

Pennsylvania law also makes it a crime to aid and abet truancy. People found to have enticed or encouraged minors to be truant will have committed a summary offense. A subsequent violation within one year is a third-degree misdemeanor.   4/18