New Calif. Truancy Law Goes Into Effect

Parents could face expensive fines and jail time if kids miss school.

By Julianne Hing Jan 04, 2011

As of the new year, California parents face prosecution, fines up to $2,000, and even jail time if they don’t make sure their kids attend school regularly. The new state law took effect on January 1 and was signed into law last September by former Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s a strict law, which holds three designations for kids who chronically miss school. A truant is any student who is 30 or more minutes late to class on more than three school days, a chronic truant any student who misses more than 10 percent of school days without a valid excuse. A habitual truant is a truant who continues to miss class even after school officials attempt to reach out to the student. Parents of kids who are chronically truant can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face a series of fines and punishments, starting with a $100 fine for the first conviction and ending with a year of incarceration and up to $2000 for parents of chronic truants.

It would potentially affect many parents in California, where the truancy rate is 24 percent, according to Californai’s Department of Education. Prior to the new state law, parents could be cited and fined but never faced jail time. The apparent goal is to threaten parents with prosecution so they go after their kids to make sure they’re in school. The initiative’s champion, California’s new attorney general, Kamala Harris, tested the law out in San Francisco and said that it was responsible for cutting truancy rates in the city by 32 percent.

Harris addressed the issue in her inaugural speech yesterday:

We know chronic truancy leads to dropping out, which dramatically increases the odds that a young person will become either a perpetrator or a victim of crime. Folks, it is time to get serious about the problem of chronic truancy in California. Last year we had 600,000 truant students in our elementary schools alone, which roughly matches the number of inmates in our state prisons. Is it a coincidence? Of course not.

And as unacceptable as this problem is – I know we can fix it. In San Francisco, we threatened the parents of truants with prosecution, and truancy dropped 32 percent. So, we are putting parents on notice. If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law.

This work to combat truancy is part of the broader oath that I swore today and the oath upheld every day by the men and women of the the Attorney General’s office.

The program may produce results, but at what cost? One thing is certain. It’s likely to disproportionately affect communities of color. Los Angeles has already tried a version of this anti-truancy law with a ticketing program–kids who are found out of school during school hours can be ticketed. The first offense costs $250 and requires a court appearance from both the student and parent during school hours, no less. But youth advocates found out that the enforcement of the law was directed toward black and Latino youth and other kids of color, many of whom have less family and community support to stay in school, or who have other family responsibilities that keep them from class.