In California, children between the age of 6 and 18 years must attend school. Certain laws exist to minimize truancy and extreme absenteeism, which are taken very seriously. If a student violates California compulsory education laws and has a pattern of unexcused absences from school, he and his parent or guardian may be referred to court.
California Education Code
California school laws are contained within the California Education Code, which dictates that every person between the ages of 6 and 18 years must attend school full-time, unless she is exempt. However, 16- and 17-year-olds who have graduated from high school or have passed the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), and have their parent or guardian’s permission, do not have to attend school.
Permitted School Absences
A pupil shall be excused from school in California is he is absent because:
- He is ill;
- He is under quarantine, as directed by a county or city health officer;
- He is having medical, dental, optometrical or chiropractic services;
- He is attending the funeral services of a family member, provided the absence is not longer than one day if the service takes place in California and not more than three days if the service takes place out of state;
- He is on jury duty;
- He is caring for a sick child of whom he is the custodial parent;
- He is serving as a member of the precinct board for an election;
- He is spending time with an immediate family member who is an active duty member of the uniformed services who has been called for duty, is on leave from, or has just returned from deployment to a combat zone or combat support position; or
- He is attending his naturalization ceremony to become a United States citizen.
The law permits other “justifiable personal reasons” for school absences, including (but not limited to) a court appearance or observance of a religious ceremony or holiday. The school’s student handbook, which is generally distributed at the beginning of each school year, should explain the attendance rules, including when and how parents must give permission for absences and whether any other proof is needed.
Compulsory Education Exceptions
A child is exempt from full-time public education in California if she is being taught in a private full-time day school by qualified teachers who offer instruction in the various study areas required to be taught in the state’s public schools.
Another permitted exemption is if a child is being instructed by a private tutor or other person in the same study areas required in the state’s public schools. The private tutoring must be provided at least three hours a day between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., for 175 days each calendar year, in the English language. Additionally, the tutor must hold valid state credentials for the grade level of the child.
Exemptions may apply in other, very specific, circumstances, such as if the child holds a work permit to work temporarily in the entertainment industry or participating in a nonprofit performance for a public school audience. In these cases, the child is permitted a maximum of five absences per school year.
Home-Schooling in California
The Education Code doesn’t mention home-schooling in California, nor does the California Department of Education (CDE) provide guidance on how to home-school. The CDE states that it is up to a child’s local school district and relevant law enforcement officers to determine whether a home-schooled child is attending a private school and is therefore exempt from compulsory public school attendance.
Parents must comply with various legal requirements before they can home-school their child. For starters, they must file the Private School Affidavit (PSA) with the CDE (this can be done online). They must also select and provide all curricular, instructional and other materials required for home-schooling.
Compulsory Education Law Infractions
Parents and guardians are legally obliged to send their kids to school and to comply with any instructions from the attendance review board. Parents whose children play truant or are frequently absent may be offered parent conferences, support services or mediation. The aim of California’s compulsory education laws is to help pupils and their families and encourage children to complete their education, but if parents don’t cooperate, they can be punished.
California compulsory education laws give School Attendance Review Boards (SARBs) the power to refer students and their parents or guardians to court for truancy and excessive absenteeism. If a parent or guardian is found guilty of an infraction of California’s compulsory education laws, the financial penalty depends on the circumstances. If it is a first conviction, the fine is up to $100; for a second conviction, the fine is up to $250; and for a third or subsequent conviction, the fine is up to $500.
In all cases, instead of a fine, the court has the discretion to order the person to be placed in a parent education and counseling program. The court may also order the parent or guardian to immediately enroll or re-enroll the pupil in the appropriate school or educational program and provide proof of enrollment to the court. If this order is deliberately violated, it is considered a civil contempt of court, and is punishable with a fine of up to $1,000.
Meaning of Chronic Truancy
If a child who is subject to compulsory full-time education in California is absent from school without a valid excuse for 10 percent or more of the schooldays in one school year, he is considered a chronic truant.
The penalty for chronic truancy can be severe. Under the California Penal Code, a parent or guardian of a chronic truant (who is 6 years of age or more, is in kindergarten through eighth grade, and who is not exempt from compulsory full-time education) who has failed to reasonably supervise and encourage the child’s school attendance and has been offered support services to address the issue, is guilty of a misdemeanor. The punishment is a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to one year in a county jail.
Permitted Leave of Absence
When a child is 15 years or older, she may take a leave of absence from school for up to one semester if her school district governing board has adopted a written policy that allows pupils to take leaves of absence, and the purpose of her leave is supervised travel, study, training or work that is not otherwise available to her. Additionally, a written agreement must be signed by the child’s parent or guardian, as well as the principal or administrative officer of the child’s school, a teacher chosen by the child who is familiar with her academic progress, and the district supervisor of child welfare and attendance.
The agreement must detail the purpose of the child’s leave from school, the length of time she will be on leave, and provide for an agreed meeting between, or contact with, the child and a school official at least once a month during the period of leave.
Any child who takes an authorized leave of absence must be allowed to return to school at any time; however, the school is not required to provide additional sessions for her to make up the classes she has missed.
- California Department of Education: School Attendance Review Boards
- California Legislative Information: Education Code Chapter 2. Compulsory Education Law [48200 - 48361]
- California Department of Education: Schooling at Home
- California Department of Education: Private Schools Frequently Asked Questions
- California Department of Education: Private School Affidavit
- California Legislative Information: Education Code Article 5. Truants [48260 - 48273]
- California Legislative Information: California Penal Code: Chapter 2. Abandonment and Neglect of Children [270 - 273.75]