The Ohio Department of Education makes a distinction between chronic absenteeism and habitual truancy. Chronic absenteeism means missing 10 percent or more of total hours of school during the year for any reason, including excused and unexcused absences.
Habitual truancy means missing 30 or more hours without a legitimate excuse, 42 or more hours in one school month, or 72 or more hours in one school year.
Meaning of Excessive Absences
Ohio law provides that a student is excessively absent if they miss 38 or more hours in one school month or 65 or more hours in a school year. The student must have been absent with a nonmedical excuse or without a legitimate excuse from the school they were supposed to attend. Excessive absences may serve as an early warning that districts can use to address absences before a student becomes a habitual truant.
Student Absences Due to Illness
An absence due to a medical excuse counts toward the student’s attendance record but does not count toward excessive absence and truancy triggers. A school district may consider absences due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine as medically excused.
A student who is quarantined, but not ill, may be able to engage in online education. If a student is participating in online education during a quarantine period, the student should not be considered absent.
A student cannot be considered truant for excused absences. A student with excused absences will not be referred to the absence intervention team to develop and complete a school attendance plan for absences due to illness. A student will not be referred to court due to excused absences.
Suspension for Disciplinary Reasons
A suspension for disciplinary reasons is considered an unexcused absence. A day missed because of suspension will not be counted toward truancy triggers. Suspensions are a legitimate excuse to be out of school. Suspensions count toward excessive absences. This is because the definition of excessive absences does not distinguish between legitimate and not legitimate reasons for missing school.
Consequences of Habitual Truancy
If a student has 38 hours of excused or unexcused absence in a month or 65 hours of excused or unexcused absence in a year, the school will send a letter to the student’s custodian, parent or caretaker. The letter will show the missed days and the laws that apply to the student.
After the student has become habitually truant – missing 30 hours of unexcused absence in a row, 42 hours of unexcused absence in a month, or 72 hours of unexcused absence in a year – the student and parent must attend a truancy intervention plan meeting.
The meeting is jointly presented by school officials and court personnel. The participants create an intervention plan and also draft a diversion agreement, which the student and parent are required to sign.
Implementation of Intervention Strategies
The family has 60 days to implement the absence intervention plan. An Ohio school district can file a truancy complaint with juvenile court ahead of the 60th day only if the student was absent without legitimate excuse for 30 consecutive hours or 42 hours in a month during implementation of the plan.
A school district should not file a truancy complaint if it is determined that a student and family made progress on the absence intervention plan. A district is not required to file a truancy complaint at the end of the 60-day period.
The court will schedule an informal hearing with the student, parent and a court official for a first-time offender. Whether or not the student is a first-time offender, the truancy officer may revoke the diversion agreement. If the court does not hold an informal hearing, it will call the student and parent officially to court. The court will schedule a truancy hearing for the student and/or the parent.
Legal Consequences for Truant Student
A juvenile court may find a person under 18 to be unruly or delinquent if they do not attend school. The court may then order the juvenile to do one or more of these:
- Suffer a period of juvenile probation.
- Complete a mental health evaluation, drug and alcohol assessment or other evaluation.
- Complete community service hours.
- Complete a truancy assessment.
- Commit themselves to the local juvenile detention center.
- Attend day reporting, the county detention center’s in-house school.
- Suffer a suspension of their driver’s license or driving privileges.
The juvenile may have to serve the driving-related suspension until their 18th birthday or until the court terminates the suspension. They'll have to pay a reinstatement fee to legally drive again.
Criminal Charges for Parent
If the parent contributed to the child’s unexcused absence from school, the state may charge the parent with failure to send the child to school or contributing to the unruliness or delinquency of a child.
The penalty for failure to send the child to school is to provide a bond of up to $500, with the condition that the person will cause the child to attend and remain in school. Being found guilty of this offense does not relieve the parent from being prosecuted under the second charge.
Under Ohio state law, contributing to the unruliness or delinquency of a child is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and $1,000 in fines, as well as court costs. Beyond charging a parent with the offenses, the state may also require the parent to participate in up to 70 hours of community service and participate in a truancy education program.
Truancy in Last Days of School
If a student becomes habitually truant within 21 school days prior to the last day of instruction of a school year, the school district or school may assign one school official to work with the student’s parent or guardian to develop an absence intervention plan during the summer.
If the school district or school selects this method, the plan shall be implemented not later than seven days before the first day of instruction of the next school year. Alternatively, the school district or school may toll the time period to accommodate for the summer months. The school district or school may reconvene the absence intervention process upon the first day of instruction of the next school year.
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 3321.19, Examination Into Cases of Truancy - Failure of Parent, Guardian or Responsible Person to Cause Child's Attendance at School
- Ohio Department of Education: Ohio's Attendance Laws
- Ohio Department of Education: Ohio's Attendance Laws FAQ
- Court of Common Pleas, Warren County, Ohio, Probate, Juvenile Division: Truancy Policy
- Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles: Juvenile Court Suspension
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 3321.38, Prohibiting failure to send child to school.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.