When you’re a parent, you want the best for your child. You want your child to grow up to be happy, fall in love and start a family, and to find a good job or career. You know that education is the path to a prosperous life, and you encourage your child or teenager to pay attention in school and work to get good grades so that he or she can go on to college.
But it’s an unfortunate fact — and many parents’ fear — that you can’t control what your child does when he or she leaves your home. Your child may leave home dressed for school and carrying a backpack full of homework, but somewhere along the way decide that it’s more fun to skip school.
If your child or teen misses too many days of school without a valid excuse, a pattern of behavior known as truancy, there may be consequences for your child — and also for you as a parent or guardian. Ohio law makes it your responsibility to ensure that your child attends school or otherwise receives appropriate instruction.
You may be asking yourself, “Is truancy a crime in Ohio?” The short answer is that it can be. When your child repeatedly is absent from school, or truant, your child may face proceedings and penalties in a juvenile court. Additionally, you may face criminal charges in an adult court. If you’re convicted, the possible consequences may include:
- A jail sentence
- Fines and court costs
- A permanent criminal record that can affect your employment or future employment
- Your child may be removed from your home and placed with relatives or in foster care
If you’ve been told that your child is missing too much school, or you or your child has been charged because of habitual or chronic truancy, you should seek the help of an experienced Ohio juvenile defense lawyer quickly. A defense lawyer with experience handling truancy cases involving juvenile and their parents or guardians can be your advocate in the system and work to get you an outcome that keeps your family together, keeps you out of jail, and preserves your child’s future.
Habitual and Chronic Truancy in Ohio
Every kid misses school sometimes. He or she will catch a cold or flu, or sprain an ankle playing sports, or have a family emergency that keeps the child or teen out of school for a day or two. Ohio law recognizes that students will sometimes be absent from school for valid reasons.
As long as the student has a signed note from a parent or guardian, infrequent absences aren’t typically a problem. It’s when absenteeism becomes what is known as habitual or chronic truancy that the juvenile, and parents or guardians, may face legal consequences.
Ohio Rev. Code 2151.011 defines a habitually truant juvenile as any child between 6 and 18 — defined under Ohio law as the ages at which children must attend school — who is absent more than a set number of days without a valid excuse. Habitual truancy is defined as when a student misses:
- More than 5 consecutive school days
- 7 or more school days in a month
- 12 or more school days in a year
Chronic truancy is an escalation of absenteeism. A juvenile may be considered chronically truant under Ohio Rev. Code 2152.02 when the student misses:
- More than 7 consecutive school days
- 10 or more school days in a month
- 15 or more school days in a year
Legitimate excuses to be absent from school for extended periods may include:
- Being enrolled in and attending another school in the state
- Some diagnosed physical or mental condition prevents the child from attending school, and the child is getting appropriate instruction outside of school
- Home schooling within compliance with Ohio laws
- A child over 14 may be excused from school to perform necessary work for parents or guardians, such as working on a family farm, if the school board has adopted rules authorizing such an absence
Excuses considered legitimate for habitual or chronic absences may depend on the policies adopted by your local school board. However, when a student is habitually or chronically absent from school without a recognized excuse, both you and your child may face legal proceedings in Ohio courts.
Penalties for Truancy for Juveniles
A juvenile who is habitually truant from school may be deemed an “unruly child” in an Ohio juvenile court under Ohio Rev. Code 2151.022. When absenteeism rises to the level of chronic truancy, or when a juvenile already has an unruly child determination on his or her record, the juvenile may be deemed “delinquent.”
Juveniles who are truant face proceedings in juvenile courts. Truancy is what is known as a status offense, meaning it’s an offense that is only a violation because of the juvenile’s age, and is not otherwise an offense if committed by an adult.
Juvenile courts are structured somewhat differently than adult courts. The stated goal of juvenile courts in Ohio is to rehabilitate juveniles. Accordingly, the outcomes are designed to give the juvenile the tools he or she needs to make better decisions in the future — in the case of truancy, deciding to go to school. Outcomes can be punitive and designed as deterrents, but the juvenile process also is designed to evaluate the underlying reasons why a juvenile committed a violation and to connect the juvenile to resources to resolve issues such as parental neglect, mental illness, or alcohol or substance abuse.
When a juvenile is found to be unruly or delinquent because of truancy, the possible outcomes may include:
- An order for counseling
- An order for drug or alcohol treatment
- Community service
- Placement in foster care or a group home
- Detention, but typically as a last option when a juvenile has a lengthy record
Habitual or chronic truancy also can affect a teenager’s ability to get or keep a driver’s license. Ohio law requires a school district to report habitual or chronic truancy to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. In turn, the BMV will suspend a student’s learner’s permit or driver’s license, or bar the student from getting a driver’s license, until he or she turns 18 or the school district notifies the BMV that the student is attending school again.
Penalties for Truancy for Parents or Guardians
It isn’t only absentee juveniles who face penalties for repeated truancy. Parents have a legal obligation in Ohio to ensure that their school-age children receive instruction. When a minor fails to attend school without a valid excuse, the minor’s parents or guardians can be held accountable.
If a child who is habitually or chronically truant is determined to be an unruly or delinquent juvenile, then Ohio Rev. Code 3321.38 allows you as a parent or guardian to be charged with the criminal offense of Contributing to the Unruliness or Delinquency of a Child. Section 3321.38 is the statute that prohibits a parent or guardian from failing to send a child to school.
If you’re charged with contributing to the unruliness or delinquency of a juvenile, then Ohio Rev. Code 2919.24 says you may be convicted of a 1st degree misdemeanor. The penalty for a 1st degree misdemeanor includes up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
If your child is habitually or chronically truant, Ohio Rev. Code 3321.38 also allows you to be charged with the crime of Nonsupport of Dependents, also known as failure to provide adequate support. That’s the same statute used to charge people who don’t pay child support, but in the context of truancy the failure to make sure your child attends school can be considered a form of neglect and may result in a charge under Ohio Rev. Code 2919.21(C).
The penalties for a conviction for nonsupport of dependents may include:
- 1st Degree Misdemeanor — A first offense is a 1st degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, a judge may order you to community supervision, or probation, on a first offense.
- 5th Degree Felony — Nonsupport is a 5th degree felony punishable by 6 to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 when you are found to have failed to support a depending for 26 or more non-consecutive weeks.
- 4th Degree Felony — Nonsupport is a 4th degree felony punishable by 6 to 18 months of incarceration and a fine of up to $5,000 when you have one or more prior felony convictions for nonsupport.
A skilled Ohio criminal defense lawyer can explain the differences between these two charges and what you might be able to expect under the unique set of facts and circumstances of your case.
How a Cincinnati Juvenile Lawyer Can Help
Skipping school may not seem like a huge deal. It’s not uncommon for students to occasionally duck out of classes to be rebellious. However, when truancy becomes a habitual or chronic problem, the consequences can be very serious for the student and his or her parents or guardians alike.
There may be legitimate reasons why a student has missed school. A skilled Cincinnati juvenile defense lawyer can help you fight proceedings in juvenile court, or criminal charges that you face because of your child’s absence from school. A good lawyer can be a strong voice for you or your child in court proceedings to try to avoid consequences that can have a serious impact on your family.