Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions and responses are discussed elsewhere within this toolkit, or constitute actual questions related to truancy that the staff of PDE have received in the past.

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Q: What is an "excused" absence from school?
A: Pennsylvania law broadly defines absences as excused when a student is prevented from attendance for mental, physical or other urgent reasons. Many school districts consider illness, family emergency, death of a family member, medical or dental appointments, authorized school activities and educational travel with prior approval as the only lawful absences. It is the responsibility of each district to determine the validity of excuses.

Q: Is participation in religious instruction outside of the public school considered an excused absence?
A: Upon written parental request, a student shall be excused from school to attend classes for religious instruction under section 1546 of the Public School Code of 1949 (24 P. S. § 15-1546). The excusal shall be limited to a total of not more than 36 hours per school year.

Q: What is an unexcused absence?
A: An unexcused absence is defined by school policy and occurs when no written notification by a parent/guardian is provided to the school.

Q: What are the responsibilities of parents/guardians/students in reporting a student's absence from school?
A: All absences should be treated as unlawful until the school district receives a written excuse explaining the reason(s) for an absence. Parents/guardians and students should submit the written explanation within three calendar days of the absence.

Q: What happens if a parent/guardian/student does not provide a written excuse within three calendar days of the absence?
A: If they fail to provide a written excuse within three days of the absence, the absence will be permanently counted as unlawful.

Q: What is truancy?
A: Truancy is any unexcused absence from compulsory school attendance.

Q: What is the penalty for having one unexcused absence?
A: If an unexcused absence is listed as an offense in the student code of conduct, students can be disciplined.

Q. What is the penalty for habitual truancy?
A. After a student accumulates three days of unexcused absences, the school must notify the parents that any additional unexcused absences can result in a referral to the magisterial district judge. The judge may impose fines, educational classes, and/or suspend driver license operating privileges. For students under the age of 13 years of age, they shall be referred to a county child and youth agency for possible disposition as a dependent child.

Q. Who is responsible for notifying the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation regarding suspension of driver license operating privileges?
A. The magisterial district judge.

Q: Does tardiness count as truancy?
A: Yes, Section 1332 of the School Code states that the names of students who have been absent without a lawful excuse for three days, "or their equivalent", shall be reported to the attendance officer.

Q: Can a kindergarten student be cited for truancy?
A: No. Only students of compulsory school age can be cited. Compulsory school age
begins at age 8 or when the student begins first grade.

Q: Can a student 17 years old or older be cited for truancy?
A: No. The compulsory school attendance law does not apply to students 17 years of age or older.

Q: Who may approve a student's absence from school?
A: Principals or teachers in any public, private or other school may excuse any child for non-attendance during temporary periods following their respective school district's policy and Pennsylvania law in excusing students. The board of school directors is required to adopt policies governing pupil absences and excusals.

Q: What sanctions can be imposed on truant students not covered by compulsory attendance?
A: Unexcused absences should be part of the student code of conduct, which allows progressive disciplinary measures to be taken. Students 17 years old and older must be dropped from the attendance rolls after 10 consecutive days of unexcused absences.

Q: Can any student who has 10 consecutive days of unexcused absences be dropped from the rolls?
A: No, only students 17 years old or older. Students of compulsory school age cannot be dropped from the rolls.

Q: What are some ways school personnel can support and assist truant students and their families?
A: Students should be referred to the local Student Assistance Team and the county Children and Youth Agency for further assessment and evaluation.

Q: As a chief school officer, what are my responsibilities in reporting truancy data to the Department of Education?
A: The US Department of Education, through No Child Left Behind legislation, is working in collaboration with states to determine essential truancy data elements that should be collected. PDE will keep chief school officers apprised of any reporting requirements.

Q: What are the responsibilities of Charter Schools relative to a student's unlawful absence?
A: Charter schools must report to the student's school district of residence when a student has accrued three or more days of unlawful absences. It is then the responsibility of the school district to comply with the compulsory attendance laws in accordance with the Public School Code. However, charter schools are strongly encouraged to inform parents as unlawful absences occur, as suggested above, and work closely with their respective school district in reporting absences.

Q: What are the school district's responsibilities when a Charter School reports that a student has accrued three or more days of unlawful absences?
A: Under compulsory attendance laws, the parent/guardian of a student who has accumulated three unlawful absences are to receive notice stating any subsequent unlawful absences will result in a citation being filed with the magisterial district judge. The notice to parents/guardians should be sent immediately upon notification of third absence by a charter school. It is recommended that such notice should be sent through certified mail. Future unlawful absences should be filed with the magisterial district judge.

Q: What are the responsibilities of Nonpublic Schools relative to a student's unlawful absence?
A: Every principal or teacher in a public or private school and every private teacher (tutor) are required to report at once to the superintendent, attendance officer, home and school visitor or secretary of the board of school directors of the district, cases when a child of compulsory school age has been absent three days, or their equivalent, without lawful excuse.

Q: Are schools required to employ an attendance officer or home school visitor?
A: First, second and third class school districts are required to employ at least one person holding the title of attendance officer or home and school visitor. School districts of the fourth class may also employ attendance officers or home and school visitors with the same powers and responsibilities. Districts may join in cooperative agreements to employ an attendance officer or home and school visitor.

Q: Can an attendance officer or home and school visitor, employed by a school district, arrest or apprehend a child who fails to attend school in violation of compulsory school attendance?
A: Yes. The employee is to enforce the provisions of the Pennsylvania School Code regarding compulsory attendance. These individuals have full police power without warrant and may arrest or apprehend any child who fails to attend school in violation of compulsory attendance. State, municipal, port authority, transit authority, housing authority and school police officers are provided with the same arrest powers.

Q: What happens to the child when they are arrested or apprehended by an attendance officer or home and school visitor?
A: In cases where students are arrested or apprehended, the apprehending or arresting officer is required to promptly notify the parent/guardian to place the child in the public school the child is, or should be, enrolled.

Q: What are the responsibilities of school personnel when they discover that a child is unable to attend school due to the lack of necessary food and/or clothing?
A: Whenever school personnel charged with overseeing attendance discovers that any child of compulsory school age is unable to attend school due to the lack of necessary clothing or food, the case must be reported to any suitable relief agency operating in the school district. If a proper relief agency is not found in the district, the case should be referred to the proper county board of assistance for investigation and relief.

Q: What is meant by Compulsory School Age and Compulsory Attendance?
A: Compulsory school age refers to the period of a child's life from the time the child enters school as a beginner (first grade), which may be no later than eight years of age, until the age of seventeen or graduation from a high school, whichever occurs first. It is mandatory for all children of compulsory school age having a legal residence in Pennsylvania to attend a day school in which the subjects and activities prescribed by the Standards of the State Board of Education are taught in the English language, except in the following situations found in sections 1327, 1327.1, 1329, and 1330 of the Pennsylvania School Code:

1. Attendance as a day student in a private trade school or private business school continuously through the entire term congruent with the public school term that meets the requirements set forth by the State Board of Education or the State Board of Vocational Education when:
• The child is 15 and has approval from the district superintendent and Secretary of Education, or
• The child is 16 and has approval from the district superintendent.

2. Attendance at a school operated by a church or other religious body which provides a minimum of 180 days of instruction or 900 hours of instruction per year at the elementary level or 990 hours per year of instruction at the secondary level.

3. Privately tutored or home school students provided a minimum of 180 days of instruction or 900 hours of instruction per year at the elementary level or 990 hours per year of instruction at the secondary level.

4. Children who are 16 and regularly engaged in useful and lawful employment during the school session with a valid employment certificate.

5. Children who have been examined by an approved professional and identified to be unable to profit from further public school attendance and excused by the school board.

6. Children who are 14 and satisfactory completed the equivalent of the highest grade of elementary school in their district who hold a permit approved by the Secretary of Education to engage in farm work or domestic services in a private home.

Q: What are the consequences and penalties associated with violation of state law and school board attendance requirements?
A: Every parent, guardian or person in parental relation having responsibility over any child of compulsory school age is subject to penalties if compulsory school-age attendance requirements are not met. School districts are required to give three days' written notice of violation of compulsory attendance prior to proceeding against the parent or student. The school district may initiate proceedings with the magisterial district judge three days immediately after the third written notice of a child's unlawful absence, if the child is unlawfully absent from school on any subsequent days.

Possible sentences for parents found to be in violation of compulsory attendance law:
• Paying a fine up to $300 for each offense and court costs, or
• Completing a parenting education program, or
• Completing in lieu of, or in addition to the previous penalties, community service within the school district for a period of no more than six months and
• In cases where the party being sentenced fails to complete the terms of their sentence, a subsequent sentencing to the county jail for no more than five days.
(Magisterial district judges may suspend all or portions of the sentence, if the child is no longer habitually truant.)

The board of school directors may bring a student before the court. Possible sentences for children found in violation of compulsory attendance law:
If the parent/guardian is not convicted by the magisterial district judge and the child has
attained the age of 13, the child may be:
• subject to a fine of no more than $300 for each offense, or
• assigned to an adjudication alternative program pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 1520, or
• referred by the school district for services or possible disposition as a dependent child as defined under 42 Pa.C.S. § 6302 or
• alleged to be dependent under 42 Pa.C.S. § 6303(a)(1) by the magisterial district judge, if the child fails to comply with the adjudication.
(Magisterial district judges may suspend all or portions of the sentence, if the child is no longer habitually truant.)

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