As with any law, it's virtually meaningless without adequate enforcement. With respect to truancy laws, school officials typically have the discretion to decide whether or not to refer an act of truancy to juvenile court. Still, truancy laws are relatively new and not in place in all jurisdictions. The following is an overview of how truancy laws are enforced. See FindLaw's Student Conduct and Discipline for more information.
In all states, the first body responsible for enforcing truancy laws is usually the school. School officials, such as school truancy officers, teachers, and school principals, refer truancy cases to juvenile court jurisdiction. However, if truant individuals are found in a public area, they may be detained by police or taken to a detention facility.
Arizona was the first state in the United States to implement and enforce a get-tough approach to truancy laws. Research on truancy in Arizona began in the early 1990s. Pima County had the highest truancy rate in the state during this time period; in fact, truants from this county made up half of all truants in the state. Because of the extent of the problem, Pima County began a program called ACT Now (Abolish Chronic Truancy) which aimed to strictly enforce state and district truancy laws and offer a diversion program to address the root causes of truancy. The program also sought to provide serious sanctions for both juveniles and their parents if truancy persisted or if conditions specified by the diversion program were not met. School districts, school administrators, law enforcement personnel, and community agencies are involved in this program.
Once a student has one unexcused absence from school, a letter is sent home to the student's parents explaining the consequences of truancy. After a third unexcused absence, the juvenile is referred to the Center for Juvenile Alternatives (CJA) which makes a recommendation to the juvenile court. A letter is sent to the juvenile's parents explaining the diversion program or the alternative court imposed sanctions, and the parents decide which course of action they would prefer.
The diversion program consists of counseling, parenting classes, support groups, etc. Very often parents have no idea that their child is missing school, or they do not seem to care. Support groups and classes teach parents about the value of education and also help parents communicate more effectively with their teenagers. In their report, the CJA will identify which type of intervention is best for the family, and the juvenile and his or her parents will be referred accordingly. Both parents and the juvenile must sign an agreement promising to abide by the conditions of the diversion program. Successful completion of the program results in the truancy case being dismissed.
The ACT Now program has been formally evaluated by the American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI), and each school district involved in the program has shown a steady decrease in the number of truancies each year. This program and versions of it are financially supported by the Department of Justice and have been implemented in many other states.
Many states also hold parents accountable for their children's truancy, and Arizona was the first state to implement such laws. The rationale behind this movement was to coerce parents into taking an active role in their children's education and for all parties to take truancy laws and school attendance seriously. In Virginia, parents can be fined and jailed for failure to adequately supervise school-aged children, which includes making sure they are attending school. In Pennsylvania, parents can also be fined and jailed if they have not taken reasonable steps to ensure their child is attending school. In Texas and many other states, similar laws have recently been passed.