No doubt you have heard that the legislature “de-criminalized” truancy.  Here are the highlights from HB 2398, a major overhaul of our laws pertaining to truancy.

1. The court may dismiss a complaint alleging that the parent contributed to nonattendance if dismissal would be in the best interest of justice because 1) a low likelihood of recidivism; or 2) there is sufficient justification for the failure to attend school.

2. All records of “truancy offenses” including convictions, shall be expunged by order of the court, even when not asked for. This includes records held by the school district.

3. 18 year olds are subject to compulsory attendance. 19 year olds are not.  Students are subject to compulsory attendance at age six, but may not be referred to truancy court until they are 12. Students from 6-11 are subject only to TPM—Truancy Prevention Measures.

4. Those 19 and above may be disenrolled after accumulating six or more unexcused absences in a semester, but this may not be done on a day when the student is physically present at school. Schools must issue a warning letter after the third unexcused absence. As an alternative to disenrollment, the district may “impose a behavior improvement plan” as set out by statute.

5. Truancy matters involving students will no longer go to juvenile, county, justice or municipal courts. They will go to “truancy courts.” Complaints against parents can still go to other courts.

6. A peace officer serving as attendance officer may not take the child into custody. Attendance officers who are not peace officers may not enlist the assistance of law enforcement to take a student into custody.

7. TPM must be used if a student fails to attend school without excuse for three or more days or parts of days within a four-week period. As one such TPM, the district must either impose a BIP or refer the student to counseling, mediation, mentoring, a teen court program, community-based services or other in-school or out-of-school services.

8. Schools must offer “additional counseling” and may not refer to truancy court if the school determines that the truancy is the result of pregnancy, being in the foster program, homelessness or being the principal income earner for the family.

9. Districts must either employ a “truancy prevention facilitator” or “juvenile case manager” or designate an existing employee to implement TPM. At least annually, the designated person must “meet to discuss effective TPM with a case manager or other individual designated by a truancy court to provide services” to students of the district.

10. E.A. will develop rules regarding minimum standards and best practices for TPM, and for sanctions for districts that fail to comply.

11. If the student has 10 or more unexcused absences (days or parts of days), within a six-month period in the same school year, the parent is subject to prosecution and the student is subject to referral to truancy court. Referral of the student must be done within 10 school days and is “mandatory”—sort of. The school can delay the referral, or just not make one, if it is applying TPM, determines that they are working, and believes that delay or non-referral would be in the best interests of the student.  Thus it’s not really mandatory.  Prosecution of the parent is discretionary, and requires evidence of “criminal negligence.”

12. The bill creates a new chapter in the Family Code, Chapter 65, which sets out in detail the procedure for these courts. “The best interest of the child is the primary consideration in adjudicating truant conduct of the child.”

13. In a truancy adjudication hearing, a parent and any court-appointed guardian ad litem must attend. An employer may not terminate the employment of a permanent employee who is thus required to attend a hearing.