Truancy (Becca Bill) and Compulsory Attendance
Attendance is important for academic success, and unexcused absences may be an early warning sign for unaddressed problems with school and future dropout. When youth fail to attend school, they are considered truant.
Washington law requires children from age 8 to 17 to attend a public school, private school, or to receive home-based instruction (homeschooling) as provided in subsection (4) of RCW 28A.225.010. Children who are 6- or 7-years-old are not required to be enrolled in school. However, if parents enroll their 6- or 7-year-old, the student must attend full-time. Youth who are 16 or older may be excused from attending public school if they meet certain requirements.
Suggestions for Parents/Guardians When Dealing with Truancy Procedures
Washington state's truancy law, known as the Becca Bill, requires the school/district and the juvenile court to take specific actions when youth are truant.
- After one unexcused absence in a month, the school is required to inform the parent in writing or by phone.
- After two unexcused absences, the school is required to initiate a parent conference to improve the student's attendance.
- After five unexcused absences in a month, the parent and school must enter a contract to improve the student's attendance. Or, the case can be referred to a Community Truancy Board.
- After seven unexcused absences in a month, or ten unexcused absences in an academic year, the school district may file truancy petitions with the juvenile court.
- If the student is not in compliance with a court order resulting from a tuition petition, the school is required to file a contempt motion.
School districts, through their elected school boards, typically adopt policies and procedures relative to these requirements that are coordinated with local juvenile courts. Guidelines for school board policies are developed through the Washington State School Director's Association, wherein each board makes adjustments to these guidelines based on local priorities and resources.
Each of Washington’s school districts addresses the definition of unexcused absences and interventions in a manner consistent with school board policies. Similarly, local juvenile courts address the petition process in a manner consistent with local county juvenile justice priorities and resources. As a result of these local variations, there are significant differences in how each community approaches and resolves the issue of truancy in Washington state.
Juvenile Court Requirements
- Process petitions filed by school districts.
- Schedule hearings alleging truancy, and notify parents and student of the hearing, their options and rights, and may require their attendance.
- Grant petitions and assume jurisdiction for any period of time deemed necessary if the facts (by a preponderance of evidence) support the petition.
- Schedule hearings alleging non-compliance with court orders, requiring access to legal representation for the student. Parents may also request legal representation.
The court may order attendance at current school, alternative school, another public school, a skill center, drop-out prevention program, a private school or education center, referral to a Community Truancy Board, or completion of a drug assessment test. The court may order a student to report to county detention, impose alternatives to detention, or order parents to perform community service or pay a fine of up to $25 per day for each unexcused absence, if the court rules that a student or parent violated the court order.
- A guide to Preventing Truancy and Understanding the “Becca Bill”
Links to State Law on Truancy