District Magistrate Miller provides overview of truancy law for Tyrone and B-A students

Over the last two years, District Court 24-3-01 has put a major emphasis on addressing truancy matters in both the Tyrone Area and Bellwood-Antis School Districts.
The Compulsory School Attendance Law is set forth in Title 24 of Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes. Under this statute every child of “compulsory school age is required 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.”
“Compulsory school age” is defined the period of “a child’s life from the time the child’s parents elect to have the child enter school, which shall be not later than at the age of eight years, until the age of 17 years.”
Pursuant to Pennsylvania statutes, citations for truancy can be filed against both the parent and child.
“Most parents do not realize that, under the law, they can be held accountable for the failure of their child to attend school,” said District Justice Fred Miller. “A parent, guardian or person in parental relation, upon a summary conviction, can be sentenced to pay a fine of up to $300 plus court costs. Additionally, a default of payment on the fine can result in a period of incarceration at Blair County Prison for a period not exceeding five days.”
Miller also stated that, “A parent, guardian or person in parental relation may not be convicted of an offense under this statute if he or she shows that they took every reasonable step to insure attendance of the child at school.
“In the event it is determined that all reasonable steps were taken and the child has attained the age of 13 years, the focus shifts to the child to determine whether or not there has been a failure to comply with the compulsory school attendance law. Any student convicted under these provisions is subject to a fine of up to $300 and a suspension of their driver’s license. In the event the offender does not possess a license, the suspension will not start until the child receives his or her license.
“Finally, any child who has not attained the age of 13 years, who fails to comply with the compulsory attendance provisions and is habitually truant may be referred for services or possible disposition as a dependent child,” said Miller.
“Once citation is filed by either of the school districts, a hearing is immediately set up which is attended by the student, his or her parent(s) and an attendance officer from the respective school district,” said Miller. “At that time, a determination is made by the Court as to whether or not a violation of the compulsory attendance law has occurred. If a violation has occurred, my focus at the hearing is to determine, with the student, student’s parent(s) and school officials present, what exactly the problem is in regard to the child’s attendance. The attendance at the hearing, regardless of the plea, by school officials is invaluable because once a specific problem is determined to be the cause of the poor attendance, the parents, child and school officials are immediately able to take whatever steps are necessary to insure proper attendance.
“Once an initial hearing is held, the figures indicate the vast majority of students do not end up back in Court on an additional hearing. All students and parents are informed that a separate record is maintained for each child and/or parent for a truancy violation. Inasmuch, I inform each student that regardless of their age, the next time I expect to see them is walking across the stage at graduation.
“The bottom line in a case involving an alleged violation of the compulsory school attendance law is, after a determination is made as to whether or not a violation occurred, for the child, parent, school officials and this Court to take whatever steps are necessary to insure the child’s attendance at school,” said Miller.