Attendance and Truancy Fact Sheet


Attendance and Truancy Fact Sheet

This document explains attendance and truancy including: notices you might have received, consequences families face, and how families can contest absences and collaborate with schools to improve absences.

Disclaimer: This publication is legal information only and is not legal advice about your individual situation. It is current as of the date posted. We try to update our materials regularly. However, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact DRC or another legal office.

This document explains attendance and truancy including: notices you might have received, consequences families face, and how families can contest absences and collaborate with schools to improve absences.

California’s Rules

Students 6 to 18 years old are required to attend school on time and regularly. Cal. Ed. Code § 48200.

A child is habitually truant if, without an excuse, they are:

  • Absent for three days in a single school year,
  • Absent or tardy more than 30 minutes three times in a year,
  • Any combination of the above. Cal. Ed. Code § 48260(a).

A child is chronically truant if they have missed 10 percent of the school year. Cal. Ed. Code § 48263.6.

Click here for more information from the California Department of Education.

Examples of Truancy

John was tardy one day in September, left 30 minutes early another day in October, and missed a day of school in November. All absences were unexcused. He is considered habitually truant.

There have been 28 school days so far this year. Jane has missed three. All absences were unexcused. Three days is more than 10% of the 28 days of school so far. She is chronically truant.

Accepted Excuses

Students are only truants if their absences are unexcused. Cal. Ed. Code § 48260(a).

An absence is excused if:

  • The student is sick;
  • A local health officer has issued a quarantine;
  • The student has a medical, dental, vision, or chiropractic appointment;
  • The student is attending an immediate family member’s funeral;
  • The student has jury duty;
  • The student is the custodial parent of a child who has a medical appointment or is sick;
  • The school approves based on justifiable personal reasons;
  • The student is serving as a member of a precinct board for an election;
  • The student is with an immediate family member on active military duty;
  • The student is attending their own naturalization ceremony, or
  • The school administrator gives their discretion. Cal. Ed. Code § 48205(a). See also Cal. Ed. Code § 48225.5.

For an absence to be excused, parents are required to notify schools in a reasonable way. Cal. Ed. Code § 48260.6. They are typically allowed to send a note or call.


If a student is truant, the school district is required to notify the family. Cal. Ed. Code § 48260.5.


Students and families can face serious repercussions for truancy.

Most school districts have created School Attendance Review Boards (SARBs). After a designated number of unexcused absences, students are referred to the SARB. Cal. Ed. Code § 48263.

SARBs have wide discretion. They can take away a student’s school privileges, require attendance meetings with parents, and require counseling. The school district can fine a student up to $100 and their family up to $500. Cal. Ed. Code § 48264.5; Cal. Ed. Code § 48293(a).

More serious actions can also be taken. If the SARB’s interventions do not reduce school absences, the board can refer a student to local juvenile court or district attorney mediation program. Cal. Ed. Code § 48263.5. If a student is between 13 and 18, their driver’s license could be suspended. Cal. Veh. Code § 13202.7(a).

For parents of truant students in kindergarten to eighth grade, penalties are more severe. If the SARB thinks the parent is allowing their child to miss school, it can refer the case to the district attorney. Cal. Penal Code § 270.1.

The process is focused on getting the student to attend school. The goal should not be to punish a student. Cal. Ed. Code § 48320.

Contesting Absences

A parent can challenge their student’s records by submitting a written request to the superintendent. A parent can allege the records are:

  • Inaccurate;
  • An unsubstantiated personal conclusion;
  • A conclusion outside of the observer’s area of competence;
  • Not based on personal observation;
  • Misleading; or
  • In violation of the privacy or other rights of the pupil. Cal. Ed. Code § 49070(a).

The superintendent, or someone they designate, is required to meet with the parent within 30 days of the written request. Cal. Ed. Code § 49070(b).

Ideas for Encouraging Attendance

  • Promoting extracurricular activities that increase the student’s connectedness to school, such as tutoring, mentoring, the arts, service learning, or athletics.
  • Referral to a school nurse, school counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, and other support personnel for case management and counseling.
  • Collaboration with medical and mental health care providers to ensure the student is receiving necessary services.
  • Collaborating with school study teams, guidance teams, school attendance review teams, or other intervention-related teams.
  • In school districts with high absenteeism, ask about barriers to attendance that may require schoolwide strategies instead of case management.
  • If the child has an IEP, discuss creating IEP goals related to attendance. In addition, discuss creating a Behavior Intervention Plan to provide the child with positive reinforcement and rewards for attending school. Another option is to provide therapy services to the child to address any anxiety that is causing school avoidance.