The State of Washington recognizes that one important key to raising children who will be successful in life is providing them with a good education. Therefore, Washington State law requires all children, from age 8 to 17, to attend school. This law also applies to children 6 and 7 if the parent enrolls the child in public school. Regular attendance is a major factor in determining a child's success in school and helping them to perform well academically. Although missed assignments can be made up, nothing can replace valuable class instruction. Washington's truancy law, often termed "the Becca Bill", is intended to stop truancy before it becomes a problem. The law requires only one thing of students: attend school. If a student does not attend school, the law requires the school district to take action.
One (1) or Two (2) Unexcused Absences
After a single unexcused absence, the school must contact the parents. This is generally done by phone or letter. After a second unexcused absence, the school is required to schedule a conference with the parent and student to discuss solutions to the truancy problem.
Five (5) Unexcused Absences
If a student has five (5) unexcused absences in a month, the school may take stronger steps to end the truancy problem. The school may file a truancy petition with the Skamania County Superior Court and enter an order requiring school attendance. The order can be filed against the student, parent or both.
Seven (7) and Ten (10) Unexcused Absences
If a student has seven (7) unexcused absences in a month or ten (10) in a year, the truancy law requires the school district to file a petition in Superior Court and enter an order requiring school attendance. The order can be filed against the student, parent or both.
After a petition is filed with the court, a truancy intervention meeting is scheduled with the school, parent and/or child, and the Juvenile Department. At this meeting, the issues are discussed as to why the youth is not attending school and an agreement is developed and signed by all parties. The agreement and a Motion and Order to Stay the Proceeding is sent to the Judge to approve. If the agreement is violated, then a notice is sent to the court requesting that a hearing be set to move forward with the school's petition.
The first hearing in any truancy action is the "preliminary hearing". Children are entitled to legal counsel. At the preliminary hearing, the court will hear evidence from the school district, the parents, and the student to determine whether the allegation of truancy is true. If the court finds that the student is truant, it will enter a written order directing the student to go to school. The court may also enter other orders to compel compliance with the truancy law, such as obtaining a substance abuse evaluation or attending another school or educational program. If the student successfully obeys the court order and goes to school without any unexcused absences, they most likely will not be called back to court for any additional hearings.
However, students and parents who willfully violate the court order and continue to have unexcused absences will be summoned back to court for a "contempt hearing". When a student or parent is held in contempt, the court may impose a coercive sanction to correct the student's attendance issues. The court may order a student to write a report, do community service or spend time in juvenile detention. The court may order a parent to do community service or even pay fines of $25.00 for each day their child misses class.
Depending on the student's attendance after the contempt hearing, future "review hearings" may be necessary to review the student's progress toward his/her attendance goals.