Truancy and School Attendance

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Information about what happens when your child does not attend school and the school files a truancy action. #1134EN

Please Note

*If you are age 16 – 19, live in Washington State, and you have been kicked out of (expelled from) school, or you don't feel safe in school, you can still get a high school degree. To learn more about the GED high school equivalency exam, available study materials and classes, or to sign up to take the test, visit You will need to create an account there and fill out an online form asking for permission to take the GED test. There may be some cost to preparing for and taking the test, but help with those costs may be available. Contact your local DSHS, library, or community college to find out about any help near you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Generally, yes. All children in Washington State between ages 8-18 must go to school.

Yes. Children do not have to go to public school if:

  • They go to an approved private school.

  • They are home schooled. 

  • They go to a certified education center devoted to teaching basic academic skills.

  • The school superintendent has excused the child because they physically or mentally cannot go to school.

Yes.Youth ages 16 and older do not have to go to school if:

  • They are working lawfully and regularly, and the parent agrees they should not have to go to school or they are emancipated. Read Emancipation of Minors in Washington State.

  • They have already met graduation requirements.

  • They get a "certificate of educational competence" by meeting certain requirements, including passing the GED.

A parent or guardian can choose to enroll a six- or seven-year old in school. If they do, the child must go regularly unless one of these is true:

  • The school district has temporarily excused the student.

  • The parent dis-enrolls the child before the district serves them with a truancy petition.

  • The child goes to school part-time for supplemental services.

It depends.

A child can miss school for a valid reason, such as illness. Make sure you let the school know if your child is sick or has other good reason to miss school so it counts as an excused absence.

If your child has 7 or more unexcused absences in a month, or 15 unexcused absences in a school year, the district may consider your child "truant" and can bring a truancy action in court against you and/or your child. But before the district can bring a truancy action, it must first:

  • Let you know about your child's unexcused absences

  • Schedule a conference with you after two unexcused absences in a month

  • Try to stop or reduce the absences

Your child might qualify to get reasonable accommodations of their disability outlined in a 504 Plan. (Visit the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction website to learn more.) Your child might also qualify to get special education and an individualized education program (IEP). Ask the district to evaluate your child to see if they qualify for these services.

If your child has a temporary illness or disability that makes them miss school for at least 4 weeks, they might qualify for Home/Hospital Instruction. (Visit the Office of Superintendent's Home/Hospital Instruction page to learn more.)

During the 2022-2023 school year, districts must excuse in-person or remote learning absences if a student needs to quarantine and one of these is true:

  • The student or a family member is also sick or has symptoms.

  • The student does not have needed instructional tools to do remote learning, such as computers or access to internet or Wi-Fi.

Ask for help if your child is not going to school. Contact the principal or a teacher at your child's school. If you do nothing, the school may file a truancy action in court. If you ask for and do not get help, you can file a truancy action.

It must find out why the child is not coming to school and try to find a solution.

  • Example 1:  The child needs special education because of a disability. But the child is not getting any special education, so the child is very discouraged and refusing to go to school. The district must provide appropriate special education and other services such as counseling, therapy, and medical services (for diagnosis or evaluation). Read Special Education Issues: Things Parents and Caregivers Can Do

  • Example 2:  A child is afraid to go to school because another child is threatening, harassing, or bullying them. The district should develop a safety plan for the child who is being harassed. The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has more information on harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

During the 2022-2023 school year, districts must also:

  • Take daily attendance of all students on in-person and remote learning school days.

  • Let parents know daily about a student's in-person or remote learning absence.

  • Verify (double-check) parents' contact information and try to contact them several times and in different ways if needed, and in the parents' home language.

  • Work with the student to offer support based on the student's needs.

After the action is filed in court, but before you ever go to a court hearing, a community engagement board should get in touch with you and your child to try to help with the challenges keeping your child from going to school. If the community engagement board cannot help, the court will schedule a hearing and let you know when the hearing will be.

It can depend on the facts of your case. In general, the district must prove all of these:

  • The student missed all the days the district claims the student missed.

  • The absences were unexcused.

  • The district has tried to end or lower the absences.

Yes. You must appear at all court hearings on the truancy.  The judge will let you:

  • Tell your side of the story.

  • Challenge the district's claims about you or your child, if the district filed the truancy action. 

  • Explain why the child is missing school and what would help the child. 

  • Show how the school did not try to keep the child in school.

A court that finds that you (the parent or guardian) or your child has not properly attended school may order the child to go to school and will keep an eye on attendance. The court can also order these things:

  • That the child go to a different school, public or private

  • That the child go to another kind of public educational program

  • That the child do a mental health or substance abuse evaluation and follow any recommendations as a result of that evaluation

It depends on what the court's original order said. Some of the court's options include:

  • Fine the parent $25 a day.

  • Order the student to do community service.

  • Order the student to have a series of meetings with a mentor.

  • Order the student to take part in other services.


Generally, no, not for parent or child.

Truancy actions have targeted students and parents of color more than white students and parents. If you think the district is unfairly treating your child because of their race or ethnicity, you can file a formal complaint. Read the Office of Superintendent Office of Public Instruction's Complaints and Concerns about Discrimination.

The school must give parents notices in their language, if practical. Translations are available in many languages. You can ask the school to translate any paperwork about your child into a language that you can understand.

You should also ask for an interpreter to be at any meetings you have with the school. You also have a right to an interpreter at any court hearings. It is not your responsibility to find or pay for the interpreter. Read Communicating with Schools to learn more.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Mar 02, 2023
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