Student Services » Truancy



Education Neglect

For purposes of child abuse and neglect laws, a child is defined as a person under the age of parent, or caregiver of a public or private residential home or institution. It can also include an adult who has assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian for the child, but who incidental, such as an occasional babysitter, is not included in this definition.

  1.  Parents are required by law to make sure their children regularly attend school (unless the child meets one of the limited exceptions listed in S.C. Code Ann.§59-65-30).

  2. A parent whose child is not six years of age on or before the first day of September of a particular school year may elect for their child not to attend kindergarten. The parent must sign a written document making the election with the school district in which the parent resides.

  3. Parents who neglect to enroll their child or refuse to make their child attend school, upon conviction, may be fined up to fifty dollars or imprisoned for up to thirty days for each absence. It may be considered educational neglect if a child is accumulating unlawful absences and the school’s efforts to help the child attend regularly fail because of the parent’s refusal to cooperate.


 Indicators of Educational Neglect

Specific signs that indicate educational neglect are not included in state law, regulations, or agency policy. Rather, professional judgment is required on a case-by-case basis. Educational neglect may be indicated if:

 1. The child is too young to be held responsible for his or her own regular school attendance.

 2. The parents do not respond to requests by school officials to meet regarding the child’s attendance problems.

 3. The parents appear apathetic about school attendance and make no effort to work with the school to encourage the child’s future attendance.

 4. The parents refuse to cooperate with an intervention plan instituted by the school to address the child’s continued absence from school.

 5. Other indicators of neglect are present. Child neglect is often chronic and can occur across dimensions. Neglect may be indicated when frequent absences from school are coupled with other signs of neglect, such as the following:

 o Inappropriate clothing for the weather

o Poor hygiene, body odor

o Failure to receive routine or urgent medical care

o Excessive sleepiness during the day

o Coming to school hungry, stealing or asking for food

o Child (frequently oldest sibling) acting as caretaker

o Child reports being left alone at home

o Child is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn

o Parent appears to be indifferent to child’s needs




 School’s Responsibility in Educational Neglect Cases

 A. Efforts to Work with Parents

When a child has excessive absences, the school’s first step is to work with the child and family to bring about satisfactory attendance. The response to these efforts will help determine whether the issue is one of neglect by the parents or willful absence by the child.

The law does not provide specific efforts that are required by the school. Steps generally recommended include:

• Letters or phone calls to the parents

• Meetings with the family

• Referrals to school social worker or attendance officer

It is important that the school document these efforts, as the information will be helpful if a report to DSS becomes necessary.

B. Reports to DSS

If efforts to work with the parents have failed to correct the attendance problem, school personnel may make a report to the Department of Social Services in the county of the child’s legal residence.

The school district is not authorized to petition the court directly under the child abuse and neglect statute. The Department of Social Services is the designated agency responsible for investigating reports of child abuse and neglect, and may invoke the authority of the court.

School teachers, counselors, principals, and assistant principals are specifically required to report to DSS when they have reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. Nurses, mental health professionals, social workers, and law enforcement officers are also mandated reporters. 

In making the report, the following information is helpful to DSS: child’s name, age, date of birth, address, and present location if known; names and ages of siblings; parents’ or guardians’ names and addresses. Additionally, provide information about the child’s attendance, and any other reasons that cause you to be concerned about the child. Detail the school’s efforts to obtain cooperation from the parents, including dates and times of meetings, phone calls, and letters.





South Carolina Code of Regulations No. 43-274 outlines the state requirements for school attendance. In November of 2003, the State Board of Education revised this regulation in response to the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act mandate to gather and report on truancy rates. As amended, Reg. 43-274 provides a clear and concise definition of truancy. The regulation uses a three tiered approach for defining the varying levels of truant behavior. A child is deemed to be a truant, a habitual truant, or a chronic truant depending on the surrounding circumstances, as described below:

Truant: A child, at least 6 but not yet 17 years old, who has accumulated three consecutive unlawful absences of a total of five unlawful absences.

Habitual Truant: A child, at least 12 but not yet 17 years old, who (1) fails to comply with the intervention plan developed by the school, the child, and the parents or guardians, and (2) accumulates two or more additional unlawful absences.

Chronic Truant: A child, at least 12 but not yet 17 years old, who (1) has been through the school intervention process; (2) has reached the level of a habitual truant and has been referred to family court and placed under an order to attend school; and (3) continues to accumulate unlawful absences.

The varying levels of truancy are important because there are requirements and limitations at each level for what should and can be done to address the child’s truant behavior. Reg. 43-274 requires school districts to adopt policies to define and list lawful and unlawful absences.


 School’s Responsibility in Truancy Cases

As soon as a child is determined to be “truant”, school officials are required to immediately intervene to encourage the child’s future attendance. After determining the reasons for the child’s continued absence, school officials are required to work with the child and the parents to develop a written intervention plan to address the child’s continued absence. When developing the intervention plan, school officials may determine that the child and the family are in need of additional services that the school is not equipped to provide. If this is the case, a team intervention approach may be used to formulate the intervention plan. At this point community professionals may become involved. Team members may include representatives from social services, community mental health, substance abuse and prevention, and other persons deemed appropriate.

The intervention plan must include reasons for the unlawful absences; actions to be taken by the parent or guardian and student to resolve the causes of the unlawful absences; documentation of referrals by the school to any community based service providers; actions to be taken by the school; actions to be taken should unlawful absences continue; and guidelines for making revisions to the plan.

In order to effectively address truancy, the underlying problems and causes of the truant behavior must first be identified and resolved. According to a study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the causes of truancy can be divided into four broad categories: family factors, school factors, economic influences, and student variables. Although not specifically mentioned, the community significantly contributes to truant behavior as well.

Community factors, such as economic conditions and differing culturally based attitudes toward education, are included in the four identified areas. (Baker, Sigmon and Nugent 2001).

Once a child is deemed to be a “habitual truant” (has failed to comply with the intervention plan and has accumulated two or more additional unlawful absences) pursuant to R. 43-274: School officials may file an initial truancy petition as long as they have completed the written intervention planning with the parent(s) / guardian(s). If the parent(s) / guardian(s) do not cooperate with the intervention planning, the school district may refer the student to Family Court. The school district also shall file a report for educational neglect against the parent(s) / guardian(s) with DSS. The written intervention plan and documentation of non-compliance must be attached to the truancy petition and served on the student and the parent(s) or guardians (s).

Informing parents and the child of the child’s right to have legal representation is important at this point of the referral process. The referral must also specify any corrective action regarding the student and/or the parent(s) or guardian(s) that the district recommends that court adopt as well as any other available programs or alternatives identified by the school district. 

Once a child is deemed to be a chronic truant (has been through the school intervention process, has reached the level of a “habitual” truant, has been referred to Family Court and placed on an order to attend school, and continues to accumulate unlawful absences) pursuant to R. 43-274: School officials may refer the student to Family Court for violation of previous court order. The school and district must exhaust all reasonable alternatives prior to petitioning the Family Court to hold the student and/or the parent(s) or guardian(s) in contempt of court.  

Any petition for contempt of court must include a written report from the school district indicating: the corrective actions / intervention plans that were attempted by the school district; What graduated sanctions or alternatives to incarceration are available to the court in the community; and its recommendation to the court should the student and/or parent(s) or guardian(s) be found in contempt of court.