All youth between the ages of 8 and 18 are required to attend school every day. When a youth fails to attend his or her assigned school, he or she is considered truant. Washington State law, RCW 28A.225.030, sometimes referred to as the BECCA Bill, requires that school districts file truancy petitions with the Juvenile Court when students have accumulated seven unexcused absences in one month or ten unexcused absences in an academic year.
Overview of Court Process
The first hearing in any truancy action is the "preliminary hearing". At the preliminary hearing, the court will hear the evidence from the school district, the parents and student to determine whether the truancy allegations is more likely than not true. If true, the court 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.
First, a hearing shall be requested by a school district by filing a Petition with the Juvenile Court.
- Step 1: A case number is assigned, a court file is created, and the petition is reviewed for sufficiency by the Court Commissioner.
- Step 2: The Court Commissioner makes a preliminary finding whether to schedule a truancy hearing.
- Step 3: If petition is sufficient, a preliminary court order is issued setting a hearing date.
- Step 4: The preliminary court order is returned to the school district.
If a hearing is scheduled, the preliminary court order shall advise the parties of the date, location, and time of the hearing. When or if a hearing is held, the court may assume jurisdiction over the student's attendance and enter an order compelling school attendance. If the student has had proper notice of the hearing and fails to appear, a warrant may be issued, a second hearing may be scheduled or an order may be entered. In addition, if the court believes it relevant to the truancy, the court may order the student to submit to testing for the use of a controlled substance or alcohol.
Assuming 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, the court may set a review hearing at any time on its own initiative to monitor how the parties are complying with the court's order and reducing truancies. A school district may also request a review hearing by filing a progress report with the Juvenile Court and requesting a Review Hearing.
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 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 require a parent to do community service or even be issued fines for $25 per each day of their child's truancy. Children are entitled to legal counsel once they face the threat of confinement.
It is the school district's obligation to inform the court if the student is out of compliance with the court's order compelling school attendance. The school district shall file a motion for a Show Cause Hearing requesting that a contempt hearing be set.
- Step 1: The hearing shall be set and legal counsel shall be appointed for the student.
- Step 2: The court shall issue an Order directing the parties to appear at a contempt hearing. This order shall be sent to the school district for personal service on the student and his/her parent/guardian.
- Step 3: The school district is obligated to provide discovery to the student's attorney in a timely manner, at least one week prior to the hearing date.
- Step 4: A hearing will be held to determine whether the student demonstrated a willful disregard for the court's order compelling attendance and an order of contempt may be issued.
- Step 5: An order of contempt may include coercive measures intended to improve the student's willingness to comply with the original order compelling attendance including community service, fines, detention, or participation in community-based programs.
Depending on the student's attendance after the contempt hearing, future review hearings may be necessary to review the student's progress towards his/her attendance goals.
Contact the Prosecuting Attorney with questions or comments about the information on this page.