Truancy, also called skipping school, is defined by all states as unexcused absences from school without the knowledge of a parent or guardian. It has been romanticized through literature and films by characters such as Tom Sawyer and Ferris Bueller as the harmless mischief juveniles do on sunny days. But the fact is juveniles who are school-aged are required by all states to attend school, whether that school be public, private, parochial, or some other educational forum. Truancy is, therefore, a status offense as it only applies to people of a certain age. The school age of a juvenile varies from state to state, with most states requiring attendance either from age six to age 17 or from age five to 18. There are a number of exceptions, such as Pennsylvania, which denotes school age as between eight and 17 and Illinois which denotes school age as between seven and 16.
The number of days required in order for a juvenile to be labeled “truant,” varies by school, school district, and state. State legislation tends to provide some guidelines for school districts by setting a maximum number of absences allowed. School districts then tighten these guidelines. For example, in Pennsylvania, a truant is a school-aged juvenile who is absent from school more than three times after a notice of truancy has been sent to the juvenile’s home. In Louisiana, a juvenile is deemed truant after the fifth unexcused absence from school, provided the absences occur in a single month. Many school districts define truancy as any unexcused absence, where unexcused means the student has left school property without parental or school permission.