Under Maryland law, "[e]ach person who has legal custody or care and control of a child who is 5 years old or older and under 16 shall see that the child attends school..." MD. Education Code Ann. Sect. 7-301 (c) 2006. The law also provides penalties for violations, as the legal custodian or caregiver "who fails to see that the child attends school...is guilty of a misdemeanor," which could result in fines of $50 to $100 per day of unlawful absence and/or imprisonment for 10 to 30 days, depending on whether the conviction is a first or subsequent conviction. MD. Education Code Ann. Sect. 7-103(e)(2)(i)(i).
Despite this legal imperative, however, the Baltimore City Public School System, which defines truancy as more than 20 days of unexcused absences, grapples with a truancy rate that consistently hovers around thirty percent. (Tom Pelton, "City to Launch Anti-Truancy Effort," Balt. Sun, Aug. 14, 2003, at 3B.) This means that on any given day in Baltimore City, around 6000 of the system's nearly 90,000 students are truant.
Why is it important for a community to care about truancy rates, in comparison to more compelling issues, such as substance abuse and crime? High rates of truancy are linked to high daytime vandalism and burglary rates. Ramona Gonzales, Kinette Richards & Ken Seeley, Youth Out of School: Linking Absence to Delinquency, Colo. Found. for Fain. and Child. Sept. 2002, at 3 [hereinafter Gonzales]. The cyclical nature of truancy, meaning the more truant a child becomes, the more humiliating and futile school attendance becomes for the child, results in an increasingly greater reluctance to return to school.
A Truancy Court Program to Keep Students in School, 39 Md. B.J. 45 (2006)