Truancy, or skipping school, is not covered in Canada’s Criminal Code. However, each province has its own regulations governing school attendance. Truant officers no longer drag students back to school. You will likely be called into a meeting to explain repeated absenteeism. You or your parents will not be sent to jail, but you can be fined or placed on probation, depending on where you live in Canada. However, If you do not pay the fine or fail to fulfill the terms of the probation, you could face a short jail sentence.
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What is Truancy?
Truancy is defined as being absent from school without a valid reason. There is no charge in the Criminal Code for truancy. Instead, each province has guidelines for those who skip school that goes back to the 1800s.
According to a Statistics Canada (Canadian Compulsory School Laws and their Impact on Educational Attainment [PDF]) report, Ontario took the first step of introducing compulsory school laws in 1871. At that time, parents could be fined if their children failed to attend school for at least four months a year. Most other provinces introduced compulsory attendance before 1910.
As well as laws enforcing compulsory schooling, many provinces introduced child labour legislation in the late 1800s designed to protect children from working under excessive conditions rather than to encourage learning in school.
Children between the age of six and 18 (depending on the province or territory) are expected to attend school regularly. According to many educators, persistent absenteeism jeopardizes a child’s education. There was a time when truant officers were employed to seek out abusers and escort them back to class. However, while it is still possible to face fines, it is more likely the students who habitually cut class will be called into the school with their parents to discuss the issue.
How are Truancy Offences Enforced?
While the concept of the need for children to attend school is the same throughout Canada, the way truancy is enforced depending on the jurisdiction.
Schools are expected to keep attendance records. Educators will attempt to identify the barriers to the student's regular attendance and determine the support and resources available to help the student regularly attend school. In some cases, such as in British Columbia, an elementary school student with five or more excused absences in a single month or a secondary student who misses 20 or more blocks in a single month will be called into a meeting with their parent or guardian.
In Ontario, the education ministry defines persistent absenteeism as "any student who has missed 10 percent or more of school days for any reason, including unexcused or excused absences, over an academic year." That threshold, about 19 days, is generally observed across the country. Ontario high school students risk losing their driver's licence for skipping school.
Acceptable reasons for not attending school
Acceptable reasons include:
- being home-schooled;
- religious holiday;
- family emergency;
- serving a school suspension or expulsion;
- if you are ill or receiving medical treatment.
A parent or guardian of a student required to attend school who neglects or refuses to fulfill that duty can be fined $200 in provinces such as Ontario and Manitoba.
In Alberta, a parent can be fined up to $100 a day for every day of missed school to a maximum of $1,000.
Depending on the province, students could also fail a class due to chronic absenteeism. In Nova Scotia, for example, the education ministry introduced legislation that requires students to be present in class for at least 80 percent of the time. A teacher can recommend loss of credit when a student has missed 20 percent of class time due to absences, even if that student is receiving a passing grade.
Punishment and legal requirements dealing with school attendance are published by the education ministries in each province or territory.