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Is It a Crime for a Teen to Refuse to Go to Class?

Many parents have wished they could call in reinforcements to get their kids to do what they should, whether it's clean their room, get off the phone, do their homework, or go to school. One California teen was so insistently truant that her mom actually felt she had no other choice but to call the cops for help. After that ended in the teen's arrest and stint in juvenile hall, an appeals court disagreed with that course of action, ruling that in California it's not a crime to refuse to go to class.

"Mouthy" Teen Arrested

A 17-year-old in Napa, identified as R.M., had a pretty bad record of missing school and was again refusing to go on March 10, 2006. So, at her wits end, R.M.'s mother called the local police for help. Although R.M. was initially hostile and swearing at the officers, she eventually agreed to go with them to school.

However, once at the school, she refused to go to class and said she was leaving. After every attempt to convince her otherwise failed, the deputy in charge of security and truancy at R.M.'s school arrested her. In juvenile court, the deputy said that R.M. violated Penal Code section 148 because she "delayed a police officer in performing his duties." The court agreed, declared her a delinquent ward of the court, gave her a 15-day sentence, home probation, and 30 days of GPS monitoring, among other consequences.

Almost Comical If Not So Troubling

The appeals court disagreed. Referring to R.M. as "mouthy," they said the case would be "almost comical if it were not so troubling." They ruled that the officer didn't have the authority to force the student to go to class. Since the officer "was not performing a legal duty when he ordered her to class," the teen couldn't be charged with a crime for "disobeying his order" and refusing to go to class.

Other States Penalize Parents

The court also emphasized that the state has truancy laws in order to encourage education -- they are not meant to be punitive. However, not all states function that way. In some states, parents can be fined and jailed if their child habitually refuses to go to class. For example, in an extreme case out of Pennsylvania, a woman was arrested and jailed for two days for failing to pay her children's truancy fines. She actually died in jail.

If you or your child are facing legal consequences related to truancy, contact an attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and build a strong defense.

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