Personal Freedom

Here’s How Many Utah Parents Have Been Imprisoned for their Child’s Truancy

Childhood education in our country has gone from private and optional to public and mandatory. However, schools were never intended, and are not equipped, to replace parents. Local control of education at the state, district, and neighborhood level is designed to ensure that schools remain an extension of the child’s parents at home—not a replacement for them. Unfortunately, it appears that Utah has moved away from this ideal. As attendance at government schools was legally made mandatory, the government subsequently created criminal penalties for failure to attend.

Compulsory education laws in Utah make it a class B misdemeanor for parents to keep children absent from school without a government-defined “valid” excuse, thereby turning parents into criminals for not taking full advantage of government schools on each and every government-assigned school day. A class B misdemeanor carries the possibility of jail time, placing parents behind bars if their children are not behind their desks.

Using data obtained through a records request, we looked at truancy actions in Utah courts over the past ten years. Interestingly, actions against students through the juvenile court system have declined significantly. However, while infrequent, court actions against parents have actually increased slightly in some cases. At the bottom of this post are graphs showing ten years of data for cases where charges were filed against parents for violation of compulsory education laws and penalties of jail or fines were imposed. This does not include cases where charges were filed and deals were made without imposing any formal penalties. The data indicates that in the past decade, 20 parents were jailed and 171 fined for violations of Utah compulsory education laws.

As school budgets become tight, the funding formulas that depend on student attendance create strong financial incentives for districts to compel and enforce attendance. Anecdotal evidence suggests that districts are tightening up attendance policies and becoming stricter with how excused absences are issued. This may be part of the reason court actions against students seem to have declined in recent years. However, schools may be increasing enforcement against parents, as fines and jail sentences seem to have increased slightly.

Ultimately, parents are accountable to the source of their stewardship over their children—and that source is not government. Laws like these, while well-meaning, confuses the relationship between government and students, and children and their parents.

Explore the charts below to see the recent history of truancy actions against parents and youth in Utah courts.


  • Brian

    What is the scale of the x-axis on the chart? It would be helpful to show the year numbers I think (1975, 2010, etc.).

  • Garry Kershaw

    @Brian Same question I have. Can only assume it’s a past ten, more recent, years – but that’s only a guess.

  • Guest

    It goes back to 2004.  Hover your mouse over the graphed line and the year will pop up.

  • Data observer

    “Anecdotal evidence suggests”, mainly because the real data doesn’t.  I wouldn’t draw any conclusions about fines or jail time increasing or decreasing from these data.  If you are talking about roughly 600 truancy cases out of more than 600,000 public school children then that is less than 0.1% of the students.  Do we need legislation for that?  I would say that these represent the most extreme cases when Districts or Charters are the end of their remedies in working with parents or students.

  • berferd

    I concur with Brian. Is the X axis one week or thirty years? 
    As both the son and husband of educators, I can share that the cases which do go to trial are only the most egregious, almost always with aggravating factors. Almost without exception, criminal factors. 
    An uneducated, or under-educated, populace is expensive to support, and detrimental to a stable society. Without some means of breaking the cycle of educationally dysfunctional parents raising educationally dysfunctional children, there is a natural geometric increase from that situation. Breaking the cycle by means of enforced laws is part of the choices we, as a society, can and have the responsibility to make.

  • Ignominious

    This is a perfect example of the government creating the problem and then wanting more power to fix it.  It’s not the governments job to be our nanny at birth, youth or adult age.

    Those that attend government school systems are indoctrinated with the idea that that is the right and only way.  Such belief perpetuates the need for more and more government.  We (even in Utah) are already heavily into socialism, heading towards ever more tyranny.

    People seem to be ok with tyranny as long as they have their “freedom” to have a beer, watch their favorite sports, attend church or go boating. 
    It’s an illusion.

  • Ty_B

    @Brian If you hover over the line, it will give you the data. It looks like both graphs run from 2004 through this current year.

  • Ty_B

    @berferd If you hover over either line in each of the graphs, it will give you x-y data. It looks like both graphs run from 2004 through this current year.

  • MikeTrapp

    What do we care about , percentages, or principles? People seem to feel that government can do what it wants as long as it isn’t a noticeable effect. Some of these people seem to be fed by the same government they agree with.

  • JDaniels

    @Data observer The anecdotal evidence was not reports of formal truancy actions but rather reports from people about stricter attendance policies at the individual school level that may actually prevent formal truancy actions from ever taking place. In other words, schools may be preventing truancy cases against juveniles from going to court by being more strict up front in setting standards and policies for excused absences. It is anecdotal because there is no way to measure how various schools set or enforce such policies and we have only heard reports from parents that school X or Y has imposed more strict excused absence policies this year or is more stringently enforcing absence policies. It is hard to measure but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Are you suggesting that because it is anecdotal and thus doesn’t exist that schools are in fact imposing more lax attendance policies? The point was that in the face of tightening budgets, schools are enforcing attendance more stringently to ensure they don’t lose funding for such students which may explain the decline in formal truancy cases against juveniles.

  • Dale

    Are not home schooling exempt?

  • Anonymous

    Copied from another site when someone was commenting about this…
    “You data set also does not include cases like ours – where my wife was charged with truancy – despite having complied with the law and having filed a home school affidavit, as per statute. The Jordan School district insisted on prosecution, including berating our teenage son because “the Book of Mormon doesn’t belong in a language arts curriculum” in reference to our home schooling. And, while the law doesn’t allow the school district to inquire about home school curriculum, once a referral is made to juvenile court (rightly or wrongly) government workers are free to so inquire, criticize, argue, scrutinize, etc. While we ultimately prevailed in getting the charges dismissed, it was after about a year of aggressive litigation, which many families would be hard pressed to model. And, on a related side note, it was surprising to me – even after all I’ve been through, that the school district and the juvenile court staff were completely fine with ignoring the home school affidavit(s) on file – and claimed that there was some sort of authority for them – besides the home school statute, that overrides the affidavits. But, that’s another story. Personal experience – this data underestimates the problem.”

  • JDaniels

    @Anonymous Very good point. The data came from court convictions and so only reflects prosecuted cases with a final disposition (outcome). It is very hard to find out how many parents have had to fight a prosecution that was dismissed or may not have ended up as a conviction with a fine or jail time. The problem could be much larger than the court figures alone show. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  • Van R

    O.K. Let’s make parents accountable. Do away with truancy laws and let parents do what ever they want with their children. Also, make grade advancement dependent on passing a skills test. If the child does not pass, they do not advance. Remediation will be provided at the parent’s expense.
    These laws are not there to simply take away freedom; they are there to give the children a chance to learn. If kids are not in school, they are not learning. Sadly, many parents do not care if the kids are in school or not. They do not care if their kids do anything. The law is there to force parents to act in their children’s best interest because the children do not have the perspective to see the importance of education and some parents would otherwise do nothing. Talk to teachers. This happens over and over every school year.
    The reality is that most schools work with parents to avoid fines. It is only the most determined and uncaring parents who pay fines or do jail time.

    • Michael Sorokine

      Yes, and with that let’s give parents more freedom in determining discipline, including corporal punishment for their kids. I am not a proponent of beating kids, but something I wrong when all parents can do to their kids without stoking the ire of DCFS is nicely ask them to go to school. I say when kids pass the age of the parent-assisted carline at the school entrance, they should be help responsible for skipping school, not their parents.

      • Van R

        I agree that there comes a time when the student needs to become more accountable. The teachers I am familiar with are in elementary school where parents are aiding and abetting student absences. Parents will pull kids out for one month trips to visit relatives, to go on vacation, or they just don’t want to bring them to school. These are all excused, so don’t technically count as “truant”. One girl has missed over 10% of the school year already and every absence has been excused. A child can not keep up to peers when missing that much school. In the end they bomb the tests, the child moves to the next grade no better than when they came in, and the teacher gets the blame.

        • Emilio Moreno

          So this is all just so teacher won’t get the blame ?

          • Van R

            No! That is the problem. Your kid misses 20 or 30 days of school, then can’t do math, can’t spell, at the end of the year fails every subject, and the teacher gets the blame because you can’t be bothered to get your child to school. This article is over four years old. These comments were made two years ago, but nothing has changed. For example, just this year (in just one class in one elementary school), There is a girl who has missed nearly one-third of the school year so far. There is a boy who is one to two hours late almost every day, and sometimes more; these are on the days he actually does make it to school. Please explain how your child being absent is the teacher’s fault.

          • Gary C

            I stumbled across this article because my kids who live in Utah with their mother miss tremendous amounts of school. I’ve talked with the schools, administrators and teachers. There is nothing that is done, the parent isn’t being held accountable at all. I was actually told they don’t report truancy to any higher authority.

          • Gary C
          • Gary C

            I posted a copy of my 7th grade sons attendance from today, you can see the absences and tardiness is out of control. He’s in 7th grade and isn’t learning, because he isn’t attending. It’s not the teachers fault at all. I don’t live in Utah, I just don’t understand why nobody seems to care except me.