What can we expect in a truancy case?
Truancy cases are confidential. They are not open to the public. The parent or guardian will receive notice of the hearing. Throughout the process the parent or guardian of the child will have an opportunity to tell the judge their side of the story. At the beginning of the process, the court will automatically:
- appoint a lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office to represent the child, and
- appoint a “guardian ad litem” to look out for the best interest of the child.
Parents and guardians have the right to a lawyer to represent them in the court process. Whether the family or the state will pay for the lawyer will depend on the financial resources of the parent. The judge might not automatically appoint a lawyer for them. The parent or guardian might need to ask the judge for a lawyer.
What should parents and guardians know about the lawyer appointed to represent them in court?
As a parent or guardian, you should know:
- Whatever you say to your lawyer is confidential — the lawyer cannot tell others what you say without your permission.
- It is important to be open and honest with your lawyer.
- Sometimes the lawyer cannot meet with you until shortly before a hearing.
- It is important to ask questions if you do not understand something.
- It is very important to make sure the lawyer knows how to contact you.
Parents and guardians should also know:
- It is important to tell your lawyer if your child has a disability or may have a disability that is getting in the way of attending school.
- Lawyers in truancy cases may not know about laws relating to the education of students with disabilities.
- Lawyers in truancy cases can contact the Disability Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid for help with:
- explaining to the judge how the student’s disability or suspected disability is getting in the way of the child attending school, and
- how to make sure that the school meets the requirements under the law.
How does the court process work?
There are multiple hearings in family court cases, including truancy cases. Between the hearings, the judge may hold Status Conferences to let the judge know how attempts to resolve the case are going.
The first hearing is called a Preliminary Hearing. At this hearing the judge will ask you whether you agree or disagree that your child has been “habitually and without justification” absent from school. After this hearing, those involved in the case will have a chance to resolve the problem.
If the parties are not able to resolve the case, the second hearing is called a Merits Hearing. At this hearing the state’s attorney must prove that your child has been “habitually and without justification” absent from school. At this hearing:
- Witnesses may be called to testify and other evidence may be presented to the judge.
- The judge will decide whether your child is “in need of supervision.”
It is important to note that very few truancy cases actually go to a merits hearing. Most are resolved through agreements worked out before this hearing.
What happens if the judge decides my child is a “child in need of supervision?”
If the judge decides a child is “in need of supervision,” the Department of Children and Families (DCF) prepares a plan of services called a Disposition Case Plan. The plan describes what needs to happen to fix the truancy problem. The plan is presented to the judge in a Disposition Hearing. At this hearing, the judge will ask if the parents or guardians agree or disagree with the plan. If there is agreement, the disposition plan will be put in place by order of the judge. If there is disagreement with the plan another hearing is scheduled so the parents or guardians may challenge the plan.
What happens if a Disposition Case Plan is put in place?
If a Disposition Case Plan is put in place, it is very important that the parents or guardians follow the plan. Failure to do so could result in further action by the court.