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    Do I have to go to school?

    Date: 08.27.07 | by Judge Tom.

    “Education is the very foundation of good citizenship.”  ~U.S. Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483 (1954).

    By law, all children in the U.S. are required to go to school.* Public education is free, as is transportation to and from school (in most communities), and breakfast and lunch programs are provided for qualifying students. Private school education is also an option, as long as the minimum state compulsory attendance requirements are met. States differ on the minimum age to begin your education. Some require children who are five or six years old by a certain date (September 1, for example) to begin first grade. The rules vary slightly from state to state. In most states, parents who fail to send their children to school may be charged with education neglect. Consequences include community service hours, counseling, and/or jail. There are a few exceptions to the general attendance laws.

    Many families are now choosing to home school their children. Depending on your state’s laws, you could be tested on a regular basis to monitor your progress. Some parents are also sending their children to charter schools—smaller, specialized programs approved or licensed by the state department of education. Another option becoming more and more popular is an online school (usually all the course work and instruction is done online). In other words, you and your parents are free to decide the nature of your education and where you will attend school.

    Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

    Exceptions are made for students who fall into exempt categories, such as actors and actresses. Child labor laws allow young people to work certain hours during the school year, but the laws specify that their educational needs must be met through a tutor or some other arrangement.

    Before starting school or transferring from one school to another, you must be current on all required immunizations. The school will want to see a record of your shots or a letter from your doctor. Most schools have the forms you need to file. If you′re not up-to-date on your shots, or if you don′t have a doctor, talk with the school nurse or principal. Arrangements may be made with the local health department to give you the needed immunizations. In most states, you′re required to be vaccinated against diphtheria, measles, rubella, and polio. Opt-out exceptions are permitted in a number of states based on personal beliefs.

    Between 1999 and 2003, the number of young people being homeschooled increased by 29% to approximately 1.1 million students.
    Source: Homeschooling in the United States: 2003,U.S. Department of Education

    Elementary school education first became mandatory in the United States in 1918. Find our more information about compulsory attendance and for how long you are required to stay in school.

    *This applies to children in elementary and high school regardless of immigration status. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1982 that children in the country illegally may enroll in public school. The court said that denying public education could impose a lifetime of hardship “on a class of children not accountable for their disabling status.”  (Plyer v. Doe, 103 S.Ct. 14, 457 U.S. 202 (1982))

    “Education is like water, it is important for everything in life.”   [17-year-old Jahan, a Pakistani schoolgirl – from “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson & David Relin (2006)].

    “Ah, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”  poet Robert Browning.


    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    19 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Xavier
      Thu, 15 Sep 2011 at 06:54

      how many unexused absenses can you have before getting truancy?
      Dear Xavier: It depends on the laws of your state as well as the rules and policies of your school district. Check your Student Handbook for your school’s attendance policies and it should state exactly how many unexcused absences your allowed before facing consequences for truancy. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Victor
      Fri, 16 Sep 2011 at 01:27

      Is it illegal not to have q 7th period?
      Dear Victor: How many hours a student must be in school during the week depends on the compulsory attendance laws in that state. Once a student is in high school, it’s common for some students to not have a first or last period of the day especially if it’s their senior year and they already have plenty of credits to graduate. You could try Googling your state’s name and “compulsory attendance law” for more information. You also could check your school’s Student Handbook to see what it says about attendance. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • katina
      Fri, 23 Sep 2011 at 04:38

      my 15 year old son has not been in school for over a year lives where ever he wants to father ,aunt i contacted the school board last year and nothing was done we live in polk county florida i even talk to an officer at the school and nothing has been done what do i do
      Dear Katina: You can check with your local juvenile court for help with your son. It sounds like he fits the description of an “incorrigible child.” The court may have programs to get his attention and back on track. Google “Florida incorrigible child” for information. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • nathan
      Sat, 08 Oct 2011 at 09:35

      if i am a senior in high school, and i am 18 years of age, can i still get a truancy ticket even though i am 18 years old?
      Dear Nathan: That depends on the laws that apply to you. Google the name of your state and “truancy” for information. If, for example, you’re on probation or parole and the court requires that you attend school, then you have to follow the court’s orders. Your state may require that everyone attend school until they finish high school regardless of age. You can also Google “compulsory attendance laws” and your state for further information. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Jackie
      Wed, 12 Oct 2011 at 04:19

      I got a court notice in the mail and this will be my fourth time going for truancy. What will the consequence be for my fourth time if I’m 16?
      Dear Jackie: You’ll have to check either your student handbook about this, ask your attendance officer at school, or Google the name of your state and “truancy laws” for information. Every state handles truancy cases differently. You could be placed on probation with the court if formal charges are filed, or be required to attend a class about the importance of getting an education, etc. Some states impose a penalty on the parents for failing to see that their kids stay in school: a fine, community service and even jail time in serious cases. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Dester99
      Mon, 07 Nov 2011 at 05:16

      i am 12 years old and I have been sick! This is the 12th week of school. I have missed 8 days all together. They were NOT in a row!!! Will my parents go to court or get fined? How many days can get in one year of school to miss? I live in nevada
      Dear Dester: Take a look at your Student Handbook for the rules about excused and unexcused absences. It should state the number of days before the school takes action. You can also ask your attendance officer at school. You may be getting close to the limit so check into this soon. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Noelle
      Wed, 04 Jan 2012 at 11:03

      I live in Va and go to a county high school. Will my parents get in trouble if I start missing a lot of days? I mean if I go to school like three days a week. I have already missed 13 days this year and they haven’t said anything.
      Dear Noelle: Take a look at your Student Handbook for information about the consequences of missing too many days. Every state and school district has rules about this and the penalties for violating the rules. In Virginia, your parents may be fined up to $1,000.00 or be sent to jail for up to six months if the court finds that they violated the education laws and neglected to see that you were in school everyday unless the absence was excused under the rules of the school. Don’t put your parents in this situation. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Maria
      Wed, 11 Jan 2012 at 09:26

      I live in New Mexico and my boyfriend has been ditching school. He’s 14 and he got a court notice. This is his second time going. What will happen to him?
      Dear Maria: Since this is his second time in court, he may be given some community service to complete, or ordered to attend a truancy class or counseling. If he continues to ditch school, he may find himself going to detention school. Many juvenile courts around the country have an official school for kids who are locked up. If that’s the only way the judge will know he’s attending, that may be his next stop. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Alyssa
      Wed, 29 Feb 2012 at 01:02

      Hi I need to cite the actual law that states children have to go to school from a certain age to certain age, I think from 5-16… ? (in California). Where can I find it? I have looked all in the constitution and department of education and can’t find it…
      Dear Alyssa: See here for the laws in California about attending school. You have to go between the ages of six and eighteen. Read the second full paragraph and if you read further, you’ll see the consequences for failing to attend. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • C Rose
      Wed, 07 Nov 2012 at 02:53

      There is a family with 6 children none of which are in a school of any kind, This is Alaska. How long before someone is in trouble? What are our laws?
      Dear C Rose: Once it comes to the attention of the authorities if in fact none of the children are receiving any education whatsoever, the parents could face consequences and the children be required to enroll in school. Every state has compulsory attendance laws requiring kids to go to school from a certain age until either they graduate from high school or reach an age like 16. Click here to check the compulsory attendance laws in your state. Please help us help more teens by voting for AsktheJudge to win a FedEx small business grant!
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • jose
      Sun, 13 Jan 2013 at 08:43

      Is it against the law for a parent to discharge his kids from school for one month to travel out of the country then come back to the same school.can the parent be prosecute even if the kids attended school while out of the country and has records to prove it…i live in texas by the way……
      Dear Jose: It’s going to depend on the laws in that state. Try Googling “Texas compulsory attendance laws” for specific information. Although parents can face consequences for educational neglect and not getting their kids to school, it doesn’t sound like that would be likely in this case since the kids were traveling and continuing to attend school. It would be best to try to resolve the matter with the kids’ school/school district. A meeting with the principal or other school administrators may clear things up especially if records were provided. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Samuel
      Tue, 05 Feb 2013 at 10:23

      Regarding the vaccines,The government should be sued for forcing people to be vaccinated with who knows what with no choice but to.It’s against peoples rights to be forced to get a vaccine.That’s why I have trust issues.I would much rather get a virus than get something that causes pain.
      Dear Samuel: We doubt if you’d be saying this if you contracted a disease that a single shot could have prevented. Have you heard the saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”

    • Joseph Abney
      Thu, 07 Mar 2013 at 01:35

      this helped me a lot. i needed all the information for my report. see if you can edit the article a little.
      We’re glad to hear it helped you out, Joseph.

    • patsy jones
      Wed, 15 May 2013 at 11:00

      i need some advice,i have a daughter [38].she has three kids.this makes the second time she went before.he sayes he is putting jail for two months. she will lose her apt. disable check,and food stamps.and the children will be very upset.i have work with this famil to have a home. thank you
      Dear Patsy: We’re unclear as to your question. It sounds like your daughter is being jailed possibly for failing to get her kids to school. If she wants to appeal the judge’s decision or see if there is anything she can do, then she should consult with a local attorney who handles similar cases. Many attorneys offer a free initial consultation. Good luck to you and your family.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Natasha
      Tue, 13 Aug 2013 at 07:52

      My step-daughter lives with her mother in Mississippi, she is 12 and in the 7th grade. Her school resumed August 7, 2013 she has not attended school at all this year because her mother has failed and refuses to send her to school. In the past 3 years she has approximately 1 (school year) of incomplete days or full absences with only 1 (day) being excused by a doctor. We have spoken with the school but have not had any luck, is there anything we can do?
      Dear Natasha: It’s very surprising that the school would not issue a truancy ticket or even allow your step-daughter to advance to the next grade if she missed that much school. Perhaps you’re not getting the full story and could try speaking to her mother about this. Explain your concerns and that you would like some reassurance that your step-daughter’s educational needs are being met. You could tell her that if she doesn’t make more of an effort to get her to school, you will have to report her to Child Protective Services for educational neglect. Otherwise, you could try speaking directly with the school’s attendance counselor. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Natasha
      Tue, 20 Aug 2013 at 05:59

      Thank you for responding to my last post. Since my last question, my step-daughter’s mother has withdrawn her from school altogether with no plan in place to get her enrolled in another school she said she was thinking about homeschooling but she’s not sure. We hired an attorney at the beginning of last summer break to try to gain custody of her and the judge on the case appointed a guardian ad litem in June but we have gotten nowhere as they have been unsuccessful at locating them. The judge on our case has not been informed of her situation at this point because they are trying to wait until they locate them to speak with her mother. My husband and I have spoke with my step-daughter’s now, former school district, and obtained her school/ attendance records for the past 5 years. I tried calling child protective services but since we do not have an address for them to locate her they tell me they can’t follow-up. My husband and I are very concerned. Someone through all this told me that a child has to be enrolled no later than September 15 in Mississippi. Is that true? If so do we just have to sit by idle? What will happen if they are unable to find them before my step-daughter fails? This is all to unfair to my step-daughter, she shouldn’t have to suffer for poor decisions made by her mother. To some people they may look at it as it’s just a few days missed this year but in my eyes her whole future is at stake. That is unacceptable to us we need help and don’t know where to go to get it. Is there anything else we can do to help her?
      Dear Natasha: It sounds like you are doing everything you can to gain custody and be sure your step-daughter’s needs are being met. You and your husband may be in the best position to track them down and get their current address. If your husband or you are able to speak with your step-daughter or her mother over the phone, you could always ask for the address and explain that you have some things to mail to her. As for Mississippi’s compulsory attendance law and when you have to enroll a child in school, you’ll need to either contact a district office to confirm the information you were given or you could try Googling “Mississippi compulsory attendance law.” We hope everything works out especially for your step-daughter’s sake.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Yvonne
      Wed, 12 Feb 2014 at 09:23

      I have a brother and his wife that has his 15 year old son stay home to put the 2 little ones off to school. Isn’t this against the law?
      Dear Yvonne: It may be a violation of your state’s compulsory education laws. Most states have age limits for attending school. If he is continuously late for school because he’s getting the younger ones off in the morning, he could be marked down for being tardy or unexcused absences. You can also check his school’s policy on this.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Aaron
      Sat, 01 Nov 2014 at 07:31

      Sir, I am a father of 3. My oldest is 17 and my wife has always been at home and we have had our differences, and have separated. We still try to work things out but I just found out that my wife and my daughter was tried to be served with papers but really seams like it was a court date that was missed and a possible warrant for their arrest? Not 100%sure . But if that is the case which is what they fear….this court date was for too much school being missed. And I just want to know what is best options? They now are no where around and I know the court date was not intentially missed. It was sent to old address over a year ago. But now the situation is I’m trying to figure out what I can do to keep them out of jail, get them home, and my daughter to get her education.

      Really appreciate any advise
      Dear Aaron: We suggest you speak with a local lawyer who practices juvenile or family law. There are enough issues in this situation that require advice from someone who knows the laws in your state and how to guide your family through the legal system. Take a look at our Resource Directory for professionals in your area:
      Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • marguerite
      Fri, 15 May 2015 at 10:46

      Your honor, I have a 11 year old daughter that has been missing alot of time from school this year due to having mental prolbems, We took her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with social phobia, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, Depression ect..the school was made aware of it, and we tried getting her homebound schooling , but was denied ,so we reapplied and got a new form filled out by a doctor, and there still giving me trouble. .In the meantime my daughter hasn’t been in school , Now we have to go to court for truancy, and I’m scared I don’t know what to expect, she’s a good kid,smart, and a sweet girl, she just needs help and homeschooling until she gets well ..what should I do ?? Thank you
      Dear Marguerite: When you go to court, bring the doctor’s note and any other documentation showing the judge what you have explained here about your daughter’s mental health condition. The judge will take all of that into consideration. If she gets approved for the homeschool program before the court date, bring verification of that as well. Good luck to you and you daughter.
      (Check our Resource Directory for more help and resources in your area. This is information only – not legal advice.)

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