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    How long do I have to stay in school? (compulsory attendance laws)

    Date: 08.27.07 | by Judge Tom.

    “Illiteracy is an enduring disability. . . .The inability to read and write will handicap the individual each and every day of his life.”  [U.S. Supreme Court, Plyler v. Doe, 457 US 202 (1982)] 

    The laws differ in every state as to the ages for compulsory school attendance. You can call any school or district office to find out what′s required where you live.

    If you stop going to school before graduating from high school, you can still earn your diploma. Once you′re out of school for six months, you′re eligible to enroll in a GED (Graduate Equivalency Diploma) program. When you pass the test and receive your diploma, you′ll be able to continue with your education or return to it at a later date.

    Photo by Bagaball (Flickr)

    The law doesn′t mandate that you attend a mainstream high school. If your interests lie elsewhere, or your study habits require something other than six hours a day in a classroom, other programs are available. Look into a trade school or vocational program in your area.

    If a student wants to drop out of North High School in Denver, Colorado, the school requires the student and his or her parents to sign a certificate that says: “The undersigned guardian and student accept full responsibility for the listed student being a high school dropout. By signing this disclaimer, I realize that I will not have the necessary skills to survive in the twenty-first century.” Most students choose to remain in school and participate in counseling or tutoring programs.

    Some states have increased the minimum level of education to the twelfth grade. Other states are considering suspending driver′s licenses for teens who don′t go to school. Generally, you can stay in high school until you graduate. You′re not excluded, for example, if you′re a sophomore at age eighteen or nineteen. Some states set a maximum age for regular school attendance at twenty-one.

    To get high school dropouts involved in education, communities have developed a variety of nontraditional programs. Some help teens with substance abuse issues, while others address teen parenthood or delinquency problems.

    Project Challenge is a quasimilitary federal program sponsored by the National Guard. It′s currently in operation in fifteen states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma,Virginia, and West Virginia.

     Project Challenge presents a blend of classroom study, community service, and physical training in a seventeen-month program for sixteen- and seventeen- year-old dropouts who are drug-free and not involved with the court.

    On the lighter side:

    •  Although California allows kids under 12 one free admission day at citrus fruit fairs, don′t make it a school day. It will be counted against you as an unexcused absence.
    • Living on an island isn′t considered a good enough excuse for missing a day of school in Massachusetts. Transportation will be provided for you so you don′t miss any days. 

     If you′re pregnant or have children, you may either finish high school at your regular school, or the district may have a special program for teen mothers. Check with your school counselor for more details.

    The National and Community Service Act provides another opportunity to help pay for an education or job training. The program is designed for young people who aren′t in school, and  have limited English language skills or are homeless or in foster care.You must be between ages sixteen and twenty-five to be considered eligible. Members perform community service work and are paid an allowance of up to $125 per month during the first year. During the second year, members receive up to $200 per month. Check with a high school counselor or your local youth services bureau for information on how to apply.

    Can your parents get in trouble if you miss school?

    In May, 2008, Brian Gegner of Ohio was sentenced to 180 days in jail for failing to keep his daughter in school. Brittany was 18 and had been ordered by the court to get her GED with the help of her father. The court gave her nine months to accomplish the task but she missed the deadline and her dad went to jail!

    “You cannot drop out of school and into a good job.  If you quit on school, you’re quiting on yourself and your country.”               President Barack Obama, Sept. 8, 2009.                         



    Photo by Stoned59 (Flickr)

    “I didn’t finish high school, only went through the 10th grade. There is never a day that comes up that I don’t regret not finishing school. If I’d gone to school, I might have gotten a degree in computers or, maybe, music.”  -Blues legend B.B. King.

    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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    12 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • shannon
      Fri, 11 Apr 2008 at 08:25

      why do kids have to stay in school till there 18? im doing an english report on why we have so if you could right be that would be great.

      Judge Tom’s response:
      Each state has its own laws regarding when you have to start school [5 or 6-years-old] and when you may stop going. Some require that you attend until age 16, others until you’re 18 or when you graduate from high school. Public education through the 12th grade is free and as you’ve probably heard many times, education is the key to your future.

    • Tristan
      Mon, 04 Oct 2010 at 10:43

      Hi my name is tristan , i understand the we have to stay in school at a certain age but im on probation for truancy and i live in Texas i missed 18 days of school and 1 or 2 tardies i’ve gotten the 6 month punishment and i cant miss school unless a medical emergency or emrgency in general. What im trying to figure out is how long do we have to be in school for like hours to make it a “full day” see at my school we have a and b days a days i have nothing thats really important to miss except history in the morning my first class well say i goto all the classes after history class and get all the work that i might or might not miss for that day will a excused absence be ok if my mom came at 1 p.m. or 2 and picked me up? For lunch and school was in session stil and she took me out vu i have collected all my work before hand? Or can you just tell me the probations cans and cants for texas please
      Dear Tristan: Since you’re on probation for truancy you have two sets of rules you need to follow. First, your probation terms which likely include a statement that you go to school without any unexcused absences. Second, your state’s laws regarding compulsory attendance and the rules of your school. If you skip classes or have any unexcused days at school, you’re in violation of your probation and will be back in court explaining what happened to the judge. It is not uncommon for habitual truants to be locked up for a time in detention – that way the judge knows you’re going to the court’s detention school. Don’t put yourself in this position. Discuss your concerns with your probation officer. Good luck.
      [This is information only – not legal advice].

    • Angle
      Mon, 25 Oct 2010 at 02:51

      My teacher called and said if I don’t come to school I will be cared with Truancy and I wont get credit for my classes this term. I have missed two weeks of school so far. The thing is, I can’t go to school. I just had surgery and my doctor said I would have to miss school for two to three weeks to recover. I had surgery on my throat and can’t eat food yet, then I am taking liquid pain killer every 3 hours, and can’t eat solid food yet or else I start coughing up blood. I have a doctors note to give in when I go back to school. So is it true what my teacher said.
      Dear Angle: If your absences from school are for medical reasons, missed days shouldn’t be held against you. It’s unexcused absences that get you into trouble. Ask one of your parents to take the doctor’s note to your school. They can give it to the principal or attendance officer, and that should clear you until your doctor tells you it’s safe to return to school. All the best and a speedy recovery.
      [This is information only – not legal advice].

    • flowers
      Mon, 01 Nov 2010 at 10:54

      I signed my son out of highschool.I was going to sign him up in home school. when he decided that he was not going he is seventeen. He left the house and I reported him missing with the police. will I get into trouble because he is not in school?
      Dear Flowers: It depends on the specific laws in your state concerning compulsory attendance. Not all states require teens to go to school until they are 18. However, if the age is 18 in your state, you could be held responsible, but it’s unlikely if your son has never been in trouble for truancy or missing school before. Perhaps you can try talking to your son about alternative programs like Project Challenge or obtaining his GED. For more infomation about the laws in your state, try Googling your state’s name and “compulsory attendance laws”. Good luck.
      [This is information only – not legal advice.]

    • Courious
      Fri, 28 Jan 2011 at 10:05

      My Daughter is 15 and has missed alot of days if she goes and lives with her dad and he doesnt put her back in school can i get in trouble for it?
      Every state has its own compulsory attendance laws regarding education. If you Google the name of your state and “truancy laws” you’ll be able to read the statutes that apply to you. States are cracking down on truancy, even to the point where parents are penalized for neglecting their kids’ education. You could also contact the school attendance officer and ask about the consequences. Good luck.
      [This is information only – not legal advice].

    • Dina
      Mon, 14 Jan 2013 at 01:11

      I live in San Antonio Texas. I have 2 kids in school. I am a single, disabled mother with an income of 700.00 a month. My children get sick and the school states not to send your kids to school if they are running a fever. So I keep them home. If they are running a high fever or very sick I take them to the doctor. The school asks for a medical or parent note. I have been sent to court twice every year and have to pay 600 dollars in fines for both kids every time. Thats more than I can afford. I shouldnt be sent to court Im doing what they ask but Im still being sent. Im tired of the harassment of the schools here. My oldest son will be 16 soon. He suffers from migrains, panic attacks, insomnia, and anxiety. To much stress at school has caused these symptoms and constant harassment by the teachers. How can I get an order from the court so my son can get his GED and get away from all of the stress. Btw it was so bad this past year he broke out with shingles. Thank you
      Dear Dina: We’re sorry to hear about your troubles at home and with the school. It would be difficult to obtain a court order against the school and cost you hundreds of dollars in legal fees including the school’s if you lose in court. We suggest you schedule a meeting with the attendance officer at school or the principal. Discuss everything that’s going on with your family and hopefully you can reach an agreement that keeps you from having to go to court for their alleged truancy. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Samuel
      Mon, 11 Feb 2013 at 06:20

      School is not free,they force you to buy schools supplies.Although they will give students some supplies,they won’t make an exception on some things.And this law is good but it’s also very ridiculous.Why should kids be forced to go to school when they don’t want an education.(I’m homeschooled and try hard to get excellent grades.)But I also think school shouldn’t be forced down peoples throats so viciously.I may be overreacting but it still seems to be forced down peoples’ throats that you have to go to school or be punished in addition to not getting a good education.Shouldn’t the Government be a little more gentle about this?
      Compulsory school attendance laws have been around for hundreds of years and not only in the U.S. Many societies recognize the importance of educating its citizens for their future and the good of the community at large. Once you reach the mandatory age it’s your decision whether to continue or not.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • letitia wolf
      Mon, 18 Nov 2013 at 12:22

      My son is learning disabled. I am totally amazed at how ignorant the teachers are when I tell them what he has. He has gone thru blatant abuse, neglect, bullying, from teachers!! All I can say is, quit building all these fancy new schools, and give some money to the teachers for classes to help them learn how to teach disabled children. My son once told me: “mom, the teachers all say they want to help me but then they all are mean to me”. Thats sad when an 8 yr. old says that. Teach the teachers!!! Learning Disabilities in school has doubled in the last 5-6 years, do something about it so these kids dont feel like they are failures.
      Dear Letitia: We’re sorry to hear about what you and your son are experiencing at his school and from his teachers. Students with disabilities do have rights protected under the law. Click here to read more about it. Perhaps a meeting with the principal could help your son get the attention he deserves and stop any inappropriate conduct especially by the teachers.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • KAS
      Wed, 22 Oct 2014 at 12:21

      My niece is 12 and continues to miss school. She has probably missed 12+ days in the 2014-2015 school year. She was kicked off the vball team d/t attendance. Her report card shows C’s D’s and F’s. My sister continues to make excuses for her (i.e. headaches, allergies, Flu, etc.) My question is…How many days will she be allowed to miss? Can my sister be charged w/ Abuse and Neglect? She had this same issue last year also!!! HELP!!!
      Dear KAS: Every state and school district has rules regarding compulsory school attendance and the consequences for excessive absences. You can check with the school’s attendance officer for information about the penalties for exceeding the limits. You can also go to the school’s website, if they have one and most do, and read the Code of Conduct and section regarding excused and unexcused absences. Some states have laws about “educational neglect” but to fall into this category, the absences must be excessive and without a legitimate reason. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Kelley
      Mon, 17 Nov 2014 at 09:00

      My son is 17 he refuses to go to school (Ca.)he has missed whole school year what legally can happen to me the parent
      Dear Kelley: California has laws regarding the consequences for truancy – for both student and parent. Take a look at this Department of Education web-page for the details:
      Your son needs to realize he’s hurting more than himself by neglecting his education.
      Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Chris Dahlke
      Fri, 27 Mar 2015 at 09:55

      My son is in an extended school program for young adults with disabilities. He has received a letter of completion last year for high school. He is 18 and 19 next month. Are there any laws that mandate him to this program. He has been sick a lot and in the hospital twice during this school year. Because of this he has missed a lot of school. Are either of us in trouble for all his missing days?
      Dear Chris: Every state has specific laws regarding special education and compulsory attendance. You need to check with his school, either through the principal or attendance officer for the rules about excused and unexcused absences. You shouldn’t be “in trouble” because of his medical needs. The school may ask for some verification of his doctor’s appointments and hospitalizations which you can provide. The best to both of you.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Haylie Gallacher
      Tue, 19 May 2015 at 11:02

      hi my name is Haylie and I am very concerned about my best friend. he has missed 52 days of school and most of them are unexcused. he says he is sick most of the time or that he’s having family issues or he’s depressed. his mother doesn’t seem to care very much about all of his missed school which leads me to believe that it’s his depression. but shouldn’t depression be excused? he isn’t failing any classes but he’s gone most of the time. he was gone for a month back in January and he keeps missing weeks and weeks of school. I am just concerned about the punishment. will he be suspended or expelled? will he go to court or juvenile detention? will he be held back or have to go to summer school? I am very concerned about him.
      Dear Haylie: First, your friend should check the school’s Student Handbook to find out the specific rules and policies concerning unexcused absences. He may be referred to juvenile court, and if he hasn’t already been, then he may be facing probation with community service, payment of a fine and having to attend an educational class or counseling. Time in juvenile detention is not real likely for a first offense in court. He also may receive consequences through the school, which again, should be spelled out in the Student Handbook (this should be available on the school’s website if there is one). Finally, your friend risks not being able to move on to the next grade and have to repeat the year if he doesn’t get to school. If he ends up seeing a counselor and getting some help for his depression, he could get a doctor’s note and provide a copy to the school administrators. Good luck to your friend.
      (Check our Resource Directory for more help and resources in your area. This is information only – not legal advice.)

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