The school year has started, and children have begun going to their public schools, private schools, or started their home school curriculum. I’m not aware of anyone who thinks that educating children is a bad idea, at least not in this country. Though many laws can be controversial, the truancy laws generally are not. There is a direct correlation between education and crime and poverty. The more educated you are, the less likely you are to commit a crime or live in poverty.
The majority of children are schooled in public schools. However, there is a large number of children who go to private schools or are in home school programs. Public schools are heavily regulated by the local, state, and federal governments. Private schools are, by their very nature of being private, less so. Home schools are even less regulated.
So how do the Powers that Be know that a child who is enrolled in a private school or being home schooled is being educated in a way that complies with the attendance laws? For that matter, what are the attendance laws?
According to O.C.G.A. §20-2-690, “[w]ithin 30 days after the beginning of each school year, it shall be the duty of …each private school to provide to the school superintendent of each local public school district which has residents enrolled in the private school a list of the name, age, and residence of each resident so enrolled.” When a student dis-enrolls, the private school has to notify the public school superintendent as well.
If a child is homeschooled, there must be a declaration of intent filed with the Department of Education. This declaration has to have the names and ages of the students, the address where the home school will take place, and a statement declaring when the home school year will take place. In order to home school, the parent need only have a high school diploma or GED, but they may also employ tutors who have a high school diploma or GED. Home school has to have the equivalent amount of instruction of four and a half hours a day for 180 days. Attendance records have to be submitted regularly. Home schoolers aren’t exempt from all standardized testing, either – at least once every three years, beginning in third grade, they have to take an appropriate nationally standardized test and submit the results to the public school.
No matter what kind of school a child goes to, between the ages of six and 16, attendance is mandatory. The only time it isn’t required is if the child has already received a high school diploma. The child can be punished for failure to attend by the truancy laws. But if the parent fails to enroll the child, the parent can have legal consequences as well. In fact, that’s a misdemeanor, and you could serve up to 30 days in jail for violating it. After five unexcused absences, each unexcused absence after that is a separate offense. After two reasonable attempts to notify the parent of a truancy issue, there should be a certified letter or first class letter before judicial action is taken.
If a child wants to withdraw from school and it is past his or her 16th birthday, he or she still can’t drop out without written permission of his or her parent or legal guardian. Prior to accepting the withdrawal, there has to be a conference with the school outlining the – well, let’s just say it plainly, shall we? – the foolishness of failing to get a high school diploma. You need to know how many doors you are closing behind you before you close them.
There is a long list, both in the code, and probably in your individual school’s rules, about what constitutes an excused absence, and how you get an absence excused. Make sure you read your school’s handbook before you take a week off of school to go to Disney when it isn’t so crowded.
This column is for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice of any kind. Each situation is different, and a lawyer cannot advise you without knowing the particular facts and circumstances of your situation.