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Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson
Bulletin #59 Drop Outs 03/03/08
Did you know? That there might not be any difference in the meaning of the term, “drop out” and the term “home school student”?
It all depends on the definitions in your state’s laws. Even if your state’s laws are unclear, beware that one day a government official could use your state’s law on “drop out prevention” to restrain the right of parents to homeschool their children.
Government officials in the field of education often discuss different ways to prevent “drop outs” and to keep students in school. Often the “drop out” rate in school systems are discussed hand-in-hand with “truancy” laws.
In many state Education Departments across the country, there are countless officials getting paid to do nothing more than “study” the “drop out” rate and to figure out ways to prevent children from leaving the schools. These studies may result in new laws or in revising existing laws. The new laws or revisions, in turn, may result in having an unintended consequence, or even an intended consequence, of curtailing the rights of parents to homeschool, or to withdraw their children from school to choose another form of education.
Frequently, the term “drop out” will be used in a statute or regulation and the term will not be defined. It is left to the reader to assume what the term means.
For example, Alabama regulations talk about refunding student assistance funds when a student “drops out”.
Administrative Code 300-4-2-.07 says, in part, “An institution shall return a portion of a refund owed to a student to the Alabama Student Assistance Program if
1. The student officially withdraws, drops out, or is expelled from the institution on or after his or her first day of class of a payment period….” The Code later defines only the “drop out date”:
“Drop Out Date. For purposes of this section, a student is considered to have dropped out on the last recorded date of class attendance by the student as documented by the institution.”
Does this mean that a student first is considered a “drop out” and then considered a “home schooler” or a “private school student”? Or, does it mean that anyone who withdraws from public school for any reason is a “drop out”?
What if another law is passed at some other time that mandates that “drop outs” are required to do something or are not allowed to do something? Does that mean that all students who are home schooled or are in a private school are mandated to do or not do the same thing as drop outs are required to do?
Often when government officials are writing the laws, they do not think in terms of its effect on homeschoolers or private schooled students. Nonetheless, the law could have a disastrous effect on the rights of those students, should a government official decide to interpret it accordingly.
That’s why it is important to look into what your state’s statutes, regulations, and proposed legislation, says now, before any government official decides to use the term “drop out” to include your child. Don’t wait until it’s too late, until the government official claims that your child is a “drop out” and is compelling you or your child to do something that you don’t want to do. Act now to understand what your laws say about “drop outs”, then inform legislators and work to amend the laws so that your child will not be considered a “drop out” at any time in the future.
Even if your state has laws concerning drop outs on the books right now and your right to homeschool, or to withdraw your child from school to choose another form of education, has not been effected yet, it may be in the future. As long as there is a government official who, for whatever reason, wants to control the exodus of children from the public school system, there is a possibility that the government official will use any law or regulation interpreting the term, “drop out” to mean what he wants it to mean.
Note: A sampling of a few other states that have the term “drop out” in their statutes or regulations:
Kansas: 72-1111. Compulsory education exemptions statute.
Montana: 20-9-328. At risk student payment statute.
New Jersey: 2A:12-5.1. Findings, declarations relative to school-based probation.
California: § 49112. Permits to Work.
Many more statutes and regulations in these and other states already exist. If you need assistance in finding the statutes and regulations in your state, feel free to contact NHELD.
Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD – firstname.lastname@example.org