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The upcoming return to school is the latest hot topic in the COVID-19 news cycle. Parents — many tired of distance learning yet worried about the pandemic — want clarity.
But can parents keep their children home if their schools choose to return to in-person learning and they are uncomfortable with it? The coronavirus is a new phenomenon, and not one anticipated by our laws, but there are still several options for parents who are looking for alternatives to in-person schooling this fall.
Though exact age ranges vary between states, children in the U.S. must attend some approved form of school between the ages of about 5-7 through 16-18. Exemptions exist for religious families, families of students who can demonstrate mastery of the required skills and knowledge of their age groups, and more.
Depending on whether a child attends private, public, parochial, or charter school, education requirements can vary. Talk to your school board about the options that may exist for your family, particularly if your child or someone in your family is high-risk for COVID-19 health complications. If this is the case, then you may be entitled to certain protections and accommodations in order for your school district to remain compliant with disability laws.
If none of these options work for you, you may wish to consider temporarily homeschooling your child. However, not all states permit homeschooling, and the process of getting permission to homeschool can be a difficult process in some states — but not all!
What happens if none of this works for you, though?
Mostly, truancy is considered to be a student's absence from school without parental knowledge or permission, though alternate definitions exist in some school districts. For the most part, the law places responsibility on parents or guardians to make sure that minor children remain in school, and parents can face legal consequences for noncompliance. These can include fines and, in rare cases, jail time. However, most schools will work with parents to ensure that children are attending school.
This means that in COVID-19 times, enforcement of truancy may look a little different. Ideally, school districts will collaborate with parents in ways that allow students to receive educations without posing a threat to the health of anyone involved. If you are having trouble navigating this process, an education lawyer may be able to help you reach a suitable setup that allows your child to receive an education while prioritizing the health and safety of your family.