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New compulsory attendance age

Because of complaints by public school officials about parents sending children who are younger than 7 to school on a part-time basis, the Alaska Legislature has amended the compulsory attendance age. Public school officials contended that parents were enrolling their 6 year olds in school but then having them attend only on days and during hours that are convenient for the parents. This practice, the officials allege, disrupts the education process for the rest of the regularly attending class.

As originally introduced, Senate Bill 11 would have simply lowered the compulsory attendance age from 7 to 6. This would have been an unqualified expansion of state control over the time when a child is required to attend school or otherwise comply with the compulsory attendance requirements. Due in part to Home School Legal Defense Association's input to key legislators, this bill was amended to permit a parent to withdraw a 6 year old from 1st grade within 60 days of enrollment if the parent determines that the best interests of the child are not being served by public school enrollment. Otherwise, the 6 year old is subject to truancy penalties for unexcused absences. HSLDA originally opposed this bill outright, but after it became certain that the legislature was going to pass some law addressing the part-time attendance problem, we offered language giving parents more authority to determine school attendance for a 6 year old.

This bill was approved by the legislature on May 11 and then sent to Governor Tony Knowles. Upon his anticipated signature, S.B. 11 will go into effect on July 1, 2002.

- Dewitt T. Black