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7/21/2010 2:29:56 PM
Home School Legal Defense Association
Alabama -- Important Message about Compulsory Attendance

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From the HSLDA E-lert Service...
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July 20, 2010

Alabama -- Important Message about Compulsory Attendance

Dear Alabama Members and Friends:

I want to make you aware of a favorable opinion recently issued by the
Attorney General of Alabama regarding the compulsory school attendance
age for students enrolled in a church school.

As we previously reported to you in the September/October 2009 issue
of The Home School Court Report, on May 18, 2009, Governor Bob Riley
signed into law Senate Bill 334, raising the compulsory school
attendance age from 16 to 17 years old. Senator Arthur Orr (3rd
District), the bill's sponsor, included language intended to exempt
students who had been enrolled in a church school prior to their 16th
birthday. However, a plain reading of the new law indicated that the
exemption was only available so long as the student's parent or
guardian filed a church school enrollment form with the local public
school superintendent. HSLDA reasoned that if the student had to be
enrolled in the church school in order to qualify for the exemption,
it was no exemption at all. The student had to stay in school until
age 17.

On March 9, 2010, the Attorney General issued an opinion different
from that of HSLDA. Without taking into account the statutory language
requiring the filing of a church school enrollment form for students
who are 16, the opinion stated that students who had enrolled in the
church school prior to age 16 did not have to continue in school
beyond that age. Following are excerpts from the opinion:

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Accordingly, a church-schooled student is exempt from the mandatory
school attendance age of 17--if he or she were previously attending a
church school before attaining his or her 16th birthday. If that
prerequisite is met, there is no legal impediment under this section
for such a student to withdraw from school prior to attaining 17 years
of age. . . .

Specifically, a student must be attending a church school prior to the
student's 16th birthday before that church-schooled student can
properly withdraw from school before reaching the mandatory attendance
age. In other words, one cannot transfer to a church school and then
immediately qualify to withdraw from school before one reaches 17
years of age. The student must have attended the church school before
his or her 16th birthday before he or she can then qualify to withdraw
under the exception.
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To read the entire opinion, go to
http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=8705

While the Attorney General's opinion is great news, I was concerned
that the opinion did not even mention the effect of the language in
the statute stating that a 16-year-old church school student was
exempt from attendance, "provided such child complies with enrollment
and reporting procedure specified in Section 16-28-7." This requires
the filing of a church school enrollment form with the local
superintendent. Because of my concern, I wrote the Attorney General's
Office and asked that the statutory language requiring the filing of
the church school enrollment form be considered in the opinion. Courts
are not bound by state attorney generals' opinions, so we did not want
to rely on this opinion and then end up defending our member families
against truancy charges because they did not continue enrollment of
their 16-year-old child in a church school. Unfortunately, in a letter
dated July 13, 2010, the Attorney General declined my request to
consider the other statutory language, stating that only certain
public officials could make such a request.

Although we are not completely confident that the courts of Alabama
would interpret the new law the same as the Attorney General, the
Attorney General's opinion is the interpretation that is most
favorable to homeschoolers. For this reason, we are going to support
it and will assert it against any truant officer, social worker, or
prosecutor who challenges the withdrawal of a 16-year-old child from a
church school. It is unlikely that any truancy charges will be filed
against a family relying on this opinion.

The exemption for 16-year-olds enrolled in a church school does not
extend to children being taught by a private tutor. These children
must continue to be instructed until age 17 unless they have completed
high school graduation requirements for public schools.

If you have any questions about the effect of the Attorney General's
opinion, please don't hesitate to contact us.


Sincerely,

Dewitt T. Black, III
Senior Counsel
HSLDA


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