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Rhode Island

August 8, 2011

Compulsory School Attendance Age Rises to 18, With Two Exceptions

Despite many calls in opposition from homeschool families, the legislature of Rhode Island passed a bill, HB 5061, raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18. It became effective upon the governor’s signature on July 13, 2011.

Previously, homeschoolers could stop filing notices, submitting attendance registers, filing report cards, etc., after their child turned 16. These burdens will now continue until the child turns 18.

There are two exceptions. First: a child accepted into an accredited postsecondary education program (i.e., college) is automatically exempt at age 16.

Second: A child can be excused at age 16 if the local public school superintendent approves an “alternative learning” plan leading to a diploma or the equivalent.

The possible components of an “alternative learning plan” are flexible: independent study, private instruction, performing groups, internships, community service, apprenticeships, etc. The plan must be developed “in consultation with” a guidance counselor or school principal. (See the text of HB 5061 for details. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

But the superintendent has the power to approve or disapprove the plan. While the new law allows parents to appeal a denial to the school board, and subsequently to the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, there are few, if any, objective standards the superintendent is required to follow.

If a plan is denied, success in having a school board overturn the decision will depend heavily on the makeup of the individual school board. And it may be difficult for a family to persuade the state commissioner to overturn the decision unless it’s clear the superintendent abused his discretion.

Nonetheless, families may find that in some towns, the burden of obtaining a waiver is less than the burden of continuing to follow their local homeschool procedures for two more years. HSLDA stands ready to help members in this situation.

Rhode Island towns have been slow to recognize changes in the law that impact homeschoolers. It could be literally years before many towns realize the compulsory age has risen to 18. This is especially true because the compulsory age for students enrolled in public school has been 18 for several years.

In the meantime, it is HSLDA’s mission to make sure our members have access to accurate information and the guidance you need to adjust to the changes.