On June 28, Governor Tom Wolf signed the Omnibus School Code Amendments (Omnibus Act) which redefined the definition of compulsory school age as “the period of a child’s life from the time the child’s parents elect to have the child enter school and which shall be no later than 6 years of age until the child reaches 18 years of age.” 24 P.S. §13-1326. Consequently, the change expanded the number of years that a student is required to comply with compulsory school attendance requirements. What the Omnibus Act itself left unanswered was when the new compulsory school age definition would take effect – this school year, or next? The Pennsylvania Department of Education issued clarification, in an August 2019 document, stating that the change to the compulsory school age definition will take effect in the 2020-2021 school year. As explained below, the change in compulsory school age will also impact district policies and associated documents.
Entrance Age. Parents must enroll a child who has attained the age of six (6) on or before September 1st of the given school year. For children who turn six (6) after September 1, parents must enroll them no later than the start of the following school year. Thus, for example, a child who turns six (6) on September 5, 2020 need not be enrolled until September 1, 2021. However, what if the parents of the child who turns six (6) a week into September, just after the child’s sixth birthday, wish to enroll the child for that school year in which the child turns 6 (six) years of age? How far into the school year should a district allow new student enrollment? When a parent enrolls a six-year old in school for the first time, in what grade should the student be enrolled? In these situations, districts will have discretion in determining the enrollment period and appropriate placement for the child. Whether the child starts in kindergarten or first grade will parallel the same process used to enroll four and five-year-old children – relying on district policy and procedures. While districts already have certain procedures in place relative to enrollment timeframes and “beginner” placement criteria, the change in compulsory age allows districts to reexamine these timeframes and procedures to consider what may better-suit current needs and trends within the district’s families and student population.
Exit Age. Once a student receives a certificate of graduation from a regularly accredited, licensed, registered or approved high school, the student is no longer considered of compulsory school age, even if the student has not yet attained the age of eighteen (18). That said, a student may not withdraw before the age of eighteen (18), prior to graduation, even with a parent signature, unless the student meets one of the limited exceptions to compulsory attendance found in 24 P.S. §13-1330. For example, student has attained the age of 16 and is regularly engaged in any useful and lawful employment or service during the time the public schools are in session, and holds an employment certificate issued according to law.
While compulsory school age changes are not in effect until school year 2020-2021, now is the time to examine board policies, administrative regulations, and other associated documents that relate to compulsory school age. Some edits to these areas of school management are mandatory, while others may be appropriate to take advantage of this opportunity for change. Districts should engage in the revision process to ensure board approval no later than the spring of 2020. As always, the Stock and Leader School Law Group is here to help you navigate and update your district’s policies, procedures, handbooks, and other supporting documents to address these changes and opportunities for new guiding protocol. Please contact us with any questions or concerns regarding the change to compulsory school age or other areas of school law.