When Decisions Matter.

Ending the Debate on Beginner

As you may know, there has been some disagreement between Pennsylvania law, regulation, and courts on who a “beginner” is and if/when compulsory attendance attaches to said beginner.

Sections 1326 and 1327 of the School Code (24 P.S. §§ 13-1326-1327) contain provisions for enforcing attendance in school that are directed at parents and guardians, including a definition for ”compulsory school age.” As defined in Section 1326 of the School Code, compulsory school age begins when a parent or guardian ”elects” to have his/her child enter school. School attendance may begin no later than 8 years of age. There is no reference to ”beginner” in this statutory definition, nor does the definition restrict compulsory school age to primary classes above kindergarten.

Section 11.13 of Pennsylvania Code does restrict compulsory school age to primary classes above Kindergarten: “Compulsory school age refers to the period of a child’s life from the time the child enters school as a beginner which may be no later than at the age of 8 years, until the age of 17 or graduation from a high school, whichever occurs first. A beginner is a child who enters a school district’s lowest elementary school grade that is above kindergarten.

The use of ”beginners” in Section 1304 of the School Code (24 P. S. § 13-1304) provides guidance to school districts as to the point at which they must admit students to their schools. Since kindergarten is not mandatory in this Commonwealth, the term ”beginners” means students attending primary grades above the kindergarten level. The School Code states that the use of ”beginners” in this context applies only to section 1304 of the School Code.

Pennsylvania muddied this interpretation further when, on June 16, 2014, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed that if a parent or guardian elects to enroll his/her child in a public kindergarten program, the parent and student are subject to the School Code’s compulsory attendance requirements. See Commonwealth v. Kerstetter, 94 A.3d 991 (Pa. 2014). The Supreme Court concluded that § 11.13 inappropriately comingled ”compulsory school age” and ”beginner” in a manner that is inconsistent with the School Code. Based on a plain-language reading of the School Code, the Supreme Court ruled that the terms address discrete issues and apply to different audiences. Thus, § 11.13 is not consistent with the School Code.

In response, the State Board of Education amended § 11.13, effective December 13, 2014, to delete references to ”beginner.”  Revising the regulation does not alter current paperwork or reporting requirements.  However, the revision avoids potential confusion by anyone unfamiliar with the Supreme Court’s opinion in Commonwealth v. Kerstetter.  Section 11.13 of Pennsylvania Code now reads as follows:

TITLE 22. EDUCATION

PART I. STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

Subpart A. MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS

CHAPTER 11. STUDENT ATTENDANCE

ADMISSION TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS

  • 11.13. Compulsory school age.

Except as otherwise provided by law, compulsory school age refers to the period of a child’s life from the time the child enters school (which may be no later than at the age of 8 years), until the age of 17 or graduation from a high school, whichever occurs first.

If you have any questions about this regulatory change feel free to contact the School Law Group.

 

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