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Statutory Exemptions to Compulsory Education

All states have laws requiring children to attend school for some period of time. However, each state has also passed laws for specific exemptions to these compulsory attendance statutes. Although these exemptions vary from state to state, below is information about some of the typical exemptions that states include in their laws.

Child's Circumstances

Some circumstances in a child's life can make a child exempt from compulsory attendance at school. These circumstances, however, usually are cases of the child suffering a severe injury or illness, the death of a parent or guardian, or a severe injury or illness in the child's immediate family.

The child's age can also be a factor. A state's compulsory attendance statute includes a minimum and maximum age, and children too old or too young are not required to attend.

Equivalent Education

In 1925, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that it was unconstitutional for states to require children to attend public schools instead of equally qualified private or religious schools. The court ruled that parents have the constitutional right to control whether their children are taught by public teachers or private instructors. Because of this ruling, all states allow children to be exempt from compulsory attendance requirements if they receive equivalent education somewhere else. This could be through a private or religious school, homeschooling by the child's parents, or instruction by a private tutor.

States are still allowed to regulate homeschooling and the non-religious instruction of private and religious schools. States often impose curriculum and graduation requirements on these schools. Additionally, some states require standardized testing of homeschooled and privately taught students to ensure that they are still meeting minimal educational requirements.


"Dropping out" of school is usually defined by state law as a student officially withdrawing from classes without completing the requirements for a diploma or graduation. Unlike portrayals in movies and on television, dropping out of school can be a difficult process sometimes requiring a series of approvals and counseling.

Unless other special circumstances apply, all states require students to be at least 16 years of age before becoming eligible to drop out, and an increasing number of states have raised this minimum age to 18. In addition to obtaining parental permission, students wishing to drop out often must obtain the school's permission, and some states require the approval of the school board. Some states also allow a child to leave school after a certain age if a court or the principal believes that continued attendance is not in the child's best interest or the child will not benefit from further schooling.

Religious Exemption

Many states allow parents to withdraw their children from school for religious reasons. Most states that allow this require children to at least complete 8th grade, and some states require that the religious reason be grounded in a recognized religious institution. Virginia, however, allows parents to completely exempt their child from all education requirements due to their religious beliefs.

Other Exemptions

In addition to the homeschooling and private school exemptions required by the Supreme Court and the U.S. Constitution, states may add other exemptions depending on the circumstances of their residents. For example, due to California's movie and television business, California law allows an exemption from compulsory attendance while the child is working in the entertainment industry. Louisiana additionally allows for a five-day excused absence for children whose parent or guardian has been called to active military duty overseas.

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