Most people know that dropping out of school is likely to bring financial consequences down the road. But they may not realize that dropouts can suffer legal consequences as well. Alabama (like every state) has “compulsory education” laws that require parents to keep their children in school up to a certain age or until high school graduation. Parents might face penalties for violating these laws, and their children could end up in juvenile court.
Below is a summary of the laws in Alabama that deal with compulsory education, the consequences of dropping out, and high school equivalency diplomas. (Because laws can change at any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statute.)
Requirements for Dropping Out Legally
Students in Alabama must attend school between the ages of 6 and 17. However, 17-year-olds may leave school before graduating if they:
- have their parents’ written consent, and
- participate (with their parents) in an exit interview with school officials.
(Ala. Code § 16-28-3, 16-28-3.1.)
Penalties for Parents of Truant Students
If students stop going to school before they’re legally entitled to drop out, their parents could be convicted of a misdemeanor. In addition to a fine (up $100), the parents could face up to 90 days of “hard labor.” (Ala. Code § 16-28-12.)
Legal Consequences for Truant Students
Alabama law doesn’t impose fines or other penalties directly on truant students. But if parents declare that they can’t force their kids to go to school, proceedings will start in juvenile court to decide if the youngsters should come under court supervision as dependent, neglected, or delinquent children. (Ala. Code § 16-28-14.)
High School Equivalency Tests
In Alabama, anyone who is at least 16 years old and not currently in school may take the general educational development (GED) test in order to obtain a high school equivalency certificate. However, there are additional requirements for those who are under 18. (For more details, see this FAQ page on the GED test in Alabama).
In an attempt to minimize the numbers of dropouts, Alabama also offers another option for students who weren’t able to pass the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. They can take remediation and GED prep classes (along with their regular class load). If they pass the GED and complete the course requirements, they’ll receive an “Alabama Alternate Adult High School Diploma.”
Driving Without a Diploma
If you drop out of school, you won’t be able to get a driver’s license in Alabama before you turn 19, unless you:
- are taking a GED prep class
- are participating in an approved job training program or are “gainfully” employed
- have custody of your own minor child or are pregnant
- provide your parents with their only source of transportation, or
- qualify for an exemption because of reasons outside of your control.
(Ala. Code § 16-28-40.)
If your minor child has stopped going to school despite your best efforts—and is either under 17 or hasn’t gone through the steps for dropping out legally—it’s a good idea to contact the school. A counselor or other school official may be able to help or at least recommend resources and options.
If your child has been away from classes long enough to meet the definition of a truant, consider speaking with a lawyer. An attorney experienced in education or criminal law should be able to explain the legal consequences that both you and your child might face, as well as the steps you can take to avoid those consequences.