Most people know that dropping out of school is likely to bring financial consequences down the road. But they may not realize that dropouts (and their parents) can suffer legal consequences as well. Georgia—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 Georgia that deal with compulsory education, the consequences of dropping out, and high school equivalency diplomas. (Because laws can change any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statute by using this search tool.)
Requirements for Dropping Out Legally
Once students are at least 16 years old, Georgia law allows them to leave school before completing all of the requirements for a diploma, but only if they:
- have their parents’ written permission, and
- participate with their parents in a conference with school officials.
Without parental permission, students may not drop out until they turn 18 or become legally emancipated. (Ga. Code § 20-2-690.1(e).)
Penalties for Parents of Truant Students
If students stop going to school before they’ve met the requirements for dropping out legally, their parents could face criminal charges for violating the compulsory education laws. After the school has notified parents of their child’s truancy, every additional day the child is absent will be a separate misdemeanor. The penalties for each offense include fines ($25 to $100), up to 30 days in jail, and/or community service. (Ga. Code § 20-2-690.1(c).)
Legal Consequences for Truant Students
Although Georgia law doesn’t impose fines or other penalties on students who’ve dropped out illegally, it does provide that certain truant students could ultimately come under the juvenile court’s supervision. (Ga. Code § 15-11-2.)
High School Equivalency Tests
In Georgia, anyone who is at least 16 years old and isn’t currently enrolled in high school can take the general educational development (GED) test. However, those who aren’t yet 18 must enroll in a state-approved adult education program and receive approval before they can take the test. Anyone who passes the four-part test will earn a high school equivalency certificate, which is comparable to high school graduation. (See the Technical College System of Georgia’s GED page for more information about test requirements, costs, and how to register.)
Driving Without a Diploma
If you drop out of school, you won’t be able to get a driver’s license in Georgia before you turn 18, unless you’ve received or are working on getting a GED diploma, or you’re enrolled in postsecondary education. (Ga. Code § 40-5-22(a.1)(1).)
If your minor child has stopped going to school despite your best efforts—and is either under 16 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.