Every state has “compulsory education” laws that require school attendance. In Alabama, that means children between the ages of 6 and 17 must attend public or private school until they graduate. But there are exceptions, and would-be dropouts need to jump through hoops before they can leave school legally. Below is a summary of the state’s laws on staying in school, dropping out, and getting high school equivalency diplomas.
Requirements for Dropping Out Legally
Any students over age 17 may drop out of school, but only if they:
- have their parents’ written consent and
- participate, along with their parents, in an exit interview with school officials.
At the interview, the school will give information to the students and their parents about the harmful effects of dropping out, as well as any available training and employment opportunity programs. (Ala. Code §§ 16-28-3, 16-28-3.1.)
Other Exemptions from School Attendance
Alabama exempts other children from its compulsory education laws, including those who:
- are being taught by a competent private tutor for at least three hours each school day
- aren’t able to do school work because of their physical or mental condition
- would have to walk over two miles to public school because there’s no public transportation from their home, or
- are regularly and legally employed under child labor laws.
(Ala. Code §§ 16-28-5, 16-28-6.)
Costs of Dropping Out
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 more immediate legal consequences if they stop going to class before they meet the legal requirements for leaving school. (For more details, see our article on what happens to truants and their parents in Alabama.)
In addition, dropouts may not be able to drive legally. If you’re younger than 19, you won’t be able to get a driver’s license or learner’s permit in Alabama unless you:
- have graduated from high school
- 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 other reasons outside of your control.
(Ala. Code § 16-28-40.)
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.”