Most people know that dropping out of school is likely to bring financial consequences down the road. But they may not realize that legal consequences can also follow. Ohio (like every state) has “compulsory education” laws that require students to start school by a certain age and keep attending until they finish high school or reach a certain age. Students and their parents may face penalties for violating these laws, unless they qualify for one of the exceptions.
Below is a summary of the laws in Ohio 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 by using this search tool.)
Requirements for Dropping Out Legally
Students in Ohio are required to stay in school until they turn 18 or get their diploma. Unlike many other states, Ohio doesn’t allow younger students to drop out if they have their parents’ permission or meet other requirements. However, students as young as 14 can go to school part time if they’re working legally and have a certificate from the state. (Ohio Rev. Code §§ 3321.01-3321.03, 3331.01-3331.10.)
Legal Consequences for Dropouts
When students officially withdraw from school without graduating or transferring to another school, they’re considered dropouts. If they’re under 18 years old, the school will notify the local juvenile judge as well as the registrar of motor vehicles. Dropouts will automatically have their driver’s licenses or permits suspended (or won’t be able to get new licenses) until they return to school, turn 18, or get a high school equivalency certificate. Depending on the local school district, students who have a certain number of unexcused absences may also lose their driving privileges. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3321.13.)
Of course many kids just stop going to school without withdrawing, or they start down the dropout path by piling up unexcused absences. Once those absences reach a certain point (30 consecutive school hours, 42 hours in a month, or 72 hours in a school year), the children will be considered habitual truants and will have to participate in an absence intervention program. If a student refuses or doesn’t make satisfactory progress in that program, the school must file a complaint in the juvenile court, and the pupil could wind up under that court’s supervision. (Ohio Rev. Code §§ 3321.16, 3321.191
Penalties for Parents of Truant Students
Ohio law makes parents of school-age children legally responsible for ensuring that their school-age children attend classes. If they’re found guilty of violating that law, the juvenile court can fine them up to $500 or order them to perform community service. Parents can avoid this result by proving that they tried but couldn’t make their kids return to school. But in that case, the school must begin proceedings to bring their children under the juvenile court’s supervision as delinquent, “unruly,” or dependent minors. (Ohio Rev. Code §§3321.22, 3321.38, 3321.99.)
If a school has required attendance at a parental education or training program as part of truancy intervention, any parent who doesn’t complete the program could face misdemeanor charges for parental neglect, with potential jail time and/or fines. (Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2919.222, 2928.24, 2928.28.)
High School Equivalence Diplomas
Dropouts who’ve officially withdrawn from school can obtain a certificate of high school equivalence if they pass one of the equivalency tests offered in Ohio. Generally, you have to be at least 18 to take the test, but 16- and 17-year-olds can also apply if they have written approval from their parent or a court official. (For more information, see the Ohio Department of Education’s page on high school equivalence tests.)
If your child has stopped going to classes despite your best efforts, you may get help through the school’s truancy intervention services. But it’s also a good idea to speak with a lawyer if the school is treating your child as a truant. 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.