Proving Compulsory Attendance

This week we learned about HB 567 the day before its hearing on March 9. This bill will allow a judge who is dealing with a student of compulsory attendance age who has received a traffic ticket to require that the student prove that he is in compliance with the compulsory attendance laws.

We contacted the author of the bill, Representative Ryan Guillen, and expressed our concerns regarding the language that would require students who receive a traffic citation to prove they are in compliance or exempt from the compulsory attendance statute. Section (b-2) (2) of the bill states, “[W]ritten documentation indicating the basis on which a child is exempt from compulsory attendance requirements may be provided to establish that the child is exempt.”

We explained that our concern is whether or not under this language a judge would accept a letter from a home school parent stating that their child is being homeschooled and therefore exempt from compulsory attendance in a public school. Representative Guillen’s staff was not aware that home schools are private schools and that there is no state regulation or monitoring of private schools. We told them we would like some specific language that makes that clear, to avoid problems for home school students. The staff member expressed that Representative Guillen would be happy to offer a committee substitute that would resolve our concerns.

We then conveyed our concerns to a number of the members of the Corrections Committee including the Chairman Representative Jerry Madden. Some members of the committee raised our concerns, and THSC Legislative Liaison Paul Hastings gave testimony explaining those concerns and told the committee that Representative Guillen had agreed to work with us on language to address those concerns. The bill was left pending in committee, and we will follow it closely until our concerns are resolved.

While we often have legislators or their staff say that we should not be concerned about compulsory attendance language since home school students are exempt from compulsory attendance, we deal with situations regularly in which some officials refuse to recognize that, or else challenge an individual’s exemption. Indeed, we dealt with a school district yesterday that refused to withdraw children from a public school and brought a law enforcement officer to the home of a family to demand to see the children and examine the curriculum. This of course was done under the guise of enforcing the compulsory attendance laws. Situations like these are why we want to be very sure that no vague language is adopted into law that would make it possible to prosecute or harass innocent home school families.

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