School Officials Must Give Careful Consideration to Actions That Now Control Compulsory School
Article by: Leanne M. Miller
Article V of the School Code (addressing “Duties and Powers of Boards of School Directors”) requires every school district to “establish, equip, furnish, and maintain a sufficient number of elementary public schools, in compliance with the provisions of this act, to educate every person, residing in such district, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, who may attend.” 24 P.S. § 5–501(a). The same article makes clear that school districts are not required to establish kindergarten programs, although they may do so as a matter of discretion, and if a district establishes such a program, it “shall be an integral part of the elementary school system of the district, and be kept open for not less than two and one-half hours each day for the full school term.” Id. § 5–503.
If school districts do offer kindergarten programs, parents do not have to enroll students in kindergarten as state law only requires that children begin school by age 8. Therefore, is attendance in existing kindergarten programs compulsory once a parent or guardian chooses to enroll a child since enrollment is voluntary?
The state’s highest court recently issued a decision on this exact issue. The case involved a Mother whose legal battle began when she enrolled her daughters in kindergarten at West Beaver Elementary School for the 2011-12 school year. She was cited and fined more than $300 for violating the state’s compulsory school attendance law when her girls missed three days of school in November and December 2011. The absences were reported to the District and Mother was issued summonses for three violations of the School Code’s compulsory school attendance provision. A magisterial district judge found Mother guilty of all three counts.
Mother filed various appeals arguing that she shouldn’t have been penalized because kindergarten itself is not a mandatory program for Pennsylvania’s public schools; and therefore attendance is not compulsory. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court finally heard the appeal and held that that “once a parent/guardian elects to enroll a child in a public kindergarten program offered by a school district…the child has ‘entered school’ and it is the duty of the parent or guardian to comply with Pennsylvania’s compulsory school attendance laws.”
In other words, the compulsory school attendance provisions apply