The Consequences of Not Enrolling Your Child in School

As an education reform expert and advocate for children‘s right to schooling, I am often asked about the repercussions parents may face if they do not enroll their child in any form of state-approved education. This is an important issue, as keeping children out of school not only violates compulsory education laws but also deprives them of essential knowledge and opportunities that are vital to their future success. In this comprehensive guide, I will analyze the legal obligations, potential penalties, and interventions taken to ensure children receive schooling.

The History and Purpose of Compulsory Education

To fully understand what is at stake when children are kept out of school, it is helpful to look at the history of compulsory education laws and why they were enacted. Public schooling has not always been universally accessible or legally required.

The Path to Universal Education

During the 19th century, European countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, and France began passing laws to require children to attend primary school. The United States followed suit in 1852 when Massachusetts passed the first US compulsory education law. By 1918, all American states had enacted similar laws.

Reducing Illiteracy and Inequality

These laws arose in response to high illiteracy rates and unequal access to education. Policymakers aimed to equip all children with basic academic skills and reduce socioeconomic barriers. Compulsory schooling was seen as crucial for individual success and the country‘s development.

Today, nearly all industrialized countries have compulsory education laws in place, requiring children to attend school from around ages 5 to 16. Some developing nations are striving to achieve universal primary education as well.

Preparing Children Holistically

Modern compulsory education laws recognize that schooling does more than impart academic knowledge – it also plays a vital role in developing social skills, emotional intelligence, civic awareness, and preparedness for adult responsibilities. Keeping children out of school curtails these crucial opportunities for growth.

Exceptions to Compulsory Enrollment

While compulsory enrollment laws require school attendance in some form, there are exceptions that provide alternatives:


Educating children at home is legal in all 50 US states, though regulations vary widely. Some states require minimal notification only, while others mandate curriculum approval, teacher qualifications, testing, and home visits. For instance, New York, Vermont, and Pennsylvania have stringent homeschooling requirements. In contrast, states like Idaho, Alaska, and Michigan take a more relaxed approach.

Private Schools

Enrolling children in accredited private schools satisfies compulsory education laws. This allows families to opt for religious schooling or educational approaches like Montessori and Waldorf. However, private schools must meet minimum state standards.

Even with exceptions, education reform has helped make schooling accessible for all children regardless of background or socioeconomic status. This promotes equality of opportunity.

Consequences for Not Enrolling Children in School

Given the immense value of education, parents who keep their children out of school face steep consequences including:

Educational Neglect Charges

Failing to enroll a child in school may prompt charges of educational neglect or truancy, considered a form of child abuse in most states. For instance:

  • In California in 2018, a mother was charged with educational neglect after two of her children were found to be absent from school for over 10% of the year.
  • A Detroit father was jailed in 2012 for truancy violations after his 9-year-old daughter missed over 100 school days.

Educational neglect charges can result in criminal penalties, loss of custody, or mandated remedial action.

Fines for Truancy

If a child is not enrolled in any school, their absence is automatically unexcused. The resulting truancy fines can be upwards of $500 in some states, with some jurisdictions imposing community service and counseling requirements.

Loss of Custody

Courts have stripped parents of custody for willful failure to enroll children in school without cause. The child‘s educational rights take priority in custody decisions. Homeschooling may be mandated if public school enrollment is not pursued.

  • For instance, in 2000, a Chicago mother lost custody of her three children after keeping them out of 1st, 3rd and 6th grade respectively.

Severely depriving children of education is considered neglect warranting family separation in some cases.

Interventions From Schools and Authorities

When children are found to be out of the school system, efforts are made to bring them into compliance with compulsory education laws.

Initial Outreach

If a child is absent at the beginning of the school year, the district will attempt to contact the parents through letters, phone calls, and home visits. Parents may be asked to provide homeschooling documentation.

Child Protective Services

After reasonable attempts to engage the parents, the school will report the issue to Child Protective Services (CPS) to investigate further. A social worker will assess if neglect is involved by interviewing family members, school officials, and other contacts.

Court Orders and Truancy Officers

If non-compliance continues, courts may issue a legal order for the parents to enroll the child and take corrective action. Truancy officers may be assigned to work with the family long-term to overcome obstacles and monitor attendance. Refusal to comply could mean contempt of court charges.

  • For example, in Connecticut, a defiant homeschooling mother was jailed for 5 days after refusing to enroll her child in school despite lack of credentials.

The justice system has an obligation to uphold compulsory education laws and protect children‘s rights.

Creating an Effective Homeschool Curriculum

For parents who opt to homeschool, providing a comprehensive, legal education is paramount. Thoughtful planning and thorough execution is required to create an approved homeschool curriculum.

Researching the Law‘s Requirements

The first step is to research the homeschooling requirements for your particular state. Some key questions include:

  • Is notification of homeschooling intent required? Forms to submit?
  • Are regular testing and assessments mandated?
  • Is curriculum approval required prior to starting?
  • Are home visits or meetings with officials part of oversight procedures?

Securing the needed documentation early can prevent compliance issues. Consulting the Home School Legal Defense Association‘s state-by-state guidelines is advisable.

Selecting the Right Materials

Quality, age-appropriate learning materials tailored to your child‘s needs are vital for success. Curriculum planning involves choosing:

  • Textbooks on core subjects like math, reading, science, history and language arts.
  • Supplementary reading materials at the child‘s level.
  • Educational software, videos, and online programs.
  • Physical learning aids like visual charts, building blocks and flashcards.
  • Resources to develop social, emotional, creative, and physical skills.

Leverage reputable websites, libraries, support groups and publishers to find materials. Build in interactive, hands-on components to stimulate engagement.

Structuring the Day

Creating a consistent daily schedule provides stability. Approach it as you would a school day:

  • Block out time for core academic subjects.
  • Add breaks for lunch, play and exploration.
  • Keep a regular nap/bedtime routine for younger kids.
  • Alternate periods of intense focus with physical activity.

Children thrive on routine. A schedule posted visually can facilitate independence.

Tracking and Demonstrating Progress

Periodically assessing student progress is key. Methods include:

  • Standardized tests, if mandated by your state.
  • Diagnostic tests from reputable online platforms.
  • Portfolio reviews by certified teachers.
  • Developmental checklist evaluations.

Documentation demonstrates your commitment to providing equivalent education. Share results with officials if required.

With proper diligence and planning, homeschooling can deliver academic excellence tailored to your child‘s needs and learning style.

The Lasting Value of Education

Compulsory education laws seek to make schooling accessible for all children, regardless of background or family circumstances. As an education reform expert, I have seen the immense impact of these equal opportunity policies firsthand:

Developing Crucial Skills

Compulsory schooling develops the foundational skills children need to read, write, think critically, and solve problems – capabilities that are vital to functioning in society. Kids also build communication, collaboration, and self-discipline through school activities.

Reduced Inequality

Prior to compulsory enrollment, only children of privilege received quality educations. These laws opened up schooling to kids of all socioeconomic levels, enabling upward mobility. Education is crucial to breaking cycles of poverty.

Preparing for Adulthood

Schooling does more than impart academic knowledge to children – it prepares them socially and emotionally for the responsibilities of adulthood. Education teaches kids about societal expectations and norms while expanding their perspectives.

Depriving children of these formative experiences can have profound consequences, from illiteracy and unemployment to increased criminality and reliance on welfare systems. Their futures are jeopardized without proper schooling.


As demonstrated throughout this guide, keeping children out of school entirely goes against compulsory education laws set up to protect children‘s rights and wellbeing. Consequences range from truancy fines to loss of custody. Homeschooling can provide a legal alternative if executed diligently and compliant with regulations. But altogether denying children an education is a form of neglect with lasting detriments. We have a shared responsibility to ensure the next generation gains the knowledge they need to build bright futures as engaged citizens who contribute meaningfully to society.

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