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Expert Q&A

What do you do when the school takes you to court because your child refuses to attend school?

My 15-year-old son has been in special education classes since elementary school. In 8th grade, he decided to stop going to school regularly and in 9th grade, he refused to attend at all.

The school sent someone to come pick him up, but they can’t get him to go. We have even called the police, but he refuses to attend. The school has taken my husband and I to court and we were found not guilty. Now four months later, the school is taking us to court again for the same thing. We have no idea what to do and what our rights are? Can you advise?

Dear Saundra:

I can’t give you legal advice. You should consult a special education lawyer, as well as a juvenile defense lawyer. However, your son’s refusal to attend school may be related to an emotional problem which could qualify him for special services from the school district. You may wish to request that he be evaluated for special education.

Under some circumstances, the juvenile court can even order their own evaluation or that he cooperate with a school or private evaluation. You may also wish to consider obtaining a private mental health evaluation to determine why he is refusing school. If there is an emotional problem interfering with his attendance at school, the school must address the problem although there is controversy and conflict in the court decisions as to whether school refusal is a special education issue. He may need a more structured program in which attendance is mandatory.

Finally, you should check the age at which compulsory attendance expires in your state, as the school will be under a lesser obligation once he is no longer of age to have to attend school. At that point, you still have the right as parents to insist he attend school (until he reaches the age of majority in your state).

He still has a right to attend school, but if he stops attending and the school has not made him eligible for special education and developed a plan to insure his attendance, they are likely to simply remove him from their registered students. Even if they do this, you can re-enroll him, but you need to find out what is causing his refusal and what types of services are needed (and/or programs) to insure he gets help for this.

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