Compulsory School Attendance and Enrollment Questions

By Kathi Kearney

 

What does Maine’s compulsory attendance law say? When does your child have to officially be enrolled in a public or private school or have parents file the homeschool Notice of Intent? 

 

Maine’s compulsory attendance law starts at the 6th birthday and extends to the 17th birthday, as interpreted by several Attorney Generals across both Republican and Democratic administrations. On the child’s 6th birthday and until the 17th birthday, your child MUST be enrolled in a public school, a Maine approved private school, a Maine equivalent instruction private school, or the parent must file the Notice of Intent to homeschool. Otherwise, the child is considered truant.

 

Several myths have circulated regarding the law, including that if the child turns six after the public school’s October 15th cutoff date for school entrance, that the parents do not have to enroll the child in school or file a notice of intent to homeschool until the following year. This is wrong! The compulsory attendance law states “Persons 6 years of age or older and under 17 years of age.” The law is specific that the birthday age is 6 when the compulsory attendance law takes effect, and this has absolutely nothing to do with the public school’s cutoff dates for school entry. At the 6th birthday, a child must be enrolled in some type of school or the parents must file the homeschool Notice of Intent.

 

The compulsory attendance law ends at the 17th birthday. At that point, letters of intent and annual assessment results are no longer required to be filed. However, if your child wants to take courses at the public high school under the Maine public school access law for homeschoolers, or wants to take free college courses through the University of Maine campuses, the Maine Community College system, or Maine Maritime Academy using the Maine Aspirations Program, you must still file either the Notice of Intent (for first-time homeschoolers) or the Subsequent Letter (for continuing homeschoolers) in order to enroll in these courses.

 

Helpful Links:

 

Maine Compulsory Attendance Law:

https://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-a/title20-Asec5001-A.html

 

Maine Public School Access Law for Home Instruction Students:

http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-A/title20-Asec5021.html

 

Information about the Maine Aspirations Program (also search the information at individual college campus websites; the program may be known at individual college sites as “early college,” “dual enrollment,” or “Maine Aspirations Program”):

https://www.maine.gov/doe/learning/highered/earlycollege/eligibility

 

More Questions Answered: 

 

Must all children be enrolled in some type of schooling by the 6th birthday? 

Yes. If your child has had their 6th birthday, they must be enrolled in school from the date of the 6th birthday, or the parents must file the homeschool Notice of Intent. 

 

I thought kindergarten was not required? 

All school districts, school unions, and town schools enrolling primary-age children in Maine must offer a kindergarten program. Kindergarten is not required for children unless they turn 6 years old during the kindergarten year. On the day that they turn 6, the compulsory attendance law is in effect and they must attend school, or else the parents must file the homeschool Notice of Intent, even if they turn 6 after the school year has already begun. 

 

What if my child is not ready for kindergarten? 

Children’s development varies widely in preschool, kindergarten, and the early grades. Public and private schools are aware of and plan for varying developmental levels in their kindergarten programs. Homeschoolers have enormous varieties of curriculum available, from programs that are highly structured to those that are exploratory and experience-based, project learning, or site-based (and everything in between). Even most public school kindergartens only meet for two and a half hours a day, which includes arrival, departure, recess, snack, and/or lunch, as well as any instructional activities. It is very possible to have a relaxed kindergarten program, as many public and private schools also do. But at the 6th birthday, the child must be enrolled in school or the parents must file the homeschool Notice of Intent. 

 

What about the October 15 age cut-off date? 

The October 15th age eligibility cutoff date for school entrance has absolutely nothing to do with the compulsory attendance age, and, in fact, is found in a different section of the Maine Revised Statutes Annotated (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-a/title20-asec5201.html). The October 15th cutoff date for school entrance to public school states that a child must be 5 years old on or before October 15th of the school year’s start to attend kindergarten. Otherwise, the child must wait another year to enroll and attend kindergarten. The compulsory attendance statute states that a child must be enrolled in some type of school or the notice of intent to homeschool filed between the ages of 6 and 17. At the 6th birthday, the compulsory attendance law is in effect, regardless of the grade of the child.

 

Why shouldn’t I file the Notice of Intent before the 6th birthday, if I am already

homeschooling my child? 

Homeschooling can begin at any age. However, filing the Notice of Intent is not required until

the 6th birthday. There is no benefit to filing early. In addition, filing early may encourage future

legislators to lower the compulsory attendance age once again, for everyone, if it becomes

common. Families need the freedom to choose when their young children ages 0 until the 6th

birthday are, or are not, ready for formal schooling. Following the exact requirements of the law

helps to preserve schooling choices for everyone in the early years.

 

I am already homeschooling my 4 or 5-year-old and want to maintain my child's

appropriate grade level, so I am filing and submitting assessment results early so that my

child's grade level will be recognized. What is wrong with that? 

Most children proceed developmentally at a normal rate, and will neither be behind nor

accelerated in their academic learning. If you are homeschooling a child, no matter what age, you

can allow the child to move at his or her own pace. A few children will be delayed, and a handful

of children will be exceptionally advanced and completing work above the kindergarten level at

age 4 or 5.

 

However, Maine law requires a minimum age for public preschool and kindergarten enrollment:

 

          “2.  Minimum ages.  The following are minimum ages necessary for student enrollment

          in a school administrative unit.

          B. A person who will be at least 5 years old on October 15th of the school year may

          enroll in school.

          C. A person who will be at least 4 years of age on October 15th of the school year may

          enroll in a public preschool program prior to kindergarten if it is offered.”

          (https://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-a/title20-Asec5001-A.html)

 

This means even if a four-year-old is very advanced, they are not allowed to enter school unless

they meet the minimum age requirements, no matter how many grades they may have completed

through homeschooling, and no matter what type of annual assessment is completed.

 

Most elementary schools place children with age peers when they enter school for the first time,

regardless of the grade(s) they may have completed at home prior to the 6th birthday. If a child

truly needs a grade skip, there are processes in schools to accomplish this, but it means enrolling

the child in school first, and then school personnel complete observations, look at work samples,

test the child, and evaluate maturity and social development. This process involves the classroom

teacher, the principal, the guidance counselor or school psychologist, and the gifted education

specialist.

 

Filing the homeschool Notice of Intent and submitting the annual assessment results for a four-

or five-year-old will not circumvent this process. A grade skip involves many factors beyond just

advanced academic achievement.

 

The compulsory attendance law in Maine states that:

 

          “If the home instruction program is discontinued, students of compulsory school age must be

          enrolled in a public school or an equivalent instruction alternative as provided for in this

          paragraph. The receiving school shall determine the placement of the student.” (emphasis

          added)

          (https://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/20-a/title20-Asec5001-A.html)

 

This means that it is completely up to the receiving school to determine the grade placement of

the child. There is no guarantee, with or without a Notice of Intent or annual assessment, that the

child’s grade placement in the homeschool setting will be recognized when they enter a public

school or a private school. That decision is completely determined by the receiving school.

Filing the homeschool Notice of Intent and completing an annual assessment prior to the 6th

birthday will not change that.

 

Parents may wish to conduct assessments of their child’s progress for their own information and

to help in determining homeschool curriculum selection, but this will not guarantee recognition

of the child’s grade level if the child enters a public or a private school. The receiving school,

under Maine’s compulsory attendance law, makes that decision.

 

Kathi Kearney teaches gifted and talented students, serves on the HOME Board and helped to author Maine's homeschool law.