Generally speaking, you are most likely already familiar with what the terms “educational” and “neglect” mean on their own. Together, however, they might not mean what you assume. Which begs the question, what is the definition of educational neglect?

Educational neglect is a concept found in family law. It can be defined as the failure of a parent (or legal guardian) to provide for their child’s basic educational needs. For instance, when a child reaches a certain age (usually mandated by the laws of their state), that child must be either enrolled in school, homeschooled, or given necessary special education training.

It is entirely up to the child’s parents or guardian on which method to use, so long as the child is learning by the requisite age. Although this rule typically applies to younger children, it may also include any minors that are still dependent on their parents and are under the age of majority in their state (typically around 18 years old).

It should be noted that educational neglect can sometimes be classified as a form of child neglect and/or child abuse under the law. The primary difference between neglect and abuse is that neglect tends to happen accidentally, while abuse usually involves causing intentional harm to a child. Currently, there are twenty four states with statutes that list educational neglect as a type of child abuse.

In order to prove that a parent or guardian is liable for educational neglect, an individual will need to demonstrate that the parent or guardian has failed to educate their child in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of their state. Thus, this standard may be subject to change and may involve additional elements of proof.

Finally, as mentioned, each state has its own laws and procedures concerning age, educational requirements, and what factors constitute educational neglect. Thus, educational neglect laws can vary depending on the circumstances, how the parents or guardians choose to raise their child, and on the educational neglect laws enacted within a particular jurisdiction.

What are Some Forms of Educational Neglect?

As discussed above, every state has its own statutes and policies regarding what constitutes educational neglect. One basic form of educational neglect can occur when a parent deliberately interferes with their child’s education. Some other common educational neglect examples include:

  • Repeated or chronic absences: If a child chronically misses school or is repeatedly absent from school, then this may constitute educational neglect. A parent or guardian may be at risk of committing child neglect if they allow their child to miss at least five days of school per month, are notified by the school about the issue, and then fail to remedy the situation.
  • Failure to enroll in school: Parents and guardians must register their child in school or homeschool them once the child reaches the state mandated age. In general, a child typically cannot miss more than one month of schooling simply because their parent or guardian failed to enroll them in a timely manner. However, there may be some exceptions to this rule if the parent has a valid reason.
  • Failure to give a child proper educational care and/or attention: A parent or guardian who fails to obtain or refuses to allow a child to receive recommended educational services may be at risk for committing neglect. This may include failing to obtain treatment for the child, such as if they have a diagnosed learning disorder, or refusing to allow them to get a diagnosis and/or treatment.

    • One last example under this category would include refusing to obtain or follow through with providing a child with special educational needs, unless the parent or guardian has a reasonable cause for denial (e.g., financial issues, religious beliefs, etc.).

Is it Illegal to Not Send Your Child to School?

According to the law, it is illegal to not send a child to school. Again, while these requirements may differ based on the state, every state has a law that requires children to attend school. The original reason that such laws arose was to protect children from having to go to work at a young age.

The way that a child is educated is not normally specified by state laws. Thus, a parent or guardian may choose to send their child to public school, private school, parochial school, charter school, or even homeschool them. The decision is theirs, just as long as they are receiving an education by a certain age and is one that comports with state educational standards.

Additionally, some states have laws that permit parents to take their child out of school by a certain age if it is for religious reasons. For example, children who live in Wisconsin and are brought up in an Amish family can leave school after the eighth grade.

How Do You Prove Child Educational Neglect?

The way in which an individual can prove child educational neglect will be contingent on both state laws and procedural requirements. Thus, while the exact elements of proof can vary widely by state, the following are some basic factors that appear in most cases:

  • The child is repeatedly or continuously absent from school for extended periods without a valid explanation;
  • The amount of school absences has noticeably impaired or harmed the child’s education; and
  • The child’s parent or guardian was put on notice of the problem, but failed or refused to address the child educational neglect issue.

In addition, the person proving child educational neglect must provide sufficient evidence to support their claim. Some examples of evidence that might demonstrate that a child is suffering from educational neglect include:

  • Changes in their classroom behavior or academic performance;
  • Signs that the child has learning difficulties that are not being addressed or properly treated;
  • They are not able to keep up with classroom assignments; and/or
  • They receive grades that fall significantly below the class average or exhibit poorer performance skills than other students within their age group.

What are the Legal Consequences for Educational Neglect?

In general, educational neglect may only apply to children of a certain age. While the age requirement can vary by state, the majority of states impose an age requirement of between seven and fourteen years old. There may also be separate requirements for parents who choose to homeschool their children. Most state statutes contain some form of legal penalties either under state child abuse laws or under a compulsory attendance statute.

Some common examples of educational neglect consequences include:

  • Reduction or loss of child visitation rights;
  • Increase of child visitation or child custody rights awarded to a non-custodial parent;
  • Loss of court-ordered child custody rights; and/or
  • In extreme cases, criminal penalties.

In addition, a parent can also face legal consequences for educational truancy. Truancy refers to a situation in which a child is refusing to go to school, despite a parent’s attempts at forcing them to attend.

Although educational truancy matters do not usually terminate a parent’s child visitation or custody rights, if the issue becomes serious enough, a court may impose a time limit to address the problem. After that period of time expires, then the court may intervene and modify child custody and visitation orders.

Do I Need an Attorney for Assistance with Educational Neglect Claims?

Claims for educational neglect can have severe and long-lasting consequences for not only the child, but also the child’s parents or guardians. As discussed above, the laws and procedural requirements for educational neglect often vary from state to state, which can sometimes make it difficult to understand when a parent may be at risk of being held liable for educational neglect.

Therefore, if you are facing a claim involving educational neglect, then it is strongly recommended that you hire a local child custody attorney immediately. An experienced child custody attorney who practices in your jurisdiction will already be familiar with state laws and procedural requirements concerning child educational neglect issues.

Your lawyer can provide advice on how you can potentially remedy the situation and if there is anything you can do to retain your parental rights. In addition, it is essential that you hire a child custody attorney if you are facing criminal penalties. Your lawyer can determine whether there are any defenses available that you might be able to raise, can advocate on your behalf to have those penalties reduced or dropped, and can also provide representation in court.