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When Can You Drop Out of School in Virginia?

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Virginia students can’t legally drop out before their 18th birthday unless they meet the requirements for an alternative education plan.

Under Virginia's “compulsory education” laws, children between the ages of 5 and 18 must attend full-time school. But there are exceptions, and some students may drop out early. Below is a summary of the state’s requirements for staying in school, dropping out, and getting high school equivalency certificates.

Requirements for Dropping Out Legally

Virginians may legally drop out of high school once they turn 18. Students who are 16 or 17 may also leave regular school, but only after they’ve had a meeting with their parents and the principal to set up an individual student alternative education plan. Local school districts should have guidelines for these plans, but state law requires that they include:

  • counseling on career guidance and the economic consequences of dropping out
  • attendance in a program to prepare for a high school equivalency exam or another approved alternative education program
  • enrollment in a program to earn a career and technical education credential
  • finishing a course in economics and personal finance, and
  • a way to re-enroll in regular school if students want to return.

(Va. Code Ann. § 22.1-254(E).)

School Alternatives and Exemptions

Virginia allows alternatives to regular full-time public school, including:

  • private school
  • private tutoring
  • homeschooling, and
  • alternative study or work/study programs.

Children are also exempt from compulsory education if they:

  • are opposed to school, along with their parents, because of a genuine religious conviction, concern for the students’ health (with medical evidence), or justified fear for the students’ safety
  • can’t benefit from education
  • have contagious diseases or haven’t completed their immunizations, or
  • live a certain distance from the nearest public school (two or two and a half miles, depending on the students’ age), and there’s no public transportation nearby.

(Va. Code Ann. § 22.1-254.)

Costs of Dropping Out

Along with the long-term financial consequences of dropping out of school, students could face a range of penalties in Virginia for truancy if they stop going to school before they graduate, turn 18, or meet the other requirements.

Dropouts in Virginia who are under 18 could also lose their driving privileges or not be able to get a license. (Va. Code Ann. §§ 16.1-278.9, 46.2-334, 46.2-335.)

High School Equivalency Tests

Virginians who haven’t graduated may earn a high school equivalency certificate or a “general achievement adult high school diploma” if they pass an approved high school equivalency exam (and meet certain other requirements for the diploma). In order to take the test, you generally have to be at least 18 years old and not currently in school. Some 16- or 17-year-olds may take the test under certain conditions, including when they’ve been homeschooled, expelled, exempt from attendance requirements, or participating in an individual student alternative education plan. (Va. Code Ann. §§ 22.1-254.2, 22.1-253.13:4(F).)

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