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Department Info & Services
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Margaret O’Sullivan Parker
Central Florida Community College
Daniel J. Woodring, Esquire
Whether Central Florida Community College can admit a 15-year old married and pregnant student to its adult education program
Question Presented: Does Florida law permit a 15-year old married and pregnant student to take a GED class at a community college?
Short Answer: Yes.
Discussion: A 15-year old girl, who is both married and pregnant, wants to take a GED class through the adult education program at the Central Florida Community College. Despite the fact that she is under the age of sixteen, it is thought that her marital status-the fact that she has been emancipated or had the disability of age removed-may qualify her as an adult student.
First, while the student points to the fact that she is married, and thus has been emancipated in accordance with Section 743.01, Florida Statutes, this provision does not exempt her from the minimum age requirements for adult education or from the compulsory age for attending school. Section, 743.01, Florida Statues removes the disabilities of nonage for a married minor and allows her to enter into contracts, to sue and be sued and generally take part in acts that she could not do as a minor. However, the compulsory school attendance requirements and the definition of an adult student are age-specific and do not state that the student be an adult. The Office of the Attorney General issued Opinion No. 74-139, which although thirty years old, still applies to this issue. The Attorney General determined that a minor emancipated by marriage still had to take the driver’s education courses required of all persons under the age of eighteen. The opinion noted that the driver’s license statute used a specific age rather than that the terms “minor” or “adult.” On the same note, the student would not be able to purchase tobacco products or alcohol until she reaches the appropriate age set forth by statute. Here, the statute is also age-specific and therefore the fact that she is married does not exempt her from age-specific definition of an adult student or the compulsory school attendance laws.
Since the student is not exempt from the minimum age requirements of the “adult student” definition, it is then necessary to determine whether the student falls within the definition. Section 1004.02, Florida Statutes, and Rule 6A-6.011, Florida Administrative Code, define an adult student in two ways. First, an adult student is one who is beyond the compulsory school age (i.e. beyond the age of sixteen) and who has legally left the elementary or secondary school. An adult student can also be a high school student who is taking an adult course required for high school graduation. While both school districts and community colleges can offer adult education classes, the statutory definition is found in the provisions for public postsecondary education, and it therefore would apply to community colleges.
The student does not meet either definition of an adult student. Most obviously, as she is only fifteen years old, she is not beyond the compulsory school age. The student is also seeking to take a course preparing her for the GED, which is not an adult course required for high school graduation. If the purpose of the GED is to allow a student who does not formally graduate from high school an opportunity to obtain a high school diploma, a GED preparatory course could not be a course required for high school graduation. While the student is not an adult student under this definition, Section 1003.21, Florida Statutes, provides an exemption for pregnant students.
Section 1003.21, Florida Statutes (2003), states that students who are pregnant or married shall not be prohibited from attending school. The section also says that these students shall receive the same educational instruction, or its equivalent, as other students and may be voluntarily assigned to a class or program suited to their needs. The key provision states, “[p]regnant students may attend alternative education programs or adult education program, provided that the curriculum allows the student to continue to work toward a high school diploma.” Unlike the adult student definition, which says that the student needs to be taking a course required for high school graduation, this provision permits students to attend adult education programs, without regard to the student’s age, if the student is both pregnant and working toward a high school diploma. Here, the student is pregnant and is working toward a high school diploma by taking a class that prepares her to take the GED. Therefore, this section allows her to attend an adult education program.
Just as the student’s emancipation through marriage does not exempt her from the age-specific definition of an adult student, her emancipation does not exempt her from the compulsory school attendance laws. The compulsory school attendance laws apply to “all children between the ages of six and sixteen years.” Section 1002.20(2)(a), Florida Statutes. Therefore, despite that fact that the student is married, she must attend some form of school, including an adult education program, until she reaches the age of sixteen. The student cannot legally drop out of school at the age of fifteen, and therefore she needs to re-enroll with her school district until she turns sixteen years old.
Finally, it should be noted that the student may not sit for the GED exam until she has reached the age of eighteen, unless she obtains a waiver from her school district. While emancipation will not exempt her from this age-specific requirement, districts set their own provisions for waivers, and many times waivers are granted for students who are either pregnant or married. The student will need to check with her school district to determine if they will grant her a waiver. If they do not, she will need to wait to take the GED after she turns eighteen.
Conclusion: The fact that the student has been emancipated by marriage does not exempt her from the compulsory school attendance laws or the definition of an adult student. However, the student is also pregnant and Section 1003.21, Florida Statutes, states that pregnant students can attend an adult education program if they are working toward a high school diploma. Taking a GED class prepares the student to take the GED, which if passed, results in a high school diploma. Therefore, the student can take the GED class at Central Florida Community College.