Sixteen-year-olds in the Schenectady City School District may not have an easy escape from school this fall.
The Schenectady Board of Education is considering a new rule that would make school mandatory until age 18.
According the state Education Department, individual school boards can vote to change the compulsory school age. However, 17-year-olds who get a job would still be allowed to drop out.
If the school board votes to make the change, unemployed students must stay through the entire school session that begins when they are 17, even if they turn 18 a day after school starts, according to the law.
Currently, they can drop out at the start of the first school year after they turn 16.
New school board member Edward Kosiur made the school age change part of his campaign, promising to work to keep students in school. He said age 16 was simply too young for students to make a decision that would have such long-term ramifications.
At the same time, members of the board’s policy committee were already discussing making school mandatory until age 18.
Now, the committee is ready to bring a draft to the full board for a vote. It will be proposed within weeks, school board member Cheryl Nechamen said.
She said she supports the proposal because students need a diploma. “It is extremely hard to find a job without that high school diploma,” she said.
The district’s truancy officers work hard to keep students in school now, but many of their techniques don’t work once the student is old enough to legally drop out. At that point, probation officers cannot force the student to attend school, and in-school punishments for truancy tend to encourage the student to officially drop out.
“We don’t have that leverage,” Nechamen said.
But the truancy officers do have a good record of getting reluctant 15-year-olds to come to school, and Nechamen said the policy change would allow them to extend that effort to older students.
Board President Cathy Lewis, who is not on the policy committee, said she had heard criticism from some teachers. They warned that it would be hard to teach students who want to drop out.
“[They said] that keeping them there beyond when they want to be there might not be the best idea,” Lewis said.
She added that she hasn’t formed an opinion on it yet but said she was struck by the experiences of the students who recently graduated with GEDs. Those students dropped out and later took a difficult battery of exams to earn a GED.
“I don’t know that they would recommend that path,” she said. “I think that a good number of them would say it’s better to stay in school in the first place.”
Nechamen said she was not persuaded by arguments that it would be hard to teach wannabe dropouts.
“It’s difficult to teach a 10-year-old if they don’t want to be there,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter on the age.”