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AGO 1952 No. 366 - August 06, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

SCHOOL DISTRICTS ‑- POWER OF BOARD TO EXCLUDE STUDENTS BY REASON OF MARRIAGE

The Board of Directors of a school district has no authority to exclude a student from attendance at school solely for the reason that such a student is married.

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                                                                  August 6, 1952

Honorable Pearl A. Wanamaker
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 366

Dear Mrs. Wanamaker:

            You have requested our opinion as follows:

            "Does the Board of Directors of a school district have authority to exclude married students from attendance at school?

            "The Board of Directors of the district which has asked for this opinion has adopted the following policy:

            "'The marriage of pupils will automatically exclude them from further attendance at school in the Omak District unless re‑admitted by the Board of Directors.'

            "Does the Board of Directors of such a school district have authority to enforce such a policy?"

            It is our conclusion that the Board of Directors of a school district has no authority to exclude a student from attendance at school solely for the reason that such a student is married.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Our State Constitution in section 4 of Article 26 thereof mandates that:

            "Provision shall be made for the establishment and maintenance of systems of public schools free from sectarian control which shall be open to all children of said state."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            RCW 28.58.190 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 4680) expressly directs that:

            "Every common schoolshall be open to the admission of all children between the ages of 6 and 21 years residing in the school district."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The general rule has been stated as follows (Am. Jur. 412, Section 155, Schools):

            "* * * The constitutional and statutory right of every child to attend the public schools is always  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] subject to reasonable regulations by the local authority or the legislature.  Hence, a child may be refused admission if infected with a contagious disease or dangerously exposed thereto, or who is of a licentious or immoral character, or of too feeble a mind to derive any benefit from instruction, or not sufficiently educated to enter or be retained in the lowest grade.  However, a pupil may not be excluded from school because married, where no immorality or misconduct of the pupil is shown, nor that the welfare and discipline of the pupils of the school is injuriously affected by the presence of the married pupil."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In the case ofMcLeod v. State, 154 Miss. 468, 122 So. 737, 63 A.L.R. 1161, the school trustees adopted an ordinance under which married students were barred from the schools, although such students were in all other respects eligible to attend school.  The court pointed out that reasonable regulations for the government of schools are valid and that the presumption is always in favor of the reasonableness and propriety of rules passed by the trustees.  However, the court held that the rule which automatically barred married students was, as a matter of law, so unreasonable and unjust as to amount to an abuse of discretion in its adoption.  The court there said:

            "* * * It is argued that marriage emancipates a child from all parental control of its conduct, as well as such control by the school authorities; and that the marriage relation brings about views of life which should not be known to unmarried children; that a married child in the public schools will make known to its associates in schools such views, which will therefore be detrimental to the welfare of the school.  We fail to appreciate the force of the argument.  Marriage is a domestic relation highly favored by the law.  When the relation is entered into with correct motives, the effect on the husband and wife is refining and elevating, rather than demoralizing.  Pupils associating in school with a child occupying such a relation, it seems, would be benefited instead of harmed.  And, furthermore, it is commendable in married persons of school age to desire to further pursue their education, and thereby become better fitted for the duties of life.  And they are as much subject to the rules of the school as unmarried pupils, and punishable to the same extent for a breach of such rules.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "We are of opinion that the ordinance in question is arbitrary and unreasonable, and therefore void."

            An opinion rendered by this office under date of October 19, 1927 to the Superintendent of Public Instruction involved the question of whether a girl student under twenty-one years of age could be charged tuition by reason of the fact that she was married.  We there stated:

            "We are persuaded that the marital status of a female under the age of twenty-one years has no bearing upon her right to attend school without payment of tuition."

            It is, therefore, our opinion that a school district has no authority to adopt a policy or rule under which a student otherwise eligible to attend school is automatically excluded from such attendance by reason of his or her marriage.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

FRED L. HARLOCKER
Assistant Attorney General

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