The compulsory attendance act of 1852 enacted by the state of Massachusetts was the first general law attempting to control the conditions of children. The law included mandatory attendance for children between the ages of eight and fourteen for at least three months out of each year, of these twelve weeks at least six had to be consecutive.
The exception to this attendance at a public school included: the child's attendance at another school for the same amount of time, proof that the child had already learned the subjects, poverty, or the physical or mental ability of the child to attend.
The penalty for not sending your child to school was a fine not greater than $20.00 and the violators were to be prosecuted by the city. The local school committee did not have the authority to enforce the law and although the law was ineffective, it did keep the importance of school before the public and helped to form public opinion in favor of education.
In 1873 the compulsory attendance law was revised. The age limit was reduced to twelve but the annual attendance was increased to twenty weeks per year. Additionally, a semblance of enforcement was established by forming jurisdictions for prosecution and the hiring of truant officers to check absences.
The state of Connecticut enacted a law in 1842 which stated that no child under fifteen could be employed in any business in the state without proof of attendance in school for at least three months out of twelve. The penalty was $25.00 and the business was made financially responsible for the fine. Through this system of fines businesses were forced to be socially responsible for children as well. In addition, children could not work more than ten hours a day. This fine was $7.00 per day. By 1918 all states had passed a compulsory attendance law.
Some of our current laws have taken root from these early laws and have expanded on them. For example, the exceptions to compulsory attendance have been addressed by the states in various ways. Presently children are required to have a physical before entering school and again before enrolling in high school. They must also have a regulated number of immunizations in order to control disease and attain the best level of health for each child, thus helping to make them physical able to attend school.
The states have also restricted working conditions of school age children. A child must obtain an "intent to hire" form from the business they intend to work for and take it to the school to be approved. There are currently restrictions on the type of work as well as the number of hours worked and the lateness of the hours a child can work.
Since the first law in 1852 the goals of education remain the same and have been gradually improving the conditions of children by supporting these restrictions on child labor. Compulsory education laws and child labor laws have worked hand in hand to advance children's rights.
Prepared by Vicky Grocke