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Opinion | Here’s why I believe compulsory schooling in Michigan should end

Following the Oxford High School shooting, I publicly advocated for the repeal of Michigan’s Compulsory Schooling Law (CSL), which requires parents to send their child to school full time, homeschool their child full time or face 90 days in jail.

Tom McMillin
Tom McMillin is a Republican member of the State Board of Education.

Repealing CSL would allow parents whose child is struggling with mental health issues to withdraw their child from school, to focus on improving the child’s mental health, without worry of jail time. As homeschool has flexibility built in, my focus is primarily on the options that repealing CSL would have for families who cannot homeschool due mainly to working outside the home.

Currently these parents’ have zero options – their child must stay in school, full-time. A non-profit or church that wanted to work with these parents to have the child removed from full-time schooling to focus on improving the mental health of the child would be assisting the parents in committing a crime and the parents would face 90 days in jail – not something a business plan is built around.

If CSL is repealed, I believe many options will arise, such as the following two scenarios illustrate:

When Lisa started high school, she began cutting. She then tried to commit suicide twice, with the second time going deeper into her wrist. The ten-day inpatient stay at a psychiatric ward didn’t help. Her parents, Bill and Linda, both working full-time outside the home, didn’t know what to do.

They then discovered Teen Structure (TS), a non-profit started in 2022, six months after Michigan repealed their compulsory schooling laws. TS’s Tiffany sat down with Bill, Linda and Lisa and designed a weekly plan. Lisa’s parents removed her from school. Daily, after arriving, Lisa spends a half hour journaling. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she stays at TS and works out at the gym, has a counseling session and a self-study literature class.

The other mornings, she goes to a local animal shelter, where she cleans cages, feeds and grooms the animals and walks dogs. Lisa loves animals and these three hours. Lunch is at TS, then two online classes. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she has a two-hour culinary class at the ISD. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, her last two hours are either taking ballroom dancing or two online classes and Friday’s she’s with a DBT therapist for an hour and then more journaling about the week.

Lisa is happy. She’s learning about herself and where the suicidal thoughts came from. She hasn’t attempted suicide again.

Harris was 16 and was into fantasy books. But Greg and Patrice, Harris’ parents, noticed the books were more dark, with numerous violent killings. They also found that he had joined an online group, “Rough Up Your School.” The parents were called into meetings – first over a drawing of a hallway with students in pools of blood, the second time because Harris had asked two students if they knew how to get a gun.

Both times Harris pleaded that he’d never harm anyone and both times administrators sent him back to classes. A visit to a psychiatrist resulted in an ominous warning that Harris is in a dark place and considers “having fun” by hurting classmates. Greg and Patrice, both working outside the home, were distraught, looking for options.

The parents asked their church youth pastor if he would meet with Harris weekly, after school. After the first session, pastor Wes started thinking about the four troubled teens he sees regularly – two girls who had attempted suicide multiple times and two boys who had shown dangerous behaviors at school. He received approval for a program to help the adolescents focus on improving their mental health. He got eight retirees to drive the teens to appointments and activities. 

All four parents withdrew their kids from school. For Harris, he starts the day journaling for 30 minutes. Then, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it’s to a plumber, a church member, who agreed to apprentice Harris those mornings. Tuesday and Thursday mornings are spent volunteering at a homeless shelter and with a therapist. Then on all weekdays, it’s back to church for lunch and then a math class online. Mid-afternoons, he either has counseling with Wes, works out at the church gym or takes walks in the woods behind the church.  For the last two hours of each day he takes several online classes and journals. The spiral into the dark has stopped and his parents and youth pastor see a lot of hopeful signs.

A wealthy father whose daughter is being helped by Teen Structure donated $1 million to open four more Michigan locations. Harris’ youth pastor has been contacted by churches, wanting assistance with a similar program. He’s also speaking at a large Michigan youth pastor conference about the program. Options continue to grow.

Repeal Michigan’s compulsory schooling laws, now.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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