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Yippie! School's about to start...

Summer holidays are almost over and future first-graders can't wait to go to school for the first time. However, the battle continues among not a few divorced parents as to whether and where their child is about to enroll in school. 

 

The Schools Act speaks a clear language: the legal guardians of children who have reached the age of compulsory schooling must enroll their child in April of that calendar year in which the child is supposed to start mandatory attendance.

Further, mandatory attendance under the Schools Act starts with the academic term following the day on which the child has turned six years of age, unless he or she has been granted a deferral. The legal guardian of a child may request such a deferred enrollment by submitting a written application. Pupils will by default attend the school in whose district they are resident, unless the legal guardian overrides this default by choosing another school for them.

In other words, the Schools Act leaves it to the legal guardian to decide with which school the child will enroll, or whether it is expedient to ask for a deferred enrollment. Sadly, the Schools Act did not anticipate that most children have two legal guardians (namely, their parents), who may have divergent opinions on this matter. Things become particularly thorny in the case of divorced parents who have a tendency to be in dispute when it comes to the affairs of their joint child. In this respect, it is important to remember that even a parent who only exceptionally sees their child (or not at all) principally retains the status of legal guardian.

The way in which parents act on behalf of minors is governed by the general rules of representation contained in the Civil Code, according to which a parent acting by himself or herself in matters of the child vis-a-vis a third party who is in good faith is deemed to do so with the consent of the other parent. In practice, this means that if one parent shows up at the enrollment event with their child in tow, the school will initiate the enrollment procedure without first enquiring about the other parent's view. Similarly, if that parent then applies for a deferral of enrollment, the school will in fact initiate a procedure to decide on whether to postpone the beginning of the child's school attendance by another year, again with the legitimate expectation that the other parent has consented. This, of course, need not necessarily be the case.

In legalese, we say that this assumption (of the other parent's approval of the erstwhile parent's actions on behalf of the child) is refutable. Therefore, in case of disagreement between the parents regarding compulsory schooling, it is best to keep the school at which the child is to be enrolled informed of the fact that I do not consent to the actions of the other parent. Otherwise, the school may and will assume my approval.

If the parents cannot come to a consensus in the matter of enrollment and attendance, the only resort is to turn to the family court, which taking into account the child's best interests, will make the decision for them. In its decision, the court substitutes the other parent's consent with the procedure which it considers the most appropriate – be it a one-year delay of enrollment or enrollment as of the regular term (in which case the child will be enrolled in the district school as a matter of default).

The problematic aspect of such a court decision is the timing: enrollment in first grade of primary school always takes place in April, with a full four months to go before the beginning of the new school year. The decision on the acceptance (enrollment) of the child (or, as the case may be, the decision on the deferral of enrollment) may be appealed within a 15-day period; once this period has lapsed, the school will usually refer the parents to the court and wait for the latter to decide. The court may order various expert opinions before it makes its decision; moreover, the courts are usually under a heavy workload before summer recess – and because of all of this, obtaining a court ruling can be a rather time-consuming affair. The 'defeated' parent will often want to appeal the judgment, and the appellate court may change the first-instance decision or quash it and return the matter to the lower court for a new procedure. It is not surprising, then, that some procedures concerning the first day in school in 2018 for certain six-year olds are still pending, even though it is already August.

With all this in mind, we can only advise the parents of all pre-schoolers, especially those who separated from their partner, to give the issue of first-grade enrollment the requisite attention and address these issues much earlier than what might seem strictly necessary.

Source:
Civil Code (Act No. 89/2012 Coll.)
Schools Act (Act No. 561/2004 Coll.)

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