Regardless of the COVID-19 situation, students will return to school — sometime and in some way. When they do return there will be some students who will do so reluctantly. Many of them will wish they didn’t have to go to school. Some of them will eventually drop out.

I wish I could say that dropping out of school is never the right decision but I would be wrong. A student might have to leave school early for safety reasons or to support a family or the parents might not want their child to continue. In some cases, students are pushed out. Whenever a student does drop out, it’s a real shame. They will be missing out on a time they will never have again. Graduating from high school is a once-in-a-lifetime event that should be experienced by every young person.

What does the law say in Minnesota? If you are between the ages of 7 and 17 you are required to attend school. You can attend a public or a private school or you can be home-schooled. In case you didn’t already know, Minnesota charter schools are public schools.

When a young person does reach the age of 17 and wishes to withdraw from school they must have a meeting with a school administrator, along with a parent or guardian, to learn about alternatives to regular school. After the meeting, and if the student still wishes to withdraw, both the student and parent must sign a written statement to that effect.

When students do not attend school and are younger than 17, they face certain penalties because they have been truant. Students who continue to be truant can end up in juvenile court. The court can take away a young person’s driving privilege as well as face other consequences.

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Dropouts can earn a graduation equivalent diploma by passing the GED tests. Generally, they can take the test only if they are 19 years old and aren’t currently enrolled in high school. Former students who are 17 or 18 may take the test only if they apply for an age waiver and meet certain requirements.

Passing a GED test is not easy. At one time studying for the GED consisted mostly of reading a textbook supervised or taught by an adult education teacher. Today’s GED lessons are online and unless a person has the self-discipline to stick with it, the GED route is not what you would call, a piece of cake. It’s much easier to get a diploma by the traditional route.

Is it OK to drop out of school? There is no law against it after you reach 17 in Minnesota. Many famous people have dropped out of school. Here are just a few:

Vidal Sassoon, one of the world’s most famous hair stylists, spent six years in an orphanage. His mother encouraged him to find work in a salon. It is said at the age of 14 he fell in love with hair. His net worth was $130 million before he passed away.

Boxer George Foreman made more money out of the ring than in the ring. He dropped out of school and became an Olympic gold medal boxer. When he retired from boxing he made the famous George Foreman Grill. More than a million have been sold. You may have one.

Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s, dropped out of high school at age 15. He earned his GED 45 years later. Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Ray Kroc of McDonald’s also dropped out of high school. I guess if you like hamburgers and fried chicken, dropping out of school may be the thing for you.

Walt Disney dropped out at age 17. Abraham Lincoln left school at the age of 9. Albert Einstein also dropped out of school.

Have you heard of David Karp? This 34-year-old dropped out of high school during his freshman year. He knew at an early age that he wanted to work with computers, but programming was so new that his high school didn’t offer any courses. He dropped out and continued his education on his own. The bold move paid off when he founded Tumblr and later sold it to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. Though it worked out for him, Karp discourages others from dropping out. He said in one interview, “That is not a path that I would haphazardly recommend to kids out there.” I am sure all of the other famous dropouts I mentioned would wholeheartedly agree.

Dropping out of school is definitely not a path a student should take today. Most of the reasons are pretty obvious. Dropouts make significantly less money over a lifetime. Dropouts are more likely to be incarcerated. Dropouts are more likely to be unemployed. Dropouts are more likely to have children who also drop out of school. I never met a parent that didn’t want their kids to stay in school and graduate. I could go on. The list is endless but here is a big reason why dropouts should stay in school. If you drop out you are more likely to die sooner than those who stay in school.

Enjoying life is a matter of opportunities. We enjoy life more when we see new sights, visit new places, meet new people, take on new challenges and help make life better for others. A high school diploma helps us gain these opportunities and much more.

Yes, it’s OK to drop out of school but you will always regret it.

Riddle: Why did the student bring a ladder to school? (Answer: Because the student wanted to go to high school.) You don’t need the ladder to go to high school, you just have to want to go and that’s free for everyone.

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We need to help every youth have the desire to go to school. That’s up to all of us.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.