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This issue had been bugging me for a while, and I think I finally figured out how to phrase it:

As one of the punishments for infractions, some schools will detain children, hold them past the end of normal class schedule as punishment.

Parents and teachers don't always see eye to eye on this, so my question is this:

What happens if a parent refuses to allow the school to detain their child?

I imagine that in the case of the weekend detention, the parent simply doesn't bring their child to the detention. Is the parent in any legal jeopardy for failing to do this?

If a parent shows up to school on the day of their child's scheduled detention, demanding their child be released at the usual time, must the school comply?

Strictly speaking I'm interested a legal perspective as is written in laws, not in contracts. I am aware that a parent may have signed a consent form to such detentions as part of the enrollment process, which could trigger civil action

Jurisdiction: I'm in NC, USA, but an answer from another jurisdiction is always welcome :)

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    Interesting and proper question upon which there is very little affirmative case law or statutory law (like so many things related to the authority of parents over their children). I have some pretty good ideas about how to analyze it and will present in an answer if I have time, but I would be moderately surprised if the question has a definitive answer. – ohwilleke Jan 15 at 19:40
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    @ohwilleke it’s likely the answer will differ between public and private schools – Dale M Jan 16 at 2:13
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Almost certainly a school can enforce detention as part of discipline

Government schools

The Education Act 1990 at s35 gives the Minister power to discipline students and the power to delegate that discipline. That delegation has been done and individual principals are required to develop and implement disciplinary policies in their schools in consultation with staff, parents and students.

If such a policy included out-of-school-hours detention then it would be a legal requirement on students and parents. Failure to comply could trigger further disciplinary action including suspension and expulsion. All of this would have to be done in a manner that ensured procedural fairness to be legal.

Failure to comply could trigger civil action for truancy - students are required by law to attend school: this would include lawful disciplinary action. As a practical matter, this seems unlikely but it is possible in theory.

Private schools

Are under no obligation to provide education to any particular student. Although the Education Act still applies to them, they can reach for the suspension/expulsion buttons more quickly in response to what would be a breach of contract in failing to adhere to school rules.

The expelled student would then become the government’s problem.

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    As someone who's private school had some strictly enforced rules, I can say that parents are much more forgiving of the school holding their kid in detention (or in the Jesuit run Catholic School I went to "Jug". The term was preferable as it was short for Juggum, a Latin term for a "yolk" used by beasts of burden and typically did require students to perform light cleaning work... and also acronyms for Justice Under God.). Most parents who elect for private school education are paying a lot of money and feel the punishment fits the crime of wasting their hard earned money. – hszmv Jan 16 at 14:13
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    It's also not uncommon for schools to hold Detentions on a set day of the week, and Extra-Curricular are very common (especially the Sportsball games and practices) so most parents would pick up their children later than dismissal of the class day anyway. Finally, Detention is typically High School and some middle school punishment while a "loss of recess" for a Elementary and some middle school is preferable, especially since extra-circulars are not as common at these levels. – hszmv Jan 16 at 14:18
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tl;dr: Yes, the school may detain children for disciplinary reasons, but only as authorized by law, and generally only to perform extra work, not just as punishment.


In general, the compulsory education existing in Germany is authorized by §7 Grundgesetz (basic law), which authorizes the state to organize and oversee the school system. According to court judgements, that authorizes the state to make school compulsory and set school rules.

In particular for detention, the school laws (there is one per German Land, which have authority over schools) explicitly allow detention under certain circumstances.

For example, the law for North Rhine-Westphalia (Schulgesetz NRW) says:

§ 53 - Erzieherische Einwirkungen,Ordnungsmaßnahmen

(1) Erzieherische Einwirkungen und Ordnungsmaßnahmen dienen der geordneten Unterrichts- und Erziehungsarbeit der Schule sowie dem Schutz von Personen und Sachen. Sie können angewendet werden, wenn eine Schülerin oder ein Schüler Pflichten verletzt. Der Grundsatz der Verhältnismäßigkeit ist zu beachten. [...]

(2) Zu den erzieherischen Einwirkungen gehören insbesondere [...] die Nacharbeit unter Aufsicht nach vorheriger Benachrichtigung der Eltern [...]

My translation:

§ 53 - Educational interventions and disciplinary measures

(1) Educational interventions and disciplinary measures are intended to assure orderly teaching and education by the school, and the protection of people and objects. They can be applied, if a pupil violates their duties. The principle of proportionality must be observed. [...]

(2) Educational interventions comprise, among others, [...] extra work under supervision, after prior information of the parents [...]

So, under that law detention would be legal, but only for performing rework / extra work. Detention without work (i.e. just putting them into an empty room for an hour) would not be legal.

Other Länder have similar laws.

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I've never heard of weekend detention. Good heavens!

I have faced this question myself, as a parent, with regards to after-school detention, and lunch detention.

In my state, New York, I found an official state education department document specifically about detention, which states:

After School Detention

To: School Administrators and Pupil Service Personnel

From: Carl Friedman

Subject: After School Detention

Date: March 1996

The purpose of this field memorandum is to answer two questions. Can a school district require students to stay after school for detention as a disciplinary measure? Can the student be required to stay after school when the student has other conflicting obligations, such as caring for siblings or working?

Unfortunately, neither the law nor regulations directly address the practice of detaining students after school as a method of discipline, nor are there any precedential decisions. Education Law 1709(2) provides the authority for boards of education to “establish such rules and regulations concerning the order and discipline of the schools.” Consequently, boards of education can maintain discipline in the schools by reasonable means. Requiring a student to serve detention at the end of a school day does not constitute an unreasonable disciplinary practice per se. However, if a parent objects to the imposition of after-school detention in a specific situation, the district should impose an alternative means of discipline, as there is no specific statutory authority for a school to detain a student after the end of a regular school day against the parents’ wishes.

As a final note, where a student is required to serve a period of after-school detention and the student ordinarily receives transportation, Education Law 3635 requires the district to transport the student home after the detention period.

Last Updated: March 16, 2009

I looked at the North Carolina state education website and was not able to find anything there about detention. However, you could call and ask if there's something you've missed. You could also ask them the same question you posed here.

In addition, you should be able to download all of your district's local policies, and then search for the string "detention" within those documents. (I recommend File Locator Lite for efficient, effective searching.)

It is so much easier to advocate for your child when you cite local or state or federal policy or studies or reports.

Now I would like to mention some practical considerations, based on my experience.

  1. If there might be a disability that could be contributing to either true behavioral issues, or issues that the school may be interpreting as a behavioral problem, you can ask that a Functional Behavioral Assessment be done. If the FBA is done properly, it can help turn the focus away from the child as the problem to a collaborative attempt to find ways to help the child be more successful in school.

  2. The more you can learn about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) the better prepared you'll be when you meet with school staff. I looked at your state education department's website and found that although many individual districts in your state have PBIS materials on their websites, State Ed seems to have switched to a different approach and a different acronym, which I am not familiar with. Start here: https://www.dpi.nc.gov/districts-schools/districts-schools-support/integrated-academic-behavior-systems. The goal is to find state recommendations that you can print out and bring to a meeting, to ask politely about, e.g., "I've been reading about the multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework on the state education website. Has that framework been helpful for other students at our school who have faced behavioral challenges?" Maybe you can also pull out some specifics from those materials. The goal would be to show that you want to partner with the school, to help the student function more effectively in the classroom.

  3. What I did, after a behavior incident which resulted in a detention, was to talk over the incident with my son, and help him understand how his actions might affect staff and other students, to try to stimulate an empathetic response from him. Once he "got" it, I asked him to write a short apology letter to the relevant staff and helped him send it. I asked him to explain in the letter why it wasn't fair to staff to have to see something disgusting, and why the incident could make some children not feel safe to come to school. (The incident involved him putting mucous, soap and water in a condom and leaving it on a bench in the gym locker room.) Then I wrote to the relevant staff and said that I felt that my son had now understood what was wrong with what he had done, and I felt that the process we had followed at home was a more effective way of applying positive discipline, than detention would be, and therefore I was requesting that the detention be waived.

  4. I think that many schools give detention because they don't know what else to do. So, the best stance to take, in my opinion, is to share one's concern, show respect for their point of view, show that you want to partner with them to help the student be less disruptive (or whatever -- it depends on the situation), and then firmly state that you do not support detention for your child, stating the reason. (In my son's case, the reason was, detention simply brought out more oppositional and defiant behaviors -- the opposite of what we all wanted.)

  5. From your question, I sense that you are wondering if there's anything to be afraid of, in terms of legal actions toward the parents. In my experience, there are three ways schools lash out when they don't know what else to do:

    (a) If the relationship deteriorates and gets very bad, the school may send a letter stating that the parent may no longer enter school property. If this happens, it is important to follow the instructions to the letter. If not, the parent could be arrested. This type of letter is becoming more and more common. To avoid getting such a letter, it can be helpful to always keep one's cool in meetings and emails. (Even so, I have seen districts make up "violent" parental behaviors out of whole cloth....)

    (b) Sometimes a school will report a parent to Child Protective Services, exaggerating a real problem or making one up. If this happens, it is helpful to try to keep one's cool, and patiently go through the investigative process. Once the parent has been exonerated, then one can, for example, file a complaint about retaliation for advocacy for the child.

    (c) Sometimes school staff will take out their frustrations on the child, with the result that the child feels bullied by staff, loses self-esteem, loses sleep, loses motivation to learn, loses motivation to attend school, etc. This can be a really tough problem to solve when it happens. In such cases it can be helpful to bring an advocate along to school meetings, to help everybody listen better, and look at the situation in more constructive ways.

I have heard of one parent who brought a state trooper with her when she went to take her child home. It worked in her case. It might not work for you. And even if it works, it might turn a not-great relationship with the school even more sour.

You could also ask your question of COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates for a legal answer to the question, both for your state, and in general.

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  • Half of this answer is not relevant to the legal question, and should be removed. – Nij Jan 17 at 8:34
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    "I've never heard of weekend detention." There's a whole iconic movie about it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Breakfast_Club – ohwilleke Jan 19 at 21:11

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