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West Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Law Linking Drivers' Licenses With Attendance

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West Virginia's pioneering driver-dropout law has been upheld by the state supreme court.

In a 3-to-2 decision issued last month, however, the court also ruled that school officials must provide a student a hearing on whether he or she had a valid reason for leaving school.

The 1988 law prevents any student who drops out of school before age 18 from obtaining or keeping a driver's license.

Eleven other states have similar laws tying school attendance and driving privileges, according to the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University.

The West Virginia case was brought by Michael A. Means, a 16-year-old 9th grader at the time he dropped out of school in Charleston. His license was suspended in 1989, pending his 18th birthday.

Mr. Means was not granted an exemption from the driver-dropoutL4law, which permits a former student

"[A] child who has an opportunity to go to school and deliberately chooses not to avail himself or herself of such opportunity demonstrates a general lack of responsibility," the court declared.

But the court disagreed with a lower court's ruling that Mr. Means's right to due process had been protected by the hearing given him by the state Department of Motor Vehicles when it suspended his license.3

Instead, the decision said the law

Christopher S. Butch, Mr. Means's lawyer, said the mandate of a hearing for a dropout seeking a license was an important victory.

"Now students at least will have an opportunity to present their reasons" for leaving school, he said.

Bruce Ray Walker, the deputy at torney general who argued the case for the state, also expressed satisfac tion with the ruling, adding that the state had no problem with the re quirement for a hearing.

The state education department is expected to begin organizing an infor mal system for students to apply for exemptions to the law, Mr. Walker said, probably by circulating forms so that districts can handle appeals by dropouts in a uniform way.--ml

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