California has the most specific regulations about on-set schooling in the industry. Unlike some areas of the country where productions rely completely on SAG-AFTRA regulations for guidance, California actually legislated schooling requirements for kids working in the entertainment industry so that even non-union jobs must provide education. On a union job, when SAG-AFTRA and State regulations conflict, the more strict interpretation generally applies. Here’s the “Cliff Notes” of set schooling in California:
- Studio teachers are also considered “welfare workers” by the state. The law requires them to be in attendance, WHETHER OR NOT it is a school day. They may not actually teach on the weekends/holidays/summer vacation, but they should be present anyway.
- Like the Coogan law, requirements take place from DAY ONE. Kids must attend school even on one-day shoots.
- Unless a child has GRADUATED from high school (be it early graduation or taking the CHSPE—see our Emancipation/CHSPE article here) they must attend school on set. Emancipation does not release a child from school.
- A teacher is required on set for ALL children up to age 16. From ages 16-18, a studio teacher is only required if the child has not graduated from high school.
- School on set consists of 3 hours (timed to the minute) and is part of your child’s work day.
- Parents are responsible for bringing school work.
- Studio teachers are licensed by the State of California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (same people kids get work permits from). They are paid by the producer.
- There is a Studio Teachers union, just as there is are actor’s unions (SAG-AFTRA, AEA, AGVA). The studio teachers union publishes a Blue Book called “The Employment of Minors in the Entertainment Industry”, and it is now available online at their website
- Up to a point, absences from your regular school at home are EXCUSED when working. This does not apply to absences for auditioning though.
- All of the above applies to ALL work—union and non-union
The laws regarding children in the entertainment industry are made up of a confusing patchwork in the Family Code, the Education Code and the Labor Code, specifically Title 8 California Code of Regulations Section 11755 (and onward). A summary is provided here, and we have attempted to provide specific links to supporting data when possible:
- Child Labor Pamphlet from 2013 — highly out of date, but it exists.
- Here is the Labor Code text: http://www.dir.ca.gov/t8/ch6sb2a1.html
Q: Who must go to school on set?
- Kindergarten is not required in California, so kids enrolled in kindergarten do NOT have to be schooled on set.
- Kids must attend school until they graduate from high school in some manner (see Emancipation/CHSPE article on this site).
- If you go to your regular school at home BEFORE going to the set, it severely limits your work time. They will consider your time in regular school as 6 hours of work time—no matter how long you actually attended. It is a good idea to ALWAYS ask before attending school at home on a work day. Most producers will ask you NOT to attend school at home and to be schooled on the set (3 hours) instead.
- There is a one hour exception rule to the school/studio teacher requirements: If minor’s regular school is NOT in session (holidays or weekends), but the child is called for one hour of looping, publicity, wardrobe, etc. THEN a studio teacher is not needed. If the minor went to school at all that day, a studio teacher should be there—even for the one hour stuff. In reality, this is not happening since parents will rarely see a teacher for wardrobe calls or short voice over jobs, but the law is clear, and technically they are in violation. (Title 8, California Code of Regulations SS11762; DLSE memo dated 6/1/99 written by David Gurley titled “Re: Interpretation of Title 8, California Code of Regulations, SS11762)
- California minors who are taken out of state, and out-of-state children working in California must abide by these regulations, according to California law.
Q: What are the Studio Teacher’s Responsibilities?
A: In addition to teaching, the studio teacher is responsible for caring and attending to the health, safety and morals of minors under 16 years of age. They have the authority to refuse to allow engagement of the minor if they believe the conditions present a danger to the minor (in other words, they can stop production). They do not have the authority to make “exceptions” to child labor law. http://www.thestudioteachers.com/look-up-labor-law/studio-teachers/
Q: What Is It Like When You Get There?
A: When you arrive on any set in California, you are normally introduced to the studio teacher right away. Your first task is to confirm the identity of this person. Each certified studio teacher has something called a GREEN CARD. Ask to see it, ask for their full name. Believe it or not, there have actually been horrifying cases of imposter studio teachers. This person is responsible for the education and welfare of your child (read below for more about studio teachers) — make sure you know who they really are!
He/she will look at your original work permit to determine validity, and then often will sign the back of the permit (This signature is not codified by law—just a system the teachers adopted long ago). The teacher is responsible for timing your child’s work day according to their age, as well as teaching. School must total 3 hours of your work day, but it can be done in 20 minute increments. It must occur between 7:00AM and 4:00PM (grades 1-6) and 7:00AM-7:00PM for grades 7-12. There is a 12 hour turnaround rule in both the SAG contract and in the law, meaning that 12 hours must elapse between the minor’s time of dismissal and time of call on the following day. There is a ratio of 10 students to 1 studio teacher (except in the case of blanket permits, where there can be 20 students to 1 teacher). In most cases, the studio teacher will escort the children into a trailer designated for “school”. Producers often schedule school hours prior to the commencement of actual shooting, to get it out of the way. The teacher will teach monitor their work and help when needed, but it is much more like a private tutor situation than a classroom. Since every child has their own work to do, there is rarely group discussion or activities on short term shoots. On long term shoots, however, studio teachers do have the option to take school “outside”, and include trips to museums, historical tours, science activities, etc. Often the teacher can even convince the production to provide transportation and fees on such days.
NOTE: even if your child works first, you DO have to stay to complete your school work. The 3 hours is legally required. Do not try to skip out on the remainder of school…the teacher or crew may make a complaint against you.
Parents are not required to sit inside the school room, however by law you are required to be within sight OR sound of your child. The SAG-AFTRA rule is more restrictive: sight AND sound. So parents must be close by, even if you choose to allow the teacher complete control (see Parents in the Classroom Controversy under Myths, Urban Legends and Misinterpretation section below).
Q: How is the Quality of School on Set?
A: As expansively different as the ocean. Think of set schooling like any really large public school (remember, the studio teachers are basically public school teachers). There are fantastic, wonderful teachers who touch the hearts of children and inspire them. There are dead-in-the-water, collecting-my-paycheck-until-retirement teachers. Personally, we have had studio teachers who covered the spectrum. We’ve had teachers who created unique learning opportunities—taught them sign language and art, explained concepts we had been struggling to deal with, and took them on great field trips that our children will remember forever. We also have had teachers that fell asleep, teachers that berated the children, and teachers who tried to get us to work illegal overtime.
The good news is that, as a whole, studio teachers are well qualified. They must carry dual credentials. This means that they are qualified to teach both elementary and high school students. They must pass a test administered by the state (although it does not appear that anyone has ever failed it) in order to receive a license for 3 years. 8 CCR SS1175. You can search to see if your teacher has a license here: Department of Labor Studio Teacher Certification Database (159 teachers).
BUT, like actors, studio teachers have a bureaucracy to navigate in order to get work. They have an inherent conflict of interest, because while they are licensed by the state, they are PAID by the producer. So who do you think they are going to support when there is a conflict about work hours, safety, etc? The good ones will remember their mission and side with child. Others know where their paycheck comes from.
There is a union, IATSE Local 884, but membership is limited (there are only about 140 union teachers and you search the list here), so you can’t gauge quality solely by that standard, although the union holds regular meetings and trainings for their teachers, so the quality is bound to improve via education. All teachers have their own industry contacts that they use to get work. Some have “agents” that funnel work to them. There is a similar pecking order to acting jobs: many of the good studio teachers garner the prime jobs—a regular job on a TV series, or feature films only. The entry level studio teachers tend to teach the background kids (in a tent, outside). Again, a wide spectrum!
The bottom line is that the quality of your child’s education is not up to the studio teacher. It is up to you, the parent.You need to take control of your child’s education! Here are some tips for doing that:
- Do YOUR job—make sure your child has appropriate school work, and enough of it. Make arrangements with your child’s regular school as best you can, but have a back-up plan as well. There are some great workbooks available by grade level at educational supply stores or even on Amazon (try Complete Curriculum by Harcourt Family Learning). Buy some. You will need to buy paper copies because you don’t know if wifi will be available on location.
- Pay constant attention to the subject matter your child is learning in regular school (solar systems? geometry? Egyptian history?). That way you can at least put together some last minute curriculum (and the studio teacher may be able to help) if you can’t get work from the school.
- Keep a list of “good” studio teachers and “bad” studio teachers for your child. That way when you are in a position where the production asks you for a preference, you have something to say.
- Ask your agent to negotiate for your right to approve/refuse a studio teacher (this will only work on big jobs—series regulars, leads in a film, etc).
- Communicate with the studio teacher about your expectations for your child’s schooling. Let them know what HAS to be done that day, and that busy work is not OK. A common complaint in the last few years has been that the public schools have shifted to Common Core and not all the studio teachers have obtained training on how to teach that way. When the child returns to their regular school, the home teacher does not accept the quality of what was accomplished on set. Check their work every night.
- Have realistic expectations for what can be accomplished in 20 minute intervals. You may need to do some extra work at home to insure your child’s education stays up to par. You may need to just surrender to the system for one day and realize that not a lot of classroom education is going to get done.
- Realize that many creative kids will try to use set school as a way to blow-off regular assignments, or do less than their usual quality of work. It is understandable! They are WORKING happily, and they are focused on that—and they are KIDS. That leaves it to you, the parent, to follow up each night and make sure things are getting done to the correct standard.
- Complain about truly bad teachers. Call the Studio Teachers Union. Call SAG-AFTRA. Call the DLSE. Help us all.
- Consider permanent educational options that might be easier to handle within the working world such as independent study, home schooling, private school, etc. Sometimes the regular school is the problem, not the set school.
Q: What if my Kid is on Vacation/Off-Track?
A: Technically, they should not have to attend set school, and would be able to work longer hours.
However, the California laws are based on the idea of a traditional, Sept-June school year. In reality this is rare these days with the advent of year round schools, alternative schedules, independent study, etc. Still, you must be aware that the perspective of the production is based on traditional school, so the studio teacher may give you a hard time. It is best to communicate BEFORE you get to set if your child is not on a traditional system. Another idea might be to carry a copy of your school calendar with you. That way you can present it to the studio teacher to support your claim that your child is off-track/on vacation.
Q: What is Banking?
A: “Banking” is a handy little thing on multiple day shoots. It allows a child, with the permission of the studio teacher, to do an extra hour of school a day, and put it in the “bank” for later. This system is used often on weekly sitcom sets where kids can bank hours on Mon/Tues in order to only have one hour of school on Friday (audience taping day). Maximum hours banked on a regular school day is 1, max on holidays is 4. This is codified, not by law, but by interpretation in Labor Department management memos…so you have no “right” to it. You must work with the teacher to get permission.
The rules for schooling children have evolved over 50 years or so. Within any subject covering that span of time, misunderstandings, political posturing and just plain myths develop. Following is a list of our favorite misunderstandings.
Myth: LA Unified has jurisdiction over schooling on the set.
There is historical basis for this, but it is no longer applicable. It is important to note that laws in California regarding set school were written decades ago when there were actual permanent schools on the studio lots (administrated by LA Unified School District). Most “name” kids then did not go back to any regular school—they attended studio school on the lot instead. Because of this, the law assumes that children in the entertainment industry attend public school (specifically LA Unified). There were no year round school schedules, no home schools, and no charter schools. These days, most actor children don’t even attend a school within LA Unified’s boundaries!
At one point in time, LA Unified School District was contracted by the State of California to administrate the studio system. The Studio Teachers Blue Book also references a couple of LA Unified’s memos, furthering this myth. This has NOT been the case for at least 20 years. So LA Unified’s calendars, edicts, and interpretations of law are simply not applicable to today’s situation. Each child is responsible to the school they are enrolled in…whatever, wherever, that school may be.
Myth: I’m here for pilot season, on “vacation” so I don’t need to do school.
A variation of this is “I’m here for pilot season and the law says I don’t have to enroll in California school for six months. Since I’ll go back to my home state in 4 months, I’m off the hook for schooling. It’ll be like vacation, and my kid will have a great work advantage!”
Wrong! And illegal. There is no 6 month rule in CA. If you move residence into an area (within LA Unified School District, Burbank Unified or whatever) you must enroll in school in that location immediately. If you are NOT setting up residence (ie. you are still keeping a residence in your home state) you must be enrolled in a school there. If your home state allows independent study, fine. Then you are enrolled, and you are attending school every day. You have to go one way or the other with it, and the school listed on your work permit must reflect that.
Myth: Homeschooling kids are cheating the system/Homeschoolers must follow the public school district’s calendar from their regular school district/Homeschooling is illegal in CA.
This is a throw back from the days when homeschooling was only done by an “odd” sect of anti-societal types. In the entertainment industry, it was a convenient excuse for bad stage parents to skirt the system and over work their child. It happened. Keep in mind also, that studio teachers are generally trained for public schools, so their take on homeschooling may not be positive.
Homeschooling is a term that is not used in California law, either to endorse the practice or to outlaw it. So to that extent, the myth is true—“homeschooling” isn’t legal in this state. California law allows for the practice of homeschooling by creating 4 legal ways to obtain education outside a regular classroom: use of a private tutor (credentialed), creating a small private school (you get what is called a Private School Affidavit), public school independent study programs and private school independent study program. Homeschooling is quite legal in California—we just CALL it “independent study”. No credentialed teacher is needed for a private school (like all private schools in California).
As for the idea that homeschoolers must follow the public school district’s calendar for holidays and such, there is a bit of a controversy brewing. The Studio Teachers union requested a formal opinion from the Labor Commissioner on this subject. David Gurley, DLSE attorney, answered them in a letter dated June 1, 1999. The teachers apparently did not like the idea that several children might be on set, some going to school and some not. They also apparently believed that homeschoolers were lying—declaring “school holidays” whenever they work, gaining an employment advantage because they can work longer hours. His letter assures the studio teachers that homeschooled children must be taught by a studio teacher and that they must abide by the school calendar of the district in which they reside.
The conflicting viewpoint is this:
Private schools, which is how most homeschoolers are organized, DO have the right to declare holidays whenever they choose—like every public and private school, they determine their own school school calendars. Private schools do not have any legal responsibility to any public school district. See Ed Code 48321.5 The laws relating to when a child must be set schooled, all revolve around the school the child is regularly enrolled in—any exceptions for homeschoolers might be considered discriminatory. The DLSE does not have authority to interpret Education law.
So, the controversy continues…the parent’s right to educate their child as they choose vs. the need to regulate and ensure on set education. Our guess is that this issue will end up in court one of these days. In the mean time, it might be advisable for legal homeschoolers to carry documentation from their school to the set…along with a school calendar from their school (not the public school district).
Myth: No Parents are allowed in the Studio Classroom
A look at the Studio Teachers Blue Book yields the information that “No one shall be allowed in an area utilized by the producer as a school facility except the teacher and the minor being taught.” The reference for this statement is the “SAG Agreement”. It is true that the SAG Agreement states this, but the intent was never to ban parents from the classroom. It was intended to prevent producers from using a storage room as a schoolroom with grips and gaffers walking in and out. The SAG Agreement also clearly states that the parent must be within sight and sound of the child, which conflicts with the “no parent” philosophy. It also conflicts with the policy of the State Department of Education which clearly states that “Parents have the right to visit the classroom and observe activities.”
Myth: It’s just a (student film/independent film/theatre project/print job) so we don’t need a studio teacher.
Wrong. The entertainment industry is specifically defined in the law as “any type of motion picture for any medium”, modeling, theatrical productions, etc. Unless it is a not-for profit theatre performance for public schools…you need a teacher. Basically, if you are getting paid—ever in the future—you need a teacher. Teachers and work hours are not just union rules in California, they are LAWS that apply to all work.
Myth: Child actors get 25 excused absences from regular school.
This is a matter of misinterpretation by some SAG-AFTRA officials and it has been continued by parents who wish it to be so. AB 776 established that a child who was employed in the entertainment industry and who was schooled on set by a studio teacher must be receive an excused absence from their regular school. They also must be allowed to make up work without penalty. The catch is that the excused absences are allowed for 5 absences of 5 days each. So if you work one day jobs, you only get 5. If you are lucky, and get 5, week long guest star roles—then you get 25 total absent days excused. An interpretation letter from the Joanne Lowe, Deputy General Counsel, State of California Superintendent of Schools dated 2/2/98 confirms this interpretation. It isn’t an easy 25 for everyone. The law is pretty clear.
The Bottom Line for Parents
Although you may relinquish some of the education responsibilities on a set to a studio teacher, it is important to realize that education is really your responsibility. You are the only person who will have to deal with your child when they are an adult. Your child is counting on you! You must remember that although others on the set claim to have your child’s best interest in mind, it is not their first priority (they are making a product, remember?) nor should it be. It IS your priority. Knowing the law, being prepared for school, and being a positive advocate for your child will help insure a great experience on set and a great education for life.