When it comes to schools in the United States, there are plenty of urban legends to go around: ghosts that roam the halls at night, getting your diploma if a natural disaster destroys the school, and the questionable source of your cafeteria’s meat. But I want to talk about one of these because, in my experience, this wasn’t a urban legend at all. According to the myth, if the teacher is 15 minutes late to class, you can leave. If they show up after 16 minutes, it doesn’t matter: you can walk out of class, no consequences.

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For a long time, I’ve never considered this a myth because my university practiced a modified version of this rule. The policy was that if the professor was late for more than 1/3 of the class time, we could leave. So, for an hour-long class, we could leave if the teacher didn’t show up after 20 minutes. If it was a 90-minute class, we could leave after 30 minutes. If it was a 2-hour class, we could leave in 40 minutes – you get the idea.

What I think makes this an urban legend, however, is the students’ assumption that this rule applies to ALL schools, including secondary schools like middle school and high school. Here’s the truth and rationale behind it.

If a Teacher is 15 Minutes Late, Can You Leave?

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I understand why you’d be frustrated at a late teacher. Students are expected to be on-time getting to class, otherwise they’re given an earful about wasting people’s time. And yet, it’s OK for teachers to be more than 15 minutes late to class. And even if they are late, they expect their students to wait an entire period for them. While it’s not illegal to keep students after the bell, you might feel frustrated waiting for the last hour of your class to end because your teacher is a no-show when you could have already left.

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Unfortunately, unless your school has policies in place for such cases, you can’t argue to leave a class if a teacher is 15 minutes late. In case it does happen, however, the best solution is to either find a principal and report the missing teacher. That way, a substitute teacher can be found to either officially dismiss you or find a way to use the time productively.