Department of Education Seeks Truancy Enforcement by ISD
In a departure from past procedure, the Michigan Department of Education has sought the assistance of an intermediate school district to compel a home schooling family to complete the Nonpublic School Membership Report (Form SM-4325) by threatening to have truancy charges brought against the family. In the latter part of May 1995, a Home School Legal Defense Association family residing in Ravenna within the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District received a letter from the Superintendent of the ISD stating that, "[T]he Department of Education has informed us of our responsibility to begin an investigation under the Compulsory School Attendance Act for your failure to send your child/children to an approved school." The ISD letter went on to state that they were offering the family "a last chance opportunity to make a declaration of home schooling before beginning the truancy investigation."
On May 25, 1993, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in the case of People v. Bennett that home schools are regulated by the Michigan private and parochial schools act. In the event there is an alleged violation of state law, parents are entitled to an administrative hearing conducted by the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Supreme Court said that before home schooling parents may be prosecuted under the compulsory education laws for failing to send their children to public school, it must first be determined by the Department of Education that the home school does not meet the requirements of the private and parochial schools act.
While the Department of Education is well aware of the ruling in the Bennett case, its communication to the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District was an effort to obtain the ISD's assistance to coerce the home schooling family to complete the Form SM-4325 under threat of truancy proceedings. In this particular case, the family had previously submitted the information required by Section 388.555 of Michigan Compiled Laws Annotated upon receiving the Form SM-4325 but had not furnished all of the information being sought by the Department of Education. Prior to receiving the Form SM-4325, the home school had given no notice of its existence to any public school official.
When contacted by the member family, HSLDA attorney Dewitt Black wrote a letter to the Superintendent of the ISD advising him of the ruling in the three cases decided by the Michigan Supreme Court on May 25, 1993: Clonlara, Inc. v. State Board of Education, People v. DeJonge, and People v. Bennett. Mr. Black also advised the Superintendent that the family had previously complied with the statutory requirements for responding to inquiries from the Department of Education, as evidenced by documentation on file with HSLDA. To date, the family has received no further contact from the public school officials.