When Debbie Gaskin decided to home school her 5-year-old daughter, Jaynie, she never imagined that two weeks later she would be arrested, handcuffed, and booked as a common criminal. She would also be charged with violation of the state's compulsory attendance law even though she complied completely with the state's home school law. According to local officials, Mrs. Gaskin was arrested because a parent whose child has an "attendance problem" may not withdraw from public school to home school.
A brief history of this case will give an idea of the state's unreasonable actions. On January 5, 1995, Jaynie Gaskin suffered a sprain or slight fracture to her left ankle. The ankle was placed in a walking cast and the child was instructed to minimize activity. Mrs. Gaskin decided to keep Jaynie at home during the two weeks the ankle was in the cast. During these two weeks Mrs. Gaskin resumed research on home education she had undertaken previously.
On January 18, 1995, the county attendance officer, Toledo Hatcher, called Mrs. Gaskin inquiring about Jaynie's absence. Mrs. Gaskin described the child's ankle condition and advised the attendance officer that she was going to home school Jaynie for the remainder of the term. Ms. Hatcher informed Mrs. Gaskin that Superintendent Moore had a policy against permitting parents to withdraw their children to home school when an "attendance problem" exists. (Jaynie had been at home with a cast on her ankle for 8 consecutive school days.) Ms. Hatcher told Mrs. Gaskin the following day that the superintendent would not permit her to home school.
Even after Jaynie had her cast removed, Mrs. Gaskin continued to home school. But the local superintendent's office would not relent. On January 25, 1995, one week after Mrs. Gaskin announced her decision to home educate Jaynie, Ms. Hatcher hand-delivered a notice demanding the return of Jaynie Gaskin to public school to avoid prosecution.
Mrs. Gaskin was frightened and tried to get a state home school registration form delivered to the local school board. The attendance officer had refused to provide her one, so she modified one that a friend had given her from another county. She hand-delivered it to the school board and to the elementary school on the same day she received the "notice."
On January 30, 1995, Mrs. Gaskin called the Georgia State Department of Education to inquire about the supposed "policy" of the Effingham County School District which forbade the withdrawal of students with "attendance problems" to home school. Education Administrative Specialist, Ed Sikes, told Mrs. Gaskin there was no such law and that she had the right to withdraw her daughter. Mrs. Gaskin immediately called Ms. Hatcher, related the conversation, and provided her with the name and telephone of this state official.
Ms. Hatcher's notes reveal that she telephoned Ed Sikes to discuss the local policy and Debbie Gaskin's case. According to her notes, Ed Sikes told her that "our hands are tied" and there was nothing they could do at this time. Ms. Hatcher admits informing her boss, Superintendent Moore, that the State Department of Education sided with Mrs. Gaskin.
Superintendent Moore was undaunted by the state official's opinion. He instructed Ms. Hatcher to obtain a warrant for Ms. Gaskin's arrest, saying, "We'll let the judge decide."
On February 3, 1995, at about 11 p.m., a sheriff's car pulled up in front of Mrs. Gaskin's home. She was arrested and marched down her driveway by a sheriff's deputy into the glare of his squad car's headlights. At the county jail she was handcuffed, fingerprinted, and photographed. Two hours later she was released on a $500.00 bond.
When HSLDA learned of this outrageous incident, attorney Dewitt Black wrote a letter to Superintendent Moore advising of our representation of Mrs. Gaskin and our opinion that his actions violated Georgia law and Mrs. Gaskin's civil rights. The superintendent instructed the county prosecutor to dismiss the case. Debbie Gaskin never went to court on the charges, but she suffered from the pain and humiliation of the arrest.
On behalf of Mrs. Gaskin, HSLDA filed a civil rights lawsuit against Superintendent Moore and attendance officer Hatcher alleging false arrest and violation of her constitutional right to direct the education of her child. Moore and Hatcher contended in their defense that Mrs. Gaskin was not arrested for home schooling, but was arrested because her daughter was truant at the time she notified them of her intent to home school. In the course of litigation, however, it was discovered that Jaynie Gaskin was not the only student in Effingham County with "attendance problems" in 1994-1995. There were actually over 300 students in the county with so called "attendance problems," each with a separate file. Approximately 60 of them had more severe absentee records than Jaynie, some absent more than 50 days. The most condemning statistic of all, however, was the fact that no other parent in Effingham County was arrested for violation of compulsory attendance. Only Debbie Gaskin was arrested, whose alleged crime was keeping her 5 year-old daughter home from kindergarten for eight consecutive days while her ankle was in a cast. There is nothing illegal about such a parental decision. Mrs. Gaskin was really arrested because she had refused to bow to the superintendent's illegal policy. A jury was scheduled to decide her case on October 7, 1996.
Five days before trial the defendants agree to settle the case by paying Mrs. Gaskin $13,750.00 for the incident. The settlement is a victory for all home schoolers, especially those in Georgia. It is Mrs. Gaskin's hope that this case will remind school officials that Georgia home schoolers are protected by law and that the intentional violation of those laws has serious consequences.