Judge Finds Home Schooler Not Guilty of Truancy Violation in State of Maryland v. Cheryl Ann Battles
On October 25, 1996, Cheryl Ann Battles was acquitted in criminal court of the charge of violating the state's compulsory attendance act.
The state's attorney's office filed truancy charges against Mrs. Battles because she refused to sign an "assurance of consent" form by which she would agree to periodic review and supervision of her home instruction program by a school official.
The prosecution urged the judge to find her refusal to comply with the regulations to be a violation of the state's compulsory attendance law. We urged the judge, on the other hand, to strictly apply the state statute. The state statute required only that a child be in public school or "otherwise receive regular and thorough instruction." Dr. Brian Ray, President of the National Home Education Research Institute, testified in court that the seven-year-old child is receiving an excellent education and is probably performing at the third grade level.
The judge determined a criminal prosecution could be brought for failure to comply with the Maryland home school regulations but that Cheryl Battles was entitled to present an affirmative defense that she was providing regular and thorough instruction to her daughter. After hearing the evidence, the judge was satisfied that she had met the legal requirement. Thus, even though she could not conscientiously comply with the Maryland home school regulations, the state still had the burden to prove she was not providing regular and thorough instruction beyond a reasonable doubt. The state was not able to do that; therefore, the judge found her not guilty.
In the Interest of Amanda M.
Parents of 15-year-old Amanda M. are teaching her at home through Christian Liberty Academy. The county attorney alleges, however, that Amanda is not attending school and is, therefore, a "child in need of care." The county attorney alleges that the parents have not registered with the state as a non-accredited private school. The case is currently set for trial on November 1, 1996.
In the Interest of Mary S.
Mary S. is a sophomore whose parents are educating her at home for the first time. The county attorney alleges that Mary is not enrolled in a public, private, or parochial school, but Mary's parents have provided a copy of their non-accredited private school registration. Like Amanda M., Mary S. is in court as a "child in need of care." The prosecutor is asking the court to order Mary's parents to return her to public school.
It is apparent from court actions against the families of Amanda M. and Mary S. that the Allen County Attorney remains hostile to home education. These are the fourth and fifth HSLDA member families we have represented in this county. We heard this county attorney state in open court that it is her opinion that home schooling is illegal in Kansas. While we know that she has retreated somewhat from that position, she continues to attack families which appear vulnerable to her. She has prosecuted a mother with a GED, grandparents with high school diplomas, and now these parents of teenagers who are home educating for the first time. Home schooling is legal in Kansas, just as it is in every state in the country. If necessary, we will defend these families before the Supreme Court of Kansas in order to protect their right to direct the education of their children.
Dorothy D. v. Mr. And Mrs. T.
A maternal grandmother petitioned a court for custody of her 15-year-old granddaughter, alleging educational neglect and physical abuse by the parents. The child was removed from the family on June 11 without a hearing, based on the affidavits of the grandmother and the child. The parents were prevented by court order from seeing or speaking with their daughter until the custody hearing on August 26, 1996.
The Department of Social Services had been assigned to investigate the allegations of neglect and abuse made by the child. Though no formal report was filed with the court, the case worker disclosed, prior to trial, that it was her opinion that the child's allegations were true and that the child should remain in the grandmother's custody. Rather than go to trial in the face of this testimony which we knew the court would give great weight, we negotiated an agreement with the grandmother whereby the child would remain in her custody for an additional four months, while Mr. and Mrs. T. and their daughter received family counseling. If Mr. And Mrs. T. and their daughter were not voluntarily reconciled at that time, a custody trial would be held in December, 1996.
Less than 30 days following that agreement, and before any family counseling had been received, a dramatic change of heart occurred. In a meeting with the grandmother, Mr. And Mrs. T., and the social worker, the daughter confessed that all of her accusations, including hair-pulling, head-banging, and thigh-rubbing, had been false. The grandmother's petition for custody has been dismissed and the child is reunited with her parents. Now begins the harder task of rebuilding the relationship between parent and child.
In Re Sean P.
Sean P. is a six-year-old boy being educated at home by his parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Pursuant to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) indicating that Sean is speech and language impaired, the Cumberland County Schools provided Sean with speech and language therapy for the 1994-95 school year.
Prior to the 1995-96 school year, however, Sean's parents received a letter from the Cumberland County Schools advising that the school system would no longer provide direct services to children enrolled in private and home educated settings. The letter stated that direct services "can only be given when the child is enrolled in the Cumberland County Schools."
HSLDA believes this exclusion of home educated students to be a violation of federal regulations. Federal special education regulations require that a school system provide opportunity for equitable participation of eligible school-age students enrolled in non-public elementary and secondary schools. We appealed the Cumberland County Schools decision to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and then to the United States Department of Education.
After receiving an admonishment from the United States Department of Education, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction reversed its decision and wrote that the Cumberland County Schools are obligated to provide direct services to school-aged children enrolled in private and home school settings. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has requested the Cumberland County Schools to submit a corrective action plan by November 7, 1996, to ensure an opportunity for equitable participation in special education services by private and home school students.
State of Texas v. Diana Billingslea
On September 10, 1996, this single mother of a six year-old was served with a summons to appear two days later before the Justice of the Peace in El Paso County, Texas. Ms. Billingslea was charged with "thwarting the compulsory attendance act."
Home School Legal Defense Association sent a letter to the school principal, whose office initiated the charges against Ms. Billingslea, explaining that a home school is a private school in the State of Texas and the parent need only provide assurance that she has a written curriculum and that she is providing instruction in five required subjects. At the same time, Ms. Billingslea provided written assurance to the school district that she had a written curriculum and was providing education in the five required subjects. The superintendent has requested in writing that the judge dismiss the case. Ms. Billingslea is not required to submit any further information concerning her private school.