Community centers discriminate against home schoolers
When two home schooling families asked a Calvert County community center for weekly meeting space for a fiber arts club and a geography club, they did not expect to find a county-wide ban against home schoolers using the centers. The county spelled out its discriminatory policy in its written refusals of each of these families' three applications for meeting space: "Commissioners' policy states that home schoolers may not use community centers."
On January 31, 2000, Home School Legal Defense Association filed a lawsuit asking the United States District Court at Baltimore to declare the policy a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. When a governmental entity opens its facility to the general use of the public, the entity may not deny the use of the facilities by particular groups or for particular purposes. The county claims that the facilities are limited public facilities like prisons and the auditorium at the FBI building.
However, depositions have revealed that Calvert County community center facilities are generally available to all citizens of the community-except home schoolers-for classes, workshops, or organized recreation of any kind. In fact, there are no other groups or legal activities that are excluded from use.
Following a U.S. District Court hearing on August 29, 2000, Judge Peter J. Messitte issued a memorandum, dated January 20, 2001, denying Calvert's motion to dismiss the case and indicating that the actual practices of the community centers must be examined before the court can decide the constitutionality of the policy.
Oral arguments for summary judgment were heard on October 1, 2001. We are awaiting a decision.
Court's interpretation of "school term" gives more freedom
On November 20, 2001, Missouri's Supreme Court denied Home School Legal Defense Association's appeal in the case of In re J.B., bringing it to a final conclusion. (See the July/August 2000 Court Report for a synopsis of the case.)
The state had claimed that J.B. was educationally neglected because his parents did not offer 1,000 hours of instruction. HSLDA argued that he could not be educationally neglected because he was not yet of compulsory attendance age for that school year. J.B. was only 6 on July 1, the beginning of the "school year" as defined under law. He did not turn 7 until August.
The court held, however, that a home school term, unlike a "school year," does not automatically begin July 1 and end June 30. Instead, the court said a home school term begins on whatever date the family treats as the beginning of their term, but cannot last longer than 12 months. J.B.'s family treated September 1 as the beginning of their home school term. The court ruled, therefore, that they should have offered 1,000 hours of instruction within the 12-month term that began September 1, 1988, and ended August 31, 1999. The family did not, so the court upheld the ruling of the lower court-that J.B. was educationally neglected.
Although this is a disappointment for J.B.'s family, there is a silver lining for Missouri home school families.
Families now have flexibility to determine when their own home school term will begin. They can also choose when it will end, so long as it is not longer than 12 months. Families are no longer tied to the July1/June 30 calendar.
With every new freedom, however, comes a new responsibility. For most families, informal education begins at birth. As the court stated:
Child's mother testified that homeschool instruction had been continuous since Child's birth although she did not begin keeping records until September 1, 1998.
Since July 1 no longer automatically marks the beginning of the home school year, families must now choose their own clear date for the formal beginning of their term. Starting on whatever date is chosen, a family must then offer 1,000 hours of instruction, and maintain records required under law, consistent with their chosen term.
If a child is not yet 7 years of age on the date the family's home school term begins, parents do not need to keep records or offer 1,000 hours of instruction until the date the home school term begins the following year. For example, if a family's home school term begins August 1, and their child turns 7 on August 15, the family would not need to offer 1,000 hours or keep records until August 1 of the following year.
This court ruling gives Missouri home schoolers tremendous flexibility to adjust their home school term to best suit the needs of their children.
State supreme court accepts appeal
The Supreme Court of North Carolina accepted HSLDA's appeal on behalf of the Stumbos on November 5, 2001.
As described in the July/August Court Report, the Stumbo's trouble began when their 2-year-old daughter slipped outside halfway through dressing-without her clothes-for about three minutes one warm autumn morning. Someone anonymously reported the child's brief escape, and, two hours later, a social worker was on the family's doorstep demanding to enter their home and privately interview each child. The family refused, and Cleveland County Department of Social Services filed a petition alleging "interference with a child abuse investigation."
On September 28, 1999, a Cleveland County Juvenile Court judge ruled against the family, and HSLDA immediately appealed their case. A divided North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled, on May 15, 2001, that the social services investigation was not a "search" and therefore the Fourth Amendment did not apply. Because one justice dissented, the family was able to appeal to the state supreme court. Now that their case has been accepted, both parties must submit briefs to the higher court.
Social workers violate family's Fourth Amendment rights
Child Protective Service workers violated a family's Fourth Amendment rights while investigating a non-emergency complaint. The officials coerced a mother into allowing them to take intrusive photographs of her 6-year-old daughter and interviewing the child in private. Only afterwards did they question the mother, determine there had been no abuse, and finally close the case as unfounded.
The court held that the law was clearly established, that the Fourth Amendment applies to social services investigations, and that this worker should have known that a coerced entry violated it. Since the officials were denied qualified immunity, they have the right to file an interlocutory appeal (an immediate appeal to resolve one issue-in this case, whether the Fourth Amendment applies to social worker investigations) to the Fifth Circuit, which they have done.
HSLDA filed an amicus curiae brief on October 17, 2001.
Judge restores home schooled teen's license
A West Virginia teenager whose driver's license was wrongfully suspended has now been vindicated.
As reported in the July/August 2001 Court Report, the West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Amanda L's driver's license because her parents stopped complying with the home school statute after she turned 16 and was no longer subject to compulsory attendance requirements. Their daughter remained enrolled in a Pennsylvania correspondence school, however.
HSLDA appealed the decision to the Berkeley County Circuit Court. On November 19, the circuit judge overruled the DMV. Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes said:
According to the plain terms of the driving privilege statute . . . a 16-year-old child enrolled in a secondary school of another state (like Harcourt High School) is eligible for a driver's license.
It is now clear, therefore, that 16 year olds do not need to comply with the West Virginia home school statute to be eligible for a driver's license.