District harasses home schoolers
Despite complying with Michigan's lenient home school law, one family's Christmas holiday was interrupted by an unnecessary police investigation.
A few months after the 2001- 2002 school year began, the Hendricks* family of Traverse City, Michigan, withdrew their three children (one with special needs) from public school. Home schooling is completely legal in Michigan and there are no specific notification or testing requirements. Going beyond what Michigan law requires, the Hendricks notified the school district of their withdrawal and that they were beginning to home school.
Shortly, however, the Hendricks received a letter from the Grand Traverse County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney indicating that a petition would be filed in family court should the Hendricks fail to provide an education in the required subjects. Since Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks were confident they were providing adequate instruction in the required subjects, they simply continued on with their home school program.
Then, much to the Hendricks surprise, a police officer showed up on their doorstep on December 26, two months after their initial withdrawal from public school. The officer demanded to come into their home to examine and approve their curricula. When the family refused, he threatened the parents with 90 days in jail and indicated he would seek a warrant against them if necessary. He then left.
The family immediately called HSLDA for assistance. HSLDA contacted the officer's supervisor who was not overly concerned with his officer's actions. HSLDA then contacted the school district and discovered that whenever the district learns of another home schooling family in their area, it is standard procedure to notify the local Truancy Intervention Program. (Established by a federal grant, this program is an independent agency which contracts with the county and school districts to track truant children.)
The agency then notifies the county prosecutor's office about the "truant" family. The prosecutor's standard procedure is to first send the family a letter and then have a police officer follow up in person. The school district indicated that the prosecutor would make a decision as to whether or not to file charges once he received a report from the visiting police officer.
After sorting through this bureaucratic tangle, HSLDA wrote to the prosecuting attorney's office informing them that the Hendricks were in compliance with the law. Any further action against the family would constitute a violation of their civil and statutory rights. The prosecutor agreed not to pursue any educational neglect charges against the parents. However, his final words seemed to indicate a continuing prejudice against home schoolers. Because the family is home schooling a special needs child, he said, they run the risk of "potential involvement with juvenile or adult criminal justice system," insinuating that their special needs child was a potential law breaker.
HSLDA and the family are thankful that they no longer have to worry about continued harassment. Yet the experience was undoubtedly damaging to the Hendricks. Mrs. Hendricks explains, "my children are still afraid to go outside. They are scared of the police." The children cannot forget hearing the police officer repeatedly tell their parents that they could go to jail for what they were doing.
HSLDA is considering filing a civil rights suit against the school district for following this "standard procedure" of harassment. Any Michigan HSLDA members who receive similar harassment from police or school district official, should contact our office immediately.
- Christopher J. Klicka
* Name has been changed to protect family's privacy.