|Horn v. Brown|
Truant officer agrees to settlement
Truant officers ought to know that, according to Tennessee law, 5-year-old children don't have to be in school. One officer didn't know, and didn't care enough to check before he had Mrs. Horn arrested because her 5-year-old son wasn't in school--even though the compulsory attendance age is 6!
When Mrs. Horn decided to homeschool, the child's grandmother did not approve. She pestered the truant officer to file truancy charges, telling him that 5 year olds had to be in school. Rather than checking the law, the truant officer relied on the grandmother's faulty assertions and swore out an arrest warrant for Mrs. Horn. The police came to her home, handcuffed her in front of her husband and children, and took her to the police station to book her.
HSLDA defended Mrs. Horn, and after the charges were dropped, sued the truant officer for violating her civil rights. "The officer's claim that he didn't know 5 year olds had to be in school is absurd," said HSLDA Litigation Counsel Jim Mason. "Enforcing compulsory attendance is his job. If anyone should know what the age is, he should. Before filling out an arrest warrant he should have at least checked if he had even the slightest doubt." The truant officer agreed to Mrs. Horn's settlement demands before the case went to trial.
|Roe v. Texas Dept. of Protective and Regulatory Services|
Court holds social worker to 4th Amendment
In an important victory for parents faced with groundless social worker investigations, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas ruled that social workers are bound by the Fourth Amendment when conducting abuse or neglect investigations. The decision is binding in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Mary and John Roe sued Texas social worker Beverly Strickland after she came into their home and strip-searched their daughter, Jackie. The social worker was responding to an anonymous tip making non-emergency allegations. She found no evidence of abuse or neglect.
The lower 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 the search violated the family's rights.
The social worker appealed, and on July 17, 2002, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the social worker's claim that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to child welfare investigations. Before entering a home or strip searching a child, social workers, like police officers, must have a warrant based on probable cause, must obtain consent, or there must be an immediate threat to life or limb.
The court upheld the Fourth Amendment standard, which benefits parents in future cases, but it did not require the social worker in this case to pay damages. The court reasoned that she was not on notice that her actions violated the Constitution because the law on the day of the search was not clearly established.
Although the Roes are not homeschoolers, HSLDA filed a friend-of-the-court brief to advance the legal principle that all child abuse and neglect investigations are governed by the Fourth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit adopted our brief's primary argument in its opinion.
Thanks to the Fifth Circuit's ruling, social workers in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi are now on notice: the Fourth Amendment applies to them when conducting child abuse investigations--and they could face stiff damages awards if they violate those rights. HSLDA will vigorously use this ruling to defend its members' rights.
|Issue: Addressing bias against religious families in CLE training|
Religious families more likely to abuse kids?
Families who find themselves in the child welfare system often feel that the system is slanted against religious, homeschooling families. Although this sentiment is real, it is often difficult to prove.
Earlier this year, however, HSLDA Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka discovered bias against religious families in the child welfare system while he was attending a mandatory Viriginia Continuing Legal Education (CLE) class for lawyers who represent children in abuse or neglect cases (guardians ad litem). An instructor there taught these lawyers that religious families, along with drug and alcohol abusers, are more likely to abuse or neglect their children than other families.
The printed class materials were prepared by a professional social worker. In a section of the class called "Characteristics of Abusive and Neglectful Families," the social worker identified "Religious and Authoritarian Families" as abusers and defined them as having, "[a] strong focus on male entitlement, with strong church involvement. Parents are frequently elders or ministers in their church, and they use their religious authority, as well as Scripture, to maintain control." This description could be read to apply to many Christian homeschooling families who have traditional families and who believe that scripture is inspired by God and is useful for the instruction of children.
On May 2, 2002, HSLDA President J. Michael Smith wrote a letter to Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harry Carrico, who is the Chair of the Judicial Council of Virginia, the organization responsible for overseeing the class. In the letter, Smith demonstrated that the class materials were factually inaccurate, unconstitutional, and that they threatened the integrity of the juvenile justice system. (Read Smith's letter at http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/hslda/200206140A.asp.)
Lawyers who represent children in abuse or neglect cases are to represent the best interests of the child. homeschool families come to the attention of juvenile authorities from time to time, often due to an official's misunderstanding about homeschool laws. Imagine the damage that can be caused when a social worker and the child's court-appointed lawyer are officially trained to be more suspicious of religious families than of other families.
In his letter, Smith asked the Judicial Council to correct this problem before the materials were presented again on June 13, 2002.
Chief Justice Carrico promptly responded in writing. (Read his response at http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/hslda/200206140.pdf). In his letter, the Chief Justice reported that the Judicial Council had reviewed the class materials and concluded that the social worker did not base her materials on empirical evidence or scientific authority. Accordingly, the Judicial Council has instructed Virginia CLE to omit the offending segment from its classes and to develop accurate materials.
Due to HSLDA's intervention and the Judicial Council's quick response, lawyers who represent children in Virginia will not be taught to view religious families with suspicion. We appreciate the Chief Justice's timely action to correct this inaccurate portrayal of religious families.