Illinois homeschoolers facing the heat
On November 14, Illinois regional public school superintendent Bruce Dennison stated that he would no longer insist on unconstitutional home visits for Home School Legal Defense Association member families in his school district. Dennison also agreed to consider "discontinuing the pre-trial hearings" for homeschoolers.
HSLDA reported in December that at least two dozen homeschooling families in a three-county region (Bureau, Stark, and Henry) have been visited by truant officers. These truant officers have been tasked with hand delivering letters demanding that homeschoolers attend a "pre-trial" hearing regarding their home education programs.
[MY CHILDREN] WERE REALLY PERPLEXED WHY THE POLICE WERE COMING FOR ME.
- Christine Fortune,
Many homeschoolers have reported that school officials have been needlessly intimidating in their approach. In one instance, an HSLDA member family was told by the truant officer, "I could take your children away from you if you do not cooperate."
Homeschooling mom Christine Fortune told Internet news site World Net Daily, that two police cars showed up at her house to deliver a letter demanding that she appear at a "pre-trial" hearing.
Fortune indicated that the way local authorities handled the matter was extremely upsetting for her family. "[My children] were really perplexed why the police were coming for me," she said. "It was way overkill for something that was not even a certified, subpoena kind of letter. It was just something they could have popped in the mail."
Other families have been contacted by Dennison's office in order to demand home visits. One family (not an HSLDA member) allowed a truant officer into their house, but he still was not satisfied with the curriculum and attendance records, and the parents are now facing potential charges by the local district's attorney.
Superintendent Dennison told HSLDA he had talked to his staff, asking that they try not to intimidate the families they speak with.
HSLDA believes that "profiling" homeschoolers—assuming anyone who says he is a homeschooler is actually a truant—is unacceptable. In these Illinois counties, homeschoolers are considered guilty until they prove themselves innocent.
According to HSLDA Attorney Christopher Klicka, who spoke with both the local district attorney and regional superintendent Dennison, such actions are a violation of the families' 14th Amendment right to direct the education and upbringing of their children, their 1st Amendment right to freely exercise their religious belief, and their statutory right to establish their homeschool as a private school in the State of Illinois. Furthermore, he explained, school district attempts to conduct home visits were a flagrant violation of the 4th Amendment, which protects all citizens from all unreasonable searches and seizures.
"Illinois law gives the regional superintendent enforcement authority against actual truants; he has the discretion to refer truants to the local district attorney for prosecution," said Klicka. "However, he does not have any regulatory authority granted to him by the legislature. He has no authority to approve curricula, perform home visits, or demand pretrial meetings to meet with homeschooling families."
The news media has helped put pressure on the regional superintendent as WorldNet Daily, USA Radio Network, Marlin Maddoux Show, the Chicago Tribune, Fox News, local newspapers in Illinois, and several radio talk shows have all publicized the inappropriate way the regional school district handled this matter.
Since Superintendent Dennison has now indicated that he will not pursue HSLDA members, it remains to be seen how he will deal with homeschoolers who are not members. HSLDA learned that Dennison is now recommending homeschooling families join HSLDA, although we did not solicit this. We are committed to not "cutting deals" with superintendents. We simply stand up for our families' rights, which usually has the benefit of protecting all homeschoolers.
This is another lesson in the need to be vigilant when it comes to preserving our freedoms. HSLDA made clear that we are willing and able to defend our families in court to protect their rights. Illinois has enjoyed a positive homeschool environment for many years. Now with the coming shift in government and the possibility for the new state superintendent to crack down on homeschoolers, it is more important than ever that homeschoolers band together to defend their freedoms.