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ACROSS THE STATES
Front gate under siege
In El Paso, the Child Protective Services (CPS) division of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services contacted a single, homeschooling mother to question her about some anonymous "allegations." This Home School Legal Defense Association member, Mrs. Snyder*, knew her rights and immediately referred the CPS worker to her attorney at our headquarters in Virginia. Although HSLDA agreed to set up a meeting the next week at the front gate, outside the family's home, the CPS representative still refused to reveal the allegations.
At the appointed time, the social worker and her supervisor came to Mrs. Snyder's front gate, insisting on entering the house and interviewing her child in private. HSLDA Attorney Christopher Klicka talked to the social worker on the family's portable phone but she refused to explain the allegations. Klicka asked to talk to her supervisor, who explained that she could not reveal the allegations because of "confidentiality."
Klicka pointed out that Mrs. Snyder had just handed the phone to her, and verbally given her permission to talk to Klicka.
"We have to protect confidentiality," the supervisor objected. "I do not even know you are who you say you are."
The supervisor said that she would not talk to the mother while the mother held the phone with an open connection.
"You are effectively denying Mrs. Snyder the right to counsel," Klicka countered.
The social worker finally spilled the allegations: The tipster had alleged, among other things, that the child was not in school, had lost over 15 pounds, went door to door begging for food, looked pale and drawn, that the house was extremely messy, there was animal refuse throughout the house, and that the mother drank heavily and was belligerent.
Mrs. Snyder explained that her family had two sets of possessions in their home since they were temporarily storing all her mother's furniture and other household goods.
During the next hour a tense battle ensued over the telephone wires between Texas and Virginia, with the social worker and her supervisor continuing to threaten to come through the gate and with Mrs. Snyder and Chris Klicka trying to keep them out.
The CPS agents called for a police officer to back them up. But Klicka adamantly refused to let them in without a warrant.
The police called for more backup and all the officials threatened to get court orders for entry.
HSLDA offered a compromise: a pastor could serve as an inspector of the home and give CPS a report. Finally, the police and social workers left, giving the family time to find some alternative storage for their extra belongings and straighten up the home a bit.
Despite the evident lack of probable cause, CPS managed to obtain a court order a day or so later.
Fortunately, two ladies from Mrs. Snyder's church were present when the social workers came back with the court order. The social workers found nothing and acted respectfully in front of these two witnesses.
With questionable probable cause and a home inspection that revealed nothing, Klicka was able to convince CPS to close the case and cancel the court hearing.
HSLDA is investigating the possibility of bringing charges against the tipster, whom the Snyder family believes is a neighbor, for knowingly making false accusations.
Mrs. Snyder's case was the most vivid example of several social services contacts HSLDA recently handled for our members in Texas. In Sequine, a CPS worker told the Bolton* family she had received an anonymous tip that their child was suffering from "possible emotional abuse" and that their "child's education and care needs are not being met." In Palo Pinto, anonymous tips resulted in social workers contacting the Acton* family twice in one month. The tipster complained that a grandmother had provided supposedly negligent care to their only child while the mother was on a trip and that the child was not receiving regular medical attention for an existing eye condition. In San Antonio, a CPS agent told an HSLDA member family* that someone had reported that their child was not being educated.
In each of these cases, the social workers insisted they had to enter the home and interview each child privately. In every case, HSLDA was able to step in on behalf of our member families, demonstrate that the charges were false, and negotiate the cases being closed or dropped.
Facing truancy charges
Home School Legal Defense Association's Texas Attorney Tom Sanders is working on three cases in which truancy charges have been filed against homeschoolers. Despite an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate case closure in a pre-trial meeting, the Austin prosecutor's office is intent on moving the Fiske* family's case to trial. In Houston, the Anders* family decided to homeschool their son after he was beaten black and blue at public school; however, school authorities filed truancy charges. This case is also proceeding to trial. In another Houston case, the Lewis* family notified the school district that they were going to homeschool but school officials slapped truancy charges on the 12-year-old daughter and "contributing to truancy" charges against the mother. At the initial hearing, the prosecutor indicated that he does not want to drop the case but intends to pursue it. HSLDA is preparing for trial.
— Christopher J. Klicka
* Names changed or withheld to protect family's privacy. See HSLDA's social services contact policy.