The Home School Court Report
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July / August 2003

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District labels homeschooling "emotional neglect"

Home School Legal Defense Association recently assisted a single mother who was reported to the Nassau County Department of Social Services (DSS) for "suspected child abuse or maltreatment" because she decided to homeschool her 11-year-old son.

The investigation began after the son told the school social worker during a casual conversation that his mother was planning to homeschool him next year. The mother was notified of the investigation in a letter from DSS, but not before her son was interviewed by two school officials and two social workers at the elementary school in Oceanside School District.

Thereafter, two social workers came to the family's home and interviewed the mother and an older son who was being homeschooled. During this interview, the mother was informed that she was being investigated for emotional neglect because of her decision to conduct a home instruction program for her son enrolled in public school. That same day, three social workers and a school official interviewed her 7-year-old daughter at public school without her knowledge or authorization. Four days later, yet another social worker came to the family residence to interview the mother and her 11-year-old son, this time threatening her with educational neglect charges if she withdrew her children from public school. About two weeks later, three social workers attempted to interview her son again at public school, but this time he refused to talk with them.

The mother contacted HSLDA for assistance and expressed how she felt when the social workers came to her house. She said, "I was terrified. I thought they were going to take my children away." She reported that when she first began a home instruction program for her older son almost two years ago, the same school social worker had repeatedly called her and tried to get her to re-enroll him in public school. But no allegation had been made to DSS at that time that her decision to homeschool constituted emotional neglect.

HSLDA sent a letter to DSS confirming that it is was indeed the mother's intention to conduct a home instruction program for her son during the 2003-2004 school year. In the letter, HSLDA Attorney Dewitt Black stated that "[t]he suggestion that [the mother's] decision to conduct a home instruction program for [her son] constitutes emotional neglect warranting an investigation for 'child abuse or maltreatment' by your office is simply outrageous."

Black went on to say that the repeated interviews of the minor children at public school out of the presence of their mother were nothing more than harassment and intimidation intended to deprive the mother of her civil right to direct the education of her children as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Both children were frightened and emotionally traumatized by the interviews.

Angered that the mother had gotten HSLDA involved, the caseworker from DSS again telephoned the mother, insisting on yet another interview with her and the son she desires to homeschool. HSLDA is evaluating the legal options available to this family in light of the conduct of these government officials.

Dewitt T. Black