|| LITIGATION SUMMARIES
County accepts homeschooling
As a single mother, Chris Wilde* was overjoyed to learn in July that the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would be reinstating her cash aid without dispute.
Case: Mrs. W v. Community Services Agency|
Filed: Mar. 2003
Chris has been homeschooling her 16-year-old son Trevor under the private school provision of California law. When DHHS saw that her private school was in her home, they rejected her cash aid application, and instead notified the California Department of Education (CDE). At the time, CDE was disseminating an erroneous interpretation of California's homeschool law, saying that a parent who was not a certified teacher could not establish a private school.
When Chris contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for advice, our litigation team agreed to represent her in her appeal. Before the hearing took place, however, the CDE removed its erroneous statement from its website. Litigation Counsel James R. Mason immediately informed DHHS that the CDE had been wrong in its interpretation of the law, and that the department had now changed its position. DHHS insisted on going ahead with the hearing anyway.
However, on the very day Mason was scheduled to fly to California for the hearing, DHHS contacted HSLDA to explain that none of their witnesses (who were school officials) were willing to testify at the hearing, due to HSLDA's letter. The hearing was dropped, and DHHS reinstated cash aid to the Wright family.
Benefits reinstated for HSLDA member
After eight months of legal wrangling, Home School Legal Defense Association successfully defended a California member family who was being discriminated against for homeschooling.
Case: Mrs. B v. Community Services Agency|
Filed: Aug. 2002
Mrs. Blythe* has homeschooled her daughter Sara for several years. To make ends meet and continue teaching Sara at home, the family has accepted welfare benefits from the state of California. But on July 8, 2002, they received a "Notice of Action" stating that their benefits were being reduced because Sara did not meet certain "age rule" requirements. The notice added that 18-year-old children can receive cash aid on the parent's case only if they are full-time students and are expected to finish high school before they turn 19.
The notice contained a glaring error-Sara was only 17 years old at the time, and her birthday was not until almost a year later. When HSLDA wrote to the caseworker explaining the error, the caseworker acknowledged the error in a letter to Christine Blythe, but now said that the real reason for the denial was that the school Sara attended was not "accredited." However, nothing in the law requires that private schools be accredited; the rule simply states that 16- to 17-year-old children must "attend high school," as Sara was doing.
At a hearing on November 26, 2002, HSLDA Litigation Counsel James R. Mason argued that the benefits should be reinstated for two reasons. First of all, the caseworker had not followed California law in reducing the benefits, because she had no written policy as her standard. Secondly, the reduction was a violation of Mrs. Blythe's constitutional right to homeschool.
On March 11, 2003, the Blythes received word that their benefits had been reinstated. Sara is now free to continue homeschooling until she graduates.
Family waiting on SSA
On August 6, 2003, the Social Security Administration (SSA) overturned a decision to reinstate a disabled homeschooler's benefits. The parents of disabled student Steve Near* had been receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments on his behalf for eight years.
Case: Family of N v. Social Security Administration|
Filed: Oct. 2002
In October 2002, the Nears were notified that Steve's SSI benefits would be reduced because the income his homeschooled siblings earned in their after-school jobs counted against family income. Normally, a full-time student's part-time income is excluded from family income, but the local SSA office held that homeschoolers are not full-time students for the purposes of supplemental benefits.
On HSLDA's appeal, an administrative law judge reinstated Steve's benefits, ruling that children who are being homeschooled in accordance with state law are "full-time students" as a matter of law. However, the precedent-setting decision is now being threatened. The Social Security Administration was not satisfied with the judge's ruling and has scheduled a review of the case.
HSLDA will appeal the SSA's decision to federal court.
* Names have been changed to protect families' privacy