|| LITIGATION SUMMARIES
Delinquency charges dismissed
A few days after single homeschooling mom Kathy Benson* moved to her new home across the street from a northwest Illinois public school, she opened her front door to find Jo Daviess County Assistant Superintendent Anne Sutcliffe demanding to see her curriculum. Sutcliffe threatened to turn the matter over to the department of social services if Benson did not comply with her request. Under this coercion, Benson allowed Sutcliffe into her home to view some of the curriculum.
Case: Jo Daviess County v. Ms. B.|
Though Benson, who has homeschooled her 9-year-old daughter since kindergarten, keeps superb records and uses an excellent curriculum, she had not actually begun classes at that point because of her recent move. Sutcliffe, however, quizzed Benson's daughter and was not satisfied with some of the child's answers. Because Sutcliffe was also dissatisfied with the curriculum she was shown and with the "learning environment" in the home, she decided to file charges against Benson's daughter for delinquency.
Not knowing what else to do and unable to afford a lawyer, Benson called our legal department for help.
"Intimidation of homeschoolers by school officials is unacceptable, especially in the home," said Home School Legal Defense Association Litigation Attorney James R. Mason III. "What happened to Kathy could happen to any of us."
With the assistance of attorney Rich Baker of Chicago, a long-time HSLDA ally and homeschool dad himself, we provided the prosecutor with a preview of the evidence that we would use at trial. After discussing the evidence with the assistant superintendent, who reportedly conceded that she had overreacted, the prosecutor dismissed the case on January 28, 2004.
State refuses to recognize diploma
When Monroe Community College (MCC) in Rochester, New York, notified rising senior Paul Owens that his admission to its marketing program had been revoked, he was shocked. Owens, who was only one semester shy of receiving his degree, was told that because he had been homeschooled through high school and had no official diploma, he could not attend MCC. Yet according to MCC's rules in place at the time he was admitted, Owens fully met all qualifications for admission and had since proven himself at the college level by maintaining a consistent B average.
Case: Paul Owens v. Board of Regents|
MCC's action resulted from a recent letter by New York Commissioner of Education Richard Mills, which changed longstanding policy by requiring homeschool graduates to obtain a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) in addition to their homeschool diploma.
HSLDA filed a complaint against the New York Board of Regents on October 1, 2003. Since the suit was filed, Owens has completed enough credit hours to receive an associate degree, but MCC has refused to grant him the degree and a four-year state college rejected his application to continue his education because of his homeschool diploma. Owens has, however, been accepted at a four-year private college, which gave him no hassles about having a homeschool diploma.
HSLDA has amended the complaint to seek monetary damages, because Owens must now pay far more in tuition than he would have at a state college. The complaint also asks for an injunction requiring MCC to admit Owens and award him the degree he has earned.
Family files suit under RFPA
In 2002, homeschoolers were instrumental in passing the Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA) in Pennsylvania. RFPA adopts the "compelling interest test" in all cases in which a person's free exercise of religion is substantially burdened. In applying this test, the state has a tough task: proving that enforcement of a state law is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling state interest if that law substantially burdens a person's religious freedom. Since RFPA's passage, HSLDA has been able to help obtain religious exemptions for numerous homeschooling families who believe that their religious rights are being violated by Pennsylvania's severely burdensome home education law. (See Across the States, "Pennsylvania: Families file for exemption under RFPA" in the November/December 2003 Court Report.)
Case: N Family v. Regional School District|
Since 2002, many families have successfully claimed religious exemptions. School districts have either backed down completely or have been willing to accept a minimal amount of information that does not compromise the families' religious convictions. Such agreements are perfectly acceptable under RFPA, which grants state agencies who wish to avoid court involvement the flexibility to work with those claiming a religious burden.
However, a western Pennsylvania regional school district has adamantly refused to negotiate, and has threatened an HSLDA member family with prosecution for truancy. The family is claiming religious exemption from portions of the home education law. Under these circumstances, the RFPA allows those whose convictions are likely to be burdened to sue the district before prosecution to resolve the issue.
"In this case, the school district left us with no choice but to go to court to protect our members," said HSLDA Litigation Attorney James R. Mason III. "We are suing the school district for a declaratory judgment that our member family is entitled to a religious exemption."
We ask for your prayers as Pennsylvania homeschoolers use RFPA to strengthen religious freedom in their state.