The Home School Court Report
VOLUME XXI, NUMBER 3
- disclaimer -
May / June 2005


FEATURES
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HSLDA cares about special needs families

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Across the states
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On the other hand: a contrario sensu

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HSLDA social services contact policy/A plethora of forms

HSLDA legal inquiries


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  LITIGATION SUMMARY  

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ACTIVE CASES

Another win for homeschooling

Case: Mrs. E.B. v. Department of Human Services
Filed: 5/7/04
On February 8, 2005, a California administrative law judge (ALJ) reinstated a single mother's cash aid benefits in full.

Mrs. E.B., a Home School Legal Defense Association member, had been receiving supplemental benefits from California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs). She was alarmed when she received a letter from San Francisco County, dated May 7, 2004, notifying her that her benefits had been reduced because her homeschooled son, Matthew,* was "not in school." Thousands of California children are legally taught in homeschools (recognized as private schools in that state), but the county did not consider homeschooling "regular school attendance."

E.B. contacted our office for assistance in requesting a state hearing regarding the benefit reduction, and on August 3, 2004, HSLDA Litigation Attorney Jim Mason traveled to California to argue on her behalf.

The issue in this case was similar to the issues in two other California cases that HSLDA has won. (See Mrs. B v. Community Services Agency and Ventura County Department of Human Services v. Mrs. B at http://www.hslda.org/legal/casearchive.) The California Department of Social Services authorizes counties to adopt their own standards regarding school attendance for benefit eligibility, but these standards must be in writing and must be made available to the public upon request.

San Francisco County, however, has no written standard regarding school attendance, as the ALJ noted in her February 8, 2005, decision. In light of this, the judge ruled that the county had improperly decreased E.B.'s CalWORKs cash aid. "The county must develop written standards for regular school attendance before imposing a CalWORKs sanction on the basis that a minor child is not regularly attending school," the ALJ stated in her decision.

The ALJ also ruled favorably for E.B.'s homeschool, stating that Matthew was in fact enrolled in a private school. The judge retroactively reinstated E.B.'s benefits, ordering the county to rescind its decision to reduce the cash aid since Matthew was indeed a full-time student.

PENNSYLVANIA

Nelsons file RFPA complaint

Case: Nelson v. Titusville Area School District
Filed: 2/28/05
HSLDA members Douglas and Shari Nelson have homeschooled their seven children for eight years. Two of the children have already graduated, while three are still below compulsory attendance age.

The two currently homeschooled children are both working above grade level, and usually score within the 75th percentile on standardized tests.

After the Pennsylvania Department of Education informed the Nelsons that an umbrella school option was illegal in Pennsylvania, the family was compelled to submit their portfolios to the school district until 2003, even though being held accountable to the school district went against their religious convictions. After hearing about the new Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA), the Nelsons decided not to submit an affidavit, believing that it substantially burdened their free exercise of religion. (The RFPA, passed in December 2002, gives local officials the authority to exempt religious objectors from laws that burden their religious rights.) When the Titusville Area School District contacted them last July, the Nelsons responded with a letter explaining their decision.

The Nelsons sought HSLDA's assistance when the school district threatened to file truancy charges. Despite the best efforts of HSLDA Senior Counsel Dewitt Black, the school refused to compromise and insisted on filing the charges.

On February 28, 2005, HSLDA filed a complaint in federal court on the family's behalf.

"We decided to do this for future generations," Mrs. Nelson explained. "We're not willing to go back on our convictions. We're not willing to comply with the law until it changes."

WISCONSIN

VA files, then drops federal appeal!

Case: Department of Veterans Affairs v. Theiss
Filed: Fall 1999
In the January/February 2005 Court Report, HSLDA reported a November 18, 2004, decision by the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, denying the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) petition for reconsideration in the Appeal of George R. Theiss. The court's unanimous decision offered overwhelming support for HSLDA's position and for parents across America.

In 1999, the VA had informed Mr. Theiss that when his son turned 18,his additional benefits would be cut off, even though Mr. Theiss was conducting a homeschool program in full compliance with Wisconsin law. The VA continued to insist that since homeschools are operated for only one student, they cannot be considered "approved educational institutions."

Still clinging to its outdated definitions of homeschooling, the VA rejected the November 18, 2004, remand from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and filed a Notice of Appeal on February 4, 2005, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. (Read more about Mr. Theiss' case in the January/February 2005 Court Report at www.hslda.org/courtreport/archives.asp.)

As HSLDA prepared to defend the Theiss family against this new appeal, however, they were surprised to learn on April 8, 2005, that the VA had decided to drop the appeal and instead revisit its rule to allow homeschooling veterans to continue to receive their full benefits. The Theiss family is now awaiting the reinstatement of their benefits.


* Name changed to protect family's privacy.