The Home School Court Report
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November / December 2005

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Judge sides with HSLDA

Case: State of Ohio v. M Family
Filed: 11/4/04

Home School Legal Defense Association members John and Mary Monegahn* did not realize that their notice of intent to homeschool was deficient when they filed it with their local school district in October 2004, and they certainly didn't realize that they would subsequently be charged with a crime.

There is no deadline in Ohio for filing an initial notice of intent. Ohio's home education regulation sets out a specific administrative procedure for school districts to follow in cases where the notice of intent is incomplete. First, the school district is required to notify the family that their notice of intent is deficient. The family then has 14 days to correct their notice. This procedure is designed to protect parents' right to homeschool without involving the court system.

The Monegahns' school district ignored the correct procedure, claiming that the Monegahns were out of compliance with the law and charging them with the crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor based on an alleged failure to send their children to school. (In Ohio, contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a more serious criminal charge than truancy.) The district filed these criminal charges without even notifying the Monegahns that their notice was deficient-even though there is no deadline in Ohio for filing a notice of intent!

The family immediately contacted HSLDA. With the combined efforts of HSLDA and local counsel Robert Melnick (a longtime partner in defending the rights of Ohio's homeschoolers), the Monegahns corrected the problem and submitted a revised notice that was fully in compliance with Ohio law. Even though the district sent a letter excusing the Monegahn children from attendance at the public school for the entire year, the district refused to drop the charges against the family for the portion of the year prior to the revised notice.

HSLDA submitted a motion to dismiss, arguing that the school district had not followed the proper procedures and that it was illogical for the district to excuse the children for the entire school year yet claim they were truant for the first part of the year.

On August 16, 2005, the judge agreed with HSLDA and dismissed all of the charges against the family.


DA drops child neglect charges

Case: Department of Human Services v. S Family
Filed: 2/15/05

Between 1997 and 2000, HSLDA members Tom and Elizabeth Scharf* opened their hearts and home to 12 children through adoption. Eight of the adopted children are from the same sibling group. Many have learning disabilities, including dyslexia. Two were "crack babies." Desiring to minister to these children, the Scharfs homeschooled them using Christian curriculum and strove to provide them with the loving, nurturing environment they had not received from their birth parents. In Oklahoma, homeschooling is specifically protected by the state constitution.

In August 2004, one of the Scharfs' teenage sons ran away from home, triggering a child protective services investigation in which it became obvious that he was a rebellious teenager. He was removed from the home because of his unwillingness to conform his behavior to the law or to the reasonable rules of the Scharfs' home. In February 2005, another adopted teenage son ran away when he was assigned a homeschool writing project that he did not want to do. When he was picked up by the police, he made false abuse allegations against the Scharfs-later recanted-which resulted in his temporary placement in foster care.

Following the initial hearing regarding the second runaway son, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services filed a petition asking that all 10 of the children still in the home be identified as "deprived children." The petition alleged that the children had not been immunized and that their education was being neglected because, in the social worker's opinion, the children appeared to be behind their grade levels.

After the immunization and education neglect allegations were filed, HSLDA and local counsel Bill Graves (former Oklahoma legislator and staunch friend of homeschooling) filed a motion to dismiss.

We urged the court to dismiss the charges on the ground that the Scharfs had an absolute right to waive immunizations under the Oklahoma immunization statute. We also argued that the juvenile court has no jurisdiction over education neglect under Oklahoma law. The district attorney recognized that the immunization charges lacked merit and discontinued pursuing them. The juvenile court denied the motion to dismiss the education neglect charges and set the matter for trial.

Before the trial date, HSLDA hired Dr. Steven Duvall, School Psychology Program director at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, to evaluate each of the 10 children still living at home with the Scharfs. Over a period of several days, he assessed each child's ability level, learning disabilities, and achievement levels. He also conducted an empirical assessment of the Scharfs' homeschool program based on extensive research he has conducted in developing an objective way of measuring the effectiveness of educational settings, both in the classroom and in the homeschool.

His evaluations demonstrated that each child was performing at or above his or her ability level (even though that ability level was lower than the age/grade level of an average student, which was not surprising considering the children's personal backgrounds). Duvall also concluded that the educational engagement in the Scharfs' homeschool was superior to what would have occurred in the local public school. He reported that even though Mrs. Scharf had no formal training in teaching children with learning disabilities, she had an uncanny ability to adapt her teaching techniques to each child's unique learning style.

HSLDA gave Dr. Duvall's thorough, professional reports to the district attorney, who reviewed them and dismissed the educational neglect charges prior to the trial.

Even if your family never experiences a legal problem related to homeschooling, your membership in HSLDA enables people of modest means, such as the Scharfs, to defend their right to homeschool their children. And their victory is a victory for all homeschoolers.


HSLDA helps family reverse conviction

Case: In the Matter of M.T.S.
Filed: 4/28/05

HSLDA members should always contact our office as soon as a homeschool-related legal problem arises. It is extremely difficult, although not always impossible, for us to successfully assist after a conviction. However, in June 2005, HSLDA was able to help a Tennessee member family gain a re-hearing which resulted in a conviction being reversed.

The Shorter* family had enrolled their 17-year-old son in an accredited, out-of-state online high school, which they erroneously believed was the same as enrolling him in a church-related school under Tennessee law.

HSLDA members should always contact our office as soon as homeschool-related legal problems arise.
The local social services agency charged their son as an unruly minor because, they alleged, he was "habitually truant"-even though he was excelling in the online program and could prove it. Believing that the judge would understand their situation, the family appeared in court without contacting HSLDA.

Unfortunately, the judge did not understand. He convicted their son and placed him on home detention that would not allow him to leave his home until he had taken a Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) or Gateway achievement test. Although the Shorters had made a technical mistake, their son was in no way "unruly." In fact, he was an excellent student who respected the law and his parents' instructions.

Within moments of their son's conviction, the Shorters called HSLDA. Along with local counsel Jeff Atherton, who is on the board of the Tennessee Home Education Association, we immediately appealed the decision and asked the original judge to issue a stay of his home-detention order while the matter was on appeal. Less than a week after the motion to stay had been argued-and less than a month before the boy's 18th birthday-the original judge decided to simply dismiss the case rather than allow it to proceed on appeal.

* Name changed to protect family's privacy.