The Home School Court Report
No. 2

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Court throws out daytime curfew ticket

Case: In Re: M.M.
Filed: 11-15-05

Home School Legal Defense Association recently assisted a homeschooler wrongfully charged with disobeying Los Angeles' daytime curfew law. The student received a ticket while on a short walk during regular school hours.

Amy Maple,* who is homeschooled in a one-student private school, lives with her grandmother (and teacher) just outside the city limits of Los Angeles. In November 2005, Amy's uncle passed away, and his funeral was scheduled for November 15. Mrs. Maple cancelled school for Amy that day so they both could attend the funeral.

Amy decided to go for a short walk before they left, but she was stopped by a police officer who ticketed her for being on the street in violation of Los Angeles' Daytime Loitering Ordinance. A court date was set for December 30.

In mid-December, HSLDA filed a motion to dismiss the case, explaining that not only does the Los Angeles daytime curfew law not apply to privately educated students whose school is not in session, it also specifically provides an exemption for students who are excused from school to attend a funeral.

The court agreed that the charge against Amy was obviously ridiculous. A day after HSLDA filed the motion, the court dismissed the ticket, and Amy was able to spend her holidays at home instead of defending herself in court.


Social worker files outrageous petition

Case: County Department of Social Services v. L Family
Filed: 10-18-05

Last October, when 9-year-old Traci Lawson's* parents withdrew her from an Internet-based public charter school and began homeschooling her, they had no idea that their family would become the object of a social services investigation.

Shortly after Traci's withdrawal from the charter school, her grandmother was supervising her new homeschool program one day when a county social worker knocked on the door, demanding to interview Traci. According to the social worker, the public school was concerned because Traci had been having difficulty learning fractions while still in the public charter school. When the grandmother declined to allow the social worker into her home, the social worker threatened, in Traci's presence, to take the girl into custody. Distraught, the grandmother allowed the social worker into her home to interview Traci.

A few days later, the social worker filed a petition with the county court, alleging that Traci and her two brothers were being educationally neglected, and sought to remove all of the children from their parents' custody. Traci's parents, who had only recently moved to Minnesota, requested help from the local homeschooling community, which quickly referred them to HSLDA. Although the Lawsons were not HSLDA members, we took their case out of concern for the threat that the social worker's outrageous behavior could pose to the greater homeschooling community if left unchallenged.

At an initial hearing on November 18, 2005, the juvenile judge immediately ruled that even if the allegations of educational neglect were true, it would not justify removal of the children from their parents' custody. He denied the county's petition requesting removal and set the educational neglect hearing for a later date.

Before the hearing date, the family, with the assistance of HSLDA and the local homeschooling community, presented the prosecuting attorney with proof that the family's homeschooling program complied with Minnesota law and would provide the Lawson children with an excellent education. The county dismissed the petition before trial.

* Name changed to protect family's privacy.


RFPA case update

Case: Combs v. Homer-Center School District

Hankin v. Bristol
Township School District

Nelson v. Titusville
Area School District
Newborn v. Franklin Regional School District

Prevish v. Norwin
School District

Weber v. Dubois Area School District

Filed: Sept.-Dec. 2004

For nearly two years now, HSLDA has been defending the religious freedom of several Pennsylvania families who have sought a religious exemption from their state's homeschooling law, Act 169. The families have relied on the state's recently enacted Religious Freedom Protection Act, which mandates that religious exemptions from state statutes be granted if they cause a "substantial burden" on the free exercise of religion.

Six families are now embroiled in proceedings before the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, after their local school officials denied their right to an exemption.

We have good news and bad news to report from those proceedings.

First, the bad news: in December 2005, the court ruled that Act 169 does not impose a "substantial burden" on the free exercise of religion.

Now the good news: because the case is in an unusual procedural posture, the court could not enter judgment against the families.

To bring the district court case to a close in a manner that would be fit for appellate review, the district court judge ordered a second round of motions in his court. He gave express permission to HSLDA to point out to him, in our round-two briefing, how his round-one opinion regarding "substantial burden" went astray.

"This is an unusual opportunity," said HSLDA General Counsel Michael Farris. "We are prayerfully optimistic that the judge may revise his opinion in a way that would give relief to Pennsylvania homeschoolers."