Another IDEA Conflict Resolved
Case: P Family v. Poughkeepsie School District|
In July 2005, Mr. and Mrs. P* (who had been homeschooling several of their children for years) decided to obtain services from the public school for their 5-year-old son, Jonathan, who has special needs. This decision, however, led to several disputes with the school over whether Jonathan would need to be reevaluated before he could enter 1st grade for the 2006-2007 school year.
Tired of dealing with the school district, Mr. and Mrs. P changed their minds about receiving public school services and decided to homeschool Jonathan instead. At that point, the public school filed a notice that it was initiating due process against the family to force a reevaluation.
Home School Legal Defense Association contacted the school district’s attorney to see if the district would be willing to drop the due process if the family agreed not to seek reimbursement for any services they were supposed to have received the previous year but did not get. Willing to comply with this suggestion, school officials drafted a convoluted waiver that would have waived benefits not only for the previous year, but also for the entire 2006-2007 school year, as well as denied the family any right to even mention the existence of the agreement in any future litigation.
While the school district was creating its proposed waiver, however, the U.S. Department of Education promulgated new regulations governing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The new regulations, which resulted from HSLDA's victory in the Missouri case Fitzgerald v. Camdenton R-III School District as well as intensive lobbying on the federal level, stated that school districts could not force due process for reevaluations of homeschooled students whose parents had refused consent to reevaluation.
Based on the new regulations, HSLDA again contacted the school district’s attorney to get the due process proceedings dismissed. The district asked for and received a simple statement from the parents that they would not seek reimbursement until the new regulations had gone into effect (October 14, 2006). The due process case has now been dismissed.
Grandmother Files Custody Suit Against Parents
Case: In Re: F.M.|
When Rob and Connie Millwood* discovered that their 16-year-old daughter, Hannah,* had run away from home, the shock was intensified by the news that Hannah’s disappearance was not a complete surprise to everyone. Hannah had secretly made prior arrangements to meet her grandmother across the Oklahoma state line in Texas. The two then flew to the grandmother’s home in Alabama.
As the Millwoods attempted to arrange for Hannah’s return home, they received a second blow when the mail brought them a summons to appear in Alabama juvenile court. Hannah’s grandmother had filed a petition accusing Rob and Connie of abuse and neglect and seeking legal custody of Hannah.
Rather than detailing actual evidence of abuse or neglect, the petition described a situation experienced by many families: the Millwoods’ daughter was not willing to abide by the reasonable rules of her parents. For example, the petition alleged that Hannah’s parents would not allow her to date, that Hannah was not allowed to obtain her driver’s license, and that her parents restricted her cell phone use.
Ironically, the petition alleged that Hannah was deprived because she had been homeschooled her entire life, yet asserted that although she was academically ready to attend college, her parents would not let her because they believed that a woman’s place was in the home. The petition also claimed that Hannah was socially deprived because she only associated with her homeschool group and members of the family’s church.
In a motion filed by the grandmother a few days after the petition, it was revealed that, contrary to the petition’s assertion, Hannah actually had an Oklahoma learner’s permit. When Hannah’s disappearance had been discovered, the Millwoods had followed the advice of the local police, reporting Hannah as a runaway and putting a hold on her learner’s permit. After Hannah arrived in Alabama, she learned that she was not eligible for a license there for one year. The motion asked the court to order Hannah’s parents to release the learner’s permit so Hannah could get her Alabama license sooner.
HSLDA took the case because of its bearing on parental rights. “This case represented a direct assault against Christian homeschooling parents by a non-parent,” said HSLDA President Mike Smith.
HSLDA filed a motion to dismiss the petition on the ground that the court had no jurisdiction to take custody of the child away from her parents. We argued that the allegations did not describe a neglected child, even if they were assumed to be true.
The juvenile court agreed. “[Assuming] the allegations made by the child are truthful . . . the court may consider the parent’s beliefs to be outdated and not necessarily in the minor child’s best long term interests, however the parents are responsible for making certain parental decisions guided by their consciences and their personal and spiritual beliefs. . . . [T]he court does not believe that the allegations made by the maternal grandmother rise to the level of abuse or mistreatment.“
Despite the victory in the Alabama court, it soon became apparent that the battle
for Hannah was not over. On June 27, 2006, Hannah’s grandmother filed for guardianship of the girl in an Oklahoma court.
HSLDA filed yet another motion to dismiss, which was granted in part on August 7, 2006. The Oklahoma judge agreed with HSLDA that Hannah was not neglected. However, the judge retained jurisdiction based on the allegation (made for the first time in the Oklahoma court) that Hannah’s mental health would be harmed if she was made to move home.
“This isn’t a battle we can afford to lose in any state,” explained HSLDA Litigation Counsel Jim Mason. “If courts can take custody away from parents based on reasonable household rules like the Millwoods’, then no one is safe—especially conservative Christian homeschoolers.”
To date, Hannah’s grandmother has failed to produce any evidence to back up the claims regarding Hannah’s mental health. HSLDA has again moved to dismiss the petition and is awaiting the judge’s ruling.
* Name changed to protect family’s privacy.
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