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‘Are You Capable of Teaching Trigonometry?’

Although an encounter with either a school official or a social worker can be intimidating, one homeschooling family recently encountered both.* After a tipster reported that their kids were not in school, Donna and Gordie Puckett of Camdenton were told that they must attend a meeting with a juvenile officer.

Not knowing what to expect, the Pucketts contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for assistance, and HSLDA Staff Attorney Scott Woodruff helped them prepare for the meeting. If they were asked for anything beyond their daily log, he advised them to respond, “I’ll review that request with my attorney and get back to you.”

At the meeting, both a juvenile officer and a social worker were present. The juvenile officer said she wanted to have the Puckett children tested. “Are you capable of teaching them trigonometry?” she harangued.

When Mr. and Mrs. Puckett asked about the purpose of the interrogation, the juvenile officer replied, “We want to make sure they [the children] can function in public school if they ever have to go back.”

The juvenile officer did not even glance at the Pucketts’ abundant documentation of their homeschool program. She merely made a copy of the family’s daily log and filed it away.

The social worker intensified the situation. “I’ll come do a home study and look at the other stuff,” she said, dropping ominous hints: “If you are not up to standards, we might have to . . . If we have to remove your children from their home for their own protection . . .”

When the Pucketts reported all this to Woodruff, he explained that none of these demands or threats had a lawful basis. Before taking further steps, he wrote to the juvenile officer, asking her to put in writing everything she wanted the family to do. Officials will sometimes make outrageous demands orally, but are far more cautious when committing their threats to writing—they know the permanent record will hold them accountable. Bullies thrive only when there is no accountability.

After six weeks of silence, the juvenile officer called the Pucketts and told them she was going to close their file. She never replied to Woodruff’s letter. None of her threats or demands were ever fulfilled.

This is the second time in recent memory that the Camdenton R-III School District has gone out of bounds. HSLDA spent nearly three years defending the Fitzgerald family there after the school district tried to force their homeschooled child to be evaluated for special needs, ending in a resounding victory for the family in the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in early 2006.

Members who are contacted by school officials or social workers should call HSLDA immediately.

— by Scott A. Woodruff

* See “HSLDA social services contact policy”