Across the States
Homeschooled Children Taken into State Custody
In a dramatic and troubling case from earlier this year, five children were removed from their home because the
family, not members of Home School Legal Defense Association at the time, had not fully complied with the state’s homeschool law. The family, in their third year
of home education, had filed an initial notice of intent but, relying on advice
from another homeschooler, expected
to be informed by school authorities
of any additional legal requirements. They did not hear from school authorities and neglected to follow up to inform themselves of the requirements of the law and comply with it.
Subsequently, a relative of the family called social services and alleged that the children were not in school and that there were problems with the family’s housing. The family cooperated with social workers by allowing them into their home and participating in interviews. However, the investigating social worker was not satisfied and, despite evidence that the children were not neglected educationally or otherwise, was granted an “emergency” custody petition by a county judge. Without warning, the social workers, accompanied by three police officers and other staff, took into custody all of the family’s children—including those not within the compulsory attendance age range—claiming that the law allows them to “take all if they take one.” This was a highly traumatic experience for this family, even more so because the mother was pregnant with the family’s sixth child.
It is important that homeschoolers know and follow the law. However, failure to file paperwork is not a sufficient reason under West Virginia law to take custody of children. Unfortunately, this family was not aware of HSLDA until after their children were removed. HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly was able to assist the parents in regaining custody of their children and defended them in court against the unwarranted charges of educational neglect. The children were returned after being in state custody for five weeks. The West Virginia circuit court is in the process of dismissing the petition.
Based on the facts of this case, it is very likely that, had the family been members of HSLDA, the children’s removal would have been avoided. If you have friends who are not members of HSLDA, please remind them of the importance of relying on expert legal advice to protect their homeschool. It could be one of the most important decisions they make.
— by Michael P. Donnelly
* See “HSLDA social services contact policy.”