Onslaught in Ohio
In Ohio, the local or county superintendent may excuse a child if he is being “instructed at home by a person qualified to teach the branches on which instruction is required.” The state board of education has recently altered their homeschool policy requiring all homeschools to be approved by the local or county superintendent. Prior to this school year, homeschoolers connected to a local Christian or private school could be “approved” by the private school.
As a result, homeschoolers have been involved in increasing conflict this 1985–86 school year throughout Ohio. In fact, 19 HSLDA families have been contacted by truant officers or school officials in the last four months. Three of those families are presently in court.
The major problem seems to be the vagueness of Ohio’s compulsory attendance law. There are approximately 615 superintendents in Ohio and each superintendent establishes his own personal requirements with which homeschoolers in his district must comply. This discretionary power of the superintendent tends to be exercised arbitrarily by the superintendent, often to the detriment of homeschoolers’ constitutional rights. For example, some superintendents only recognize parents as qualified to teach their children if they are certified by the state. Other superintendents are satisfied if the parents have bachelor’s degrees or possibly only a high school diploma.
On November 19, 1985, Mike Farris, HSLDA President, argued Ohio v. Schmidt (No. 85-C-28, Seventh Appellate District Court of Appeals for Columbiana County, Ohio), before the Ohio Appellate Court. He attacked the Ohio compulsory attendance statute as being “unconstitutionally void for vagueness” and defended the Schmidts’ First Amendment rights to freely exercise their religious beliefs which were being violated by the law. The Schmidts do not believe the state has the right to approve their homeschool, so they had not sought the superintendent’s approval. This case is interesting because the prosecution was almost a month late in filing their appellate brief and transcript of the lower trial court was destroyed. Mike Farris feels this case has the potential of clarifying the Ohio compulsory attendance law and thereby helping homeschoolers throughout the state. The appellate court’s decision will be handed down in January.
Two other HSLDA members, the Cline and Svoboda families, were denied their right to homeschool their children by their superintendents. In the case of the Svoboda family, both parents even have college degrees. HSLDA appealed both cases to the local juvenile judge within the statutory 10-day limit and secured attorneys Robert Melnick of Youngstown and Steve Lieby of Cuyahoga Falls to serve as local counsels. The Svoboda case was dismissed on a technicality and Steve Lieby has filed an appeal. The Cline case has been sent back to the superintendent for a full hearing on December 20. In both cases, HSLDA is challenging the arbitrary decisions of the superintendents, the vagueness of the statute, and the violation of the families’ First Amendment rights. A favorable decision in the Schmidt case could change the negative atmosphere toward homeschooling in Ohio.