Across the nation
As HSLDA has grown in membership, the HSLDA legal staff has been involved in more and more cases across the country. Below is a brief summary of some of the legal battles that HSLDA is waging and in some cases has already won.
In Tennessee, HSLDA President Michael Farris won a landmark case, Mozert, et al., v. Hawkins County Public Schools, et al., No. CIV-2-83-401, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, October 24, 1986, which has secured basic constitutional rights for public school children and homeschoolers. Farris, working as counsel for Concerned Women for America, brought a § 1983 civil rights action seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages against the local school board for violating several parents’ First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. The children involved refused to read certain textbooks that were offensive to their religious beliefs and as a result were expelled from school.
The federal court ruled that the school board did not use the least restrictive means in fulfilling their interest in education by allowing only one series of textbooks to be used. In order to accommodate the plaintiffs’ religious convictions, the court ruled that the public schools must allow students to “opt out” of classes that violate their beliefs. The students would then be instructed at home in that subject. The importance of the decision to homeschoolers is that the court implicitly recognized the fundamental right of parents to teach their own children. This case is a major victory for parental rights and First Amendment rights.
In Iowa, some local school districts insist on demanding that all homeschool instruction be given by a certified teacher. On October 22, 1986, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed to hear HSLDA’s case, Iowa v. Trucke, No. 86-530, because of the important constitutional issues involved. The HSLDA legal staff is arguing that since the requirement for “equivalent instruction” has been struck down by the federal court as void for vagueness, the requirement must also be ruled void for vagueness because it is inseparable from the equivalent instruction requirement. HSLDA is also raising several key constitutional arguments that have never been raised in relation to this statute before. All the briefs have already been filed so oral arguments will be set soon.
In addition to the case before the Iowa Supreme Court, HSLDA has also filed a § 1983 civil rights action against the school board in Monona County for voting to bring new charges against the Trucke family again this year (Trucke v. Eriemeier, No. C86-4181, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa). HSLDA is attacking the compulsory attendance statute as unconstitutional for several reasons.
In North Dakota, four HSLDA families have had charges filed against them because they refuse to use a certified teacher as required by law. Michael Farris has filed a § 1983 civil rights action non behalf of two families challenging the constitutionality of North Dakota’s certification requirement (Anderson v. Gilge, U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota, Southeastern Division). North Dakota, Iowa, and Michigan are the last three states that still require homeschoolers to be certified.
In Alabama, Farris recently strategized with attorney Tony Cothren of Birmingham to get criminal charges dismissed against the O’Briens, an HSLDA member. Farris recommended that Cothren make the state prove the basic elements of the “crime.” As a result of Cothren’s arguments, the prosecutor was unable to prove that O’Brien’s daughter was of compulsory-attendance age or that O’Brien’s daughter was in fact their daughter. Consequently, the judge dismissed the charges.
In Nevada, the Strong family was charged with violating the compulsory attendance law because they were not using an approved curriculum. Once HSLDA Vice President Michael Smith became involved, charges were dropped and an acceptable settlement was reached enabling the family to freely homeschool.
In Colorado, the local school districts have begun to crack down on homeschoolers throughout the state. Many homeschoolers are being routinely denied permission to homeschool at the local level and have been forced to appeal to the state board even though they were using an approved curriculum. The school district was preparing to bring charges against the family because they refused to fill out the state’s form because of their religious convictions. Attorney Chris Klicka intervened and prevented the charges from being issued. He subsequently appealed to the state board, which denied the family the right to homeschool. HSLDA attorney Bill Moritz of Colorado Springs is presently applying for a rehearing before the state board on the grounds that neither the family nor the counsel were notified of the first hearing or were given an opportunity to be heard.
The Brakenhoff family of LaJunta and the Main family of Lake City both incorporated their homeschools as private schools and met all the required standards of private schools. However, the authorities in both situations brought charges against the families. Attorney Bruce Lorenzon of Gunnison is preparing for trial in the Main case and attorney Bill Moritz is defending the Brakenhoff case.
In Idaho, two families in Filer were threatened with child abuse charges when the local board of trustees voted to turn their homeschool situations over to the health and welfare department. Chris Klicka immediately contacted the superintendent and strategized with the families, recommending that they meet with the superintendent. Subsequently, charges were averted and the families were approved even though their religious convictions would not allow them to seek approval.
In Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia, the HSLDA legal staff has been negotiating on behalf of many families who are battling their local school boards. In the West Springfield school district of Massachusetts, attorney Klicka resolved a situation by writing up a new policy for the local school district to the parents’ approval. Attorney Paul Dillon of Falmouth is negotiating on behalf of the Bohl family in Holbrook, Massachusetts, seeking a rehearing because the local school board arbitrarily denied them their right to homeschool. In Connecticut, HSLDA has helped numerous families resolve their conflict with local school boards. HSLDA attorney Joseph Secola of Milford is representing the Gibson family in Beacon Falls who were recently denied their right to homeschool because they would not participate in state testing. Secola is seeking a rehearing before the board. The family has agreed to testing but they want to choose the test and have it administered in their home.
HSLDA is involved in many more legal situations throughout the country and continues to work toward greater freedom for homeschoolers.