Home School Court Report
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Cover Stories

Across the Nation

Denying Constitutional Rights for Money

Pennsylvania Under Fire

Contact Countdown

New York Tightens Up

South Carolina Disapproves

Onslaught in Michigan

Ohio Cases Increase

How to Correspond with Your School District

Present Legal Climate in California

Texas Drags On

Homeschoolers Excel


President’s Corner

C O V E R   S T O R Y

Pennsylvania Under Fire

Over 34 HSLDA families have been hassled in Pennsylvania because the state statute on homeschooling requires a “properly qualified private tutor” and leaves each local superintendent free to set his own arbitrary standards and interpret “properly qualified tutor.” In addition, each family’s curriculum is subject to the local superintendent’s approval.

The nebulous Pennsylvania statute affected the Smeltzer family, who have been homeschooling for three years. They were contacted by their local school superintendent, who denied them the right to homeschool their daughter based upon the premise that her home education had been so successful to this point that she was now “gifted and talented,” and thus needed a better education than she could get at home. The superintendent based this determination on Maggie’s extremely high scores on achievement tests. When the family refused to put their child in public school, the superintendent filed charges of truancy against them.

Ironically, the Smeltzers originally withdrew Maggie from the public school and started homeschooling her because she was doing poorly academically and was having trouble adjusting to the pressure of the school. The superintendent felt that the child was learning disabled!

HSLDA immediately took action and Michael Farris prepared a civil rights complaint asserting the family’s constitutional rights, explaining that the superintendent would be personally liable for damages. Farris identified a number of reasons that established that the superintendent’s decision was unconstitutional, including his violation of the Smeltzers’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

A copy of the complaint was sent to the school board’s lawyer. By the next day, the Smeltzers’ home study program was approved and the charges dropped, before it was even necessary to file the complaint. The Smeltzers are now happily homeschooling.

Two more HSLDA families were contacted and recently charged with violating the compulsory attendance statute. The Metcalfs in Coraopolis were contacted by their superintendent, who “does not permit home instruction to replace school instruction under any circumstances.” The superintendent refuses to take curriculum, test results, or the Metcalfs’ qualifications into consideration. Charges have been filed by the superintendent and HSLDA has hired attorney John Sparks of Grove City to defend the family.

Meanwhile, the Hull family in Butler has been charged with violating the compulsory attendance statute even though both have BS degrees and Mrs. Hull is a certified teacher in Florida and has applied for her teaching certificate in Florida. In addition, the superintendent also filed a dependency action against the family in order to get custody of the children. HSLDA attorney Victor Vouga of Grove City is handling the case and is in the process of getting the dependency action dismissed. The superintendent has refused to back down from his position concerning the truancy charges and he has been refilling charges against the family every week.

In Scranton, the Jeffrey family has also been charged with violating the compulsory attendance statute since the local policy requires approval and the homeschool teacher to be certified. Attorney Greg Reed of Harrisburg has been defending the family on behalf of HSLDA.

Some homeschoolers have sought to establish themselves as a “non-licensed” private school. No approval is involved. The school only needs to register with the state board of education. However, the state superintendent has refused to recognize homeschools as non-licensed private schools. As a result, HSLDA attorney John Sparks has appealed several denials by the state superintendent of the state board. One HSLDA family, the Petersons of Grove City, is included in Sparks’ appeal to win their right to establish their homeschool as a non-licensed school. If this appeal is won, homeschoolers would be able to get out from under the “approval” aspect of the statute.

As a result of this disparity among school districts and each superintendent “doing that which is right in his own eyes,” many homeschool families’ rights to teach their own children are being violated and discriminated against in an arbitrary manner. The HSLDA board, therefore, agreed to bring a federal civil rights action against approximately 11 local superintendents whose homeschool policies either infringed on HSLDA members’ constitutional right to teach their own children or prohibited them from exercising that right altogether (Jeffery, et al., v. O’Donnell, et al., No. CV-86-1560, United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania).

In the Jeffery case, HSLDA is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that the Pennsylvania compulsory attendance statute be declared void for vagueness because it conditions the exercise of constitutionally protected rights on the unfettered discretion of a government official. In addition, the statute is void for vagueness because it fails to define “properly qualified private tutor” in a manner that will adequately inform parents and school officials as to its meaning.

HSLDA is also arguing in the Jeffery case that the right of superintendents to “approve” homeschools is in violation of their right to due process. Since superintendents have a financial stake in the outcome, they cannot be a “neutral” decision maker as required by due process. If they disapprove a family’s homeschool program, they will more than likely end up back in the public system, which means an additional $2000 to $3000 for that local school district in tax money.

Interesting to note, two school districts, involving five HSLDA families, have already agreed to change their local policies and make their requirements constitutional. Their only request is that we drop them from our federal suit. After receiving their signed statements, we subsequently dropped the two school districts from the suit and the homeschoolers in those areas are now free to homeschool.

Total statistics for the 19851986 school year


Total number of contacts.....................................................................................231

Total number of contacts resolved.......................................................................225

Total number of resolved contacts won in court....................................................18

Total number of contacts unresolved.......................................................................6

Total number of unresolved contacts presently in court..........................................6

State-by-state breakdown of contacts for the 19851986 school year

State # of contacts Resolved Unresolved In court
Alabama 6 6 0 0
Arkansas 1 1 0 0
California 23 23 0 0
Colorado 3 3 0 0
Connecticut 6 6 0 0
Delaware 1 1 0 0
Florida 7 7 0 0
Hawaii 1 1 0 0
Idaho 2 2 0 0
Illinois 3 3 0 0
Indiana 2 2 0 0
Iowa 12 11 1 1
Kansas 8 8 0 0
Maine 1 1 0 0
Maryland 10 10 0 0
Massachusetts 3 3 0 0
Michigan 29 28 1 1
Minnesota 2 2 0 0
Nebraska 1 1 0 0
Nevada 1 1 0 0
New Mexico 1 1 0 0
New Jersey 3 3 0 0
New York 3 3 0 0
North Carolina 1 1 0 0
North Dakota 2 2 0 0
Oregon 1 1 0 0
Ohio 31 29 2 2
Pennsylvania 14 13 1 1
Rhode Island 2 2 0 0
Texas 37 36 1 1
Virginia 11 11 0 0
Washington 3 3 0 0