Ohio cases increase
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.”
This approval process, however, has caused countless conflicts in the state because Ohio’s compulsory attendance law is vague and provides no guidelines for the local superintendents to follow. As a result, each of Ohio’s 615 superintendents 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, a superintendent in Cuyahoga County refused to allow the Svoboda family to teach their children at home because they were not certified by the state. The superintendent, in addition, would not allow the family an opportunity for a hearing nor would he consider the fact that both parents had college degrees. HSLDA president Michael Farris recently argued the Svobodas’ case before the Eighth District Court of Appeals this October (Svoboda v. Andrisek, Nos. 51234 and 51385, Eighth District Court of Appeals, Ohio).
On December 4, 1986, the court of appeals ordered the case to be “reversed and remanded” in favor of HSLDA’s position. The court stated that the lower court had improperly denied the Svobodas their due process right to be heard. As a result, HSLDA will now be able to argue the case on its merits before the lower court. This case marks a major procedural victory for homeschoolers in Ohio.
In other developments, attorney Melnick of Youngstown recently obtained the dismissal of the Cline case in Jefferson County. The family decided to move to Utah for job-related reasons. Attorney Bob Lynch dismissed the Carriker case in Cleveland after the family decided to place their child in a private, Christian school. In another case in Cleveland, the HSLDA legal staff recently appealed the Tuscano case to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas because the superintendent denied the Tuscanos the right to teach their own children. The superintendent of Cleveland public schools refused to recognize the family’s right to a religious exemption and the fact that the mother is certified to teach. It is interesting to note that this superintendent has denied approval to all homeschoolers whom he knows about, regardless of their qualifications. Bob Lynch is serving as HSLDA’s local counsel.
The HSLDA legal staff has successfully resolved approximately 23 conflicts between school districts and HSLDA members during the first half of the 1986–87 school year. Recently, Chris Klicka, HSLDA’s executive director, obtained the dismissal of “unruly child” charges against a homeschool family in Ashtabula County. In another situation, Farris and Klicka flew to Celina, Ohio, and defended an HSLDA member charged with violation of the compulsory attendance law. Upon reading Farris’ brief, the judge instructed the prosecutor to drop the criminal charges, which he subsequently did. Although the criminal charges were dropped, the local school superintendent later disapproved the family, and HSLDA has since filed an appeal of the superintendent’s decision. (See Diegel v. Taylor, Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, Mercer County.)
In Wayne County, the Willig family was informed that they must have college degrees in order to teach their children. Neither parent had received any higher education. HSLDA’s executive director advised the family to prepare a statement of their religious beliefs and specifically request a religious exemption pursuant to OAG 79-056 (Attorney General Opinion). The family wrote a detailed, typed, 11-page letter that described their religious convictions supported by their church doctrine and quotations from the pope. The superintendent read the OAG 79-056 and consequently granted the family a religious exemption.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the Ohio v. Schmidt (No. 86-263, Ohio Supreme Court) case because of the important constitutional issues involved. Oral arguments have been set for January 7, 1987. HSLDA president Michael Farris will personally argue the case before the court. Among other issues, Farris will argue that Ohio’s compulsory attendance law is void for vagueness because it allows each superintendent to create and enforce arbitrary requirements for homeschoolers with no statutory guidelines or limitations. In addition, Farris will argue that the First Amendment rights of the Schmidts have been violated along with their due process right to have a neutral magistrate decide whether they can exercise their fundamental right to homeschool. Farris argues that each superintendent has a financial interest in the outcome of the approval process because if he disapproves a family, the children will probably be enrolled in his public school which means an additional $2000–$3000 in tax money to the school district.
In conclusion, it is clear that a vague compulsory attendance law, such as Ohio’s, which gives unlimited discretionary power to each school district, will result in arbitrary denial of the constitutional right to homeschool.
Homeschoolers must band together in order to pray and work towards urging their legislators to amend their present laws to specifically limit the state school administrations’ arbitrary powers and clearly preserve the families’ constitutional and God-given right to homeschool.