Pennsylvania: Worst state of the year
More parents are being criminally prosecuted in Pennsylvania for teaching their children at home than in any other state in the country. As of this printing, nineteen HSLDA members are in court fighting to preserve their constitutional right to teach their own children at home. Of course, not only HSLDA members are in court. It is estimated that there are at least fifty families in court throughout the state.
Over sixty-four HSLDA families have had negative contacts from school officials 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 private tutor.” In addition, each family’s curriculum is subject to the local superintendent’s “approval.” Of course every one of the 501 superintendents in the state has a different interpretation of the law, resulting in hundreds of variations of homeschool policies. By God’s grace, the HSLDA legal staff, in most of these conflicts, successfully counseled the families and negotiated with the school districts to achieve a resolution in favor of the families outside of court.
For example, the school districts of Spring Grove, Solanco, Canon-McMillan, and Clairton recently waived restrictive qualifications requirements for HSLDA members. Furthermore, Quakertown, Conneaut, and Crawford superintendents waived home visit and public school testing requirements. Many other school districts waived various parts of their homeschool policies once they were assured the HSLDA homeschool parents were providing their children with a regular, thorough education.
On the other hand, several superintendents have imposed arbitrary requirements on homeschoolers and have refused to exempt the families from severe restrictions. In Wellsboro, the Yarian and Brown families were convicted of violating the compulsory attendance law. Last year, the superintendent had approved both of the families’ homeschool programs without difficulty. The families sent in test scores at the end of the first year, proving their children were progressing adequately. This school year, however, the superintendent changed the policy and added the requirements of a college degree and home visits. After extensive negotiations with the school district by the HSLDA legal staff, the superintendent refused to waive his arbitrary requirements. HSLDA is appealing the convictions.
In the Blackhawk school district, the Whitmoyer family was charged with violating the compulsory attendance law. The family had been “approved” to homeschool for the last three years but a new superintendent took over this school year. The new superintendent changed the homeschool policy to require a college degree, which the Whitmoyers did not have. In spite of the fact that the mother was qualified to teach reading and writing to adult illiterates and proof that the Whitmoyer child was progressing well, the school district brought criminal charges.
Furthermore, the Stow-Rox school district convicted a homeschool family because the mother was not certified. HSLDA has already filed an appeal. Similarly, the Suda family of Dallas, the DiGerlando family of Nazareth, and the Arseneau family of Waynesboro have been recently charged by their respective school superintendents for not being certified teachers. Attorney Chris Klicka is handling all these cases with John Sparks of Grove City serving as local counsel.
The most unreasonable abuse of a homeschool family is taking place in East Butler. The Hull family, also an HSLDA family, has been criminally charged every few weeks for the last two school years for operating a homeschool! The mother is a certified teacher and the children are progressing above average. When the superintendent brought the first set of criminal charges, he also tried to take the children away, but attorney Vic Vouga successfully intervened. HSLDA then sued the superintendent for violating the Hulls’ civil rights. However, that has not stopped the superintendent and he continues to bring charges against the family. HSLDA is presently seeking an injunction from the federal court to order the superintendent to discontinue this harassment. The East Butler superintendent is the only superintendent in the federal suit against whom HSLDA is seeking damages.
Federal civil rights suit
Meanwhile, HSLDA’s federal civil rights suit, Jeffery, et al. v. O’Donnell, et al. (No. CV-86-1560, United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania), continues to progress. Attorneys Michael Farris, Michael Smith, and Chris Klicka have taken depositions from the nine superintendents being sued. Michael Farris, President of HSLDA, has made a motion for summary judgment, asking the judge to rule that the Pennsylvania compulsory attendance law is vague on its face and therefore unconstitutional. All briefs have been filed as of January 31, which means the federal court could render a decision at any time.
In spite of the pending suit, school superintendents are still insisting on imposing unconstitutional restrictions on HSLDA members throughout the states. Many school districts are continuing to threaten families with criminal charges unless they follow a combination of the following: parents must be certified, use a certified teacher, have children tested in public school, allow school officials to periodically visit the home, subject children to psychological testing, TELLS testing, use public school textbooks, and submit periodic progress reports.
The latest word from the house education committee of the legislature is that the homeschool bill will be attached to a public school code bill which will be introduced in the next several weeks. This strategy will increase the possibility of the passage of Bill 1364. Continue to pray for all the many families who are still waiting to see if the superintendents will waive their restrictive policies instead of taking them to court. Also continue to pray that God will give wisdom and skill to the HSLDA attorneys as they negotiate with the superintendents and solicitors. Pray also for Judge Kosick who will be rendering the decision in the Jeffery case.