The legal atmosphere for home schooling in Michigan has changed recently due to the latest ruling in Sheridan Road Baptist Church v. Michigan, No. 80-26205-AZ, in the Circuit Court of Ingham County. The Michigan Department of Education and the church schools involved in this case agreed to a lesser qualification for teachers, that of having a four year college degree instead of state certification. The Ingham County Circuit Court formalized this agreement in a court order issued on May 2, 1988, which outlines what a nonpublic school must do in order to comply with the law.
According to the Attorney General of Michigan, the state of Michigan considers home schools to be nonpublic schools, so home schools may comply with the Sheridan order. This policy was confirmed by Jim Phelps of the Michigan Department of Education. This means that home schooling parents now have a new legal alternative to being a certified teacher. If either parent possesses a four year college degree, or if a consultant with a college degree is secured outside the home, the home school may file directly with the Michigan State Department of Education through a third party. This technically removes the home school from the jurisdiction of the Intermediate School District and places it directly under the State Department with whom it can communicate through a third party.
In recent weeks, HSLDA has received numerous telephone calls from Michigan members, mainly in the Ottawa Area and Montcalm Area school districts. In these two school districts home schoolers who have followed the third party procedure recommended by HSLDA have received letters from their respective superintendents stating that home school information cannot be filed through a third party. Along with the superintendent“s letter, these home schoolers also received a copy of a recent letter from Jim Phelps of the Michigan Department of Education stating that the Sheridan Road order does not apply to home schools because they are not considered nonpublic schools.
Dr. Phelps’ statement in this letter that, “Third party deals only with nonpublic schools, not home schools,” completely contradicts two Attorney General Opinions and the Michigan Department of Education’s own policy. A document called “Some Questions and Answers Regarding the State Regulation of Nonpublic and Home Schools,” issued by the Michigan Department of Education asks the question, “Are home schools considered nonpublic schools?” and answers the question in the affirmative, citing the Attorney General. Therefore, Dr. Phelps’ assertion that the “Third Party Reporting Procedure” does not apply to home schools is inaccurate, because home schools are nonpublic schools. As a result, the same “Third Party Reporting Procedure” applies to them. Furthermore, the Department of Education has always applied all of the other nonpublic school standards to home schools (i.e. certification, number of days, subjects) because home schools are legally considered nonpublic schools.
On August 3, 1988, attorney David Kallman and three other home school leaders met with Dr. Phelps to discuss the applicability of the “Third Party Reporting Procedure” to home schools. Dr. Phelps unequivocally stated that he would accept and process Third Party forms he received from home schoolers through Dave Kallman as their third party. He also stated that such home schools would be in compliance. In reliance on his assurances and based on Ingham County Court’s Order in the Sheridan case, these families have fully complied with the Third Party Procedure.
The attorneys at HSLDA still stand by the legality of filing home school information through a third party and will negotiate any problems for HSLDA members. Over 200 families in Michigan have used the third party procedure to file information on their home schools.
Michigan has been one of three states which have persisted in requiring home schooling parents to be certified teachers. Now the only state to maintain this restrictive requirement is North Dakota, since Iowa passed a moratorium on the prosecution of home schoolers until new legislation could be passed this year. Meanwhile, the home schooling situation in Michigan remains tenuous.
In past years, HSLDA attorney Klicka has advised members in Michigan to complete partially the Home School Membership Report form usually sent to home schoolers by the Intermediate School District. Parents modified the form and attached an affidavit which reflected their own home school situation. Even this approach has come under attack recently as evidenced by the situation involving the Craft family in Farwell, Michigan.
Mel and Beth Craft modified the Home School Membership Report to include only the information required by law and submitted the form to their Intermediate School District. They used a state certified teacher as an advisor and overseer, but did not supply the name of the teacher to the ISD. They received one request from the ISD office to verify the fact that they were using a certified teacher in their home school and responded promptly to that request through attorney Dave Kallman of Lansing and HSLDA attorney Klicka. For the 1988–89 school year their son had been enrolled in a private Christian school and was no longer being home schooled.
On Friday, September 16, 1988, at 9:00 p.m., a woman from the sheriff's department called the Crafts’ home and informed them that a warrant for their arrest had been issued. The next day, Mel and Beth went to the sheriff’s office to determine specifically what the charges were and they were formally booked and fingerprinted at this time. They were charged with truancy for not complying with the compulsory attendance laws of the Michigan State Department of Education for the 1987–88 school year. They also discovered that the warrant was dated September 9 and asked the deputy why it had taken so long to serve the warrant, but the deputy did not have an answer. Bond was set for $1000, but the Crafts were eventually released on their own recognizance provided they appeared in court on the following Monday. They contacted HSLDA attorney Klicka who arranged for Dave Kallman to represent them on Monday during a brief appearance in court.
On October 12, the judge signed an order that stipulated and agreed that the charges against Crafts be dismissed with prejudice since the children were presently enrolled in a Christian school. The criminal records of Mel and Beth Craft were expunged and all records taken during the arrest were returned to them.
In other litigation in Michigan, the appeal of People of the State of Michigan v. DeJonge, to the State of Michigan Court of Appeals (Court of Appeals No. 106149) has been accepted by the Court of Appeals. The acceptance of the case by the Court indicates that the court may potentially reverse itself on the issue of certification and finally find the restrictive requirement unconstitutional.