Victory for Adoptive Parents in Oregon
Parents of both adopted and special needs children won an important victory in Oregon recently, as a county judge ruled that courts have no continuing jurisdiction over adopted children who have once been wards of the court. Jim and Patricia Schafer of Hood River, Oregon, adopted their son, Shawn, in late 1987, and started to home school him in the fall of 1988. Three years earlier, in 1984, Shawn had been declared a ward of the court, and had been placed in the Schafers’ custody.
Local juvenile department authorities attempted to re-open Shawn’s wardship case on the assumption that the wardship continued, despite the fact that he had subsequently been legally adopted by the Schafers. [Under Oregon law an adoption order automatically terminates a wardship. But this fact was ignored by the social services agency, even though it was brought to their attention immediately.] Their reason for wanting to re-open the case was their belief that Shawn was in need of the public school’s speech therapy program, from which Shawn had been withdrawn when he began home schooling last fall. The juvenile director claimed that the Schafers were not providing adequately for Shawn’s needs, and therefore the court needed to intervene to require his participation in the speech program.
A local attorney also filed a petition with the court to have a surrogate appointed for Shawn, since he felt that Shawn’s parents were not adequately providing for his welfare or protecting his due process rights.
A “review hearing” was scheduled for March 7, 1989, and Mike Farris traveled to Oregon to represent the Schafers. The primary issue at stake was the right of parents to determine their children’s education. But the case involved the additional issues of adoption and special educational needs. The juvenile director and local attorney argued that Shawn’s special needs and former status as a ward of the court required the court’s intervention and outweighed the parents’ rights to determine how to educate their son. They argued that the court had continuing jurisdiction over Shawn, and the authority to require his participation in the public school program.
Mike Farris argued on the family’s behalf that Oregon’s law is clear that a wardship of the court terminates upon adoption of the child. Furthermore, evidence was introduced through the testimony of a speech therapist hired by HSLDA that Shawn’s progress in speech had continued at the same rate while at home as it had while he was in the public school program. The Schafers had begun working with the specialist to learn how to accommodate Shawn’s needs for speech therapy, and according to the specialist, they were every bit as effective as the public school program, and perhaps even more so. The therapist is now aiding the Schafers in providing an even faster rate of progress for Shawn.
The judge ruled in favor of the parents, and upheld their right to determine how to educate their son. He agreed that the court had no continuing authority over Shawn, since his adoption by the Schafers had established a parent-child relationship identical to that between natural parents and children. Courts cannot simply intervene into a family situation because they feel some other educational program might be better for a child. Parents have the right to make such decisions completely on their own.
In addition, the judge agreed that Shawn’s special needs for speech therapy were being adequately met by his parents, and simply because a public school program was available to him did not require him to participate in it. This decision is crucial, because it protects the rights of such children, who can potentially benefit all the more from the individualized instruction that home schooling offers.