Juvenile Court Victory for North Dakota Family
HSLDA members Barry and Kim Fischer of Beulah, North Dakota, were taken to court recently on a child neglect charge, for allegedly not providing an education for their daughter Becky “as required by law.” This charge differs from the usual truancy charges most often brought in North Dakota, and is handled in juvenile court.
Attorney Greg Lange of Hazen, secured by HSLDA, traveled to Beulah for the trial on January 9, 1989, in the Mercer County District Court, and Judge Dennis A. Schneider rendered his decision on February 27, 1989. Judge Schneider dismissed the neglect petition, and in a five-page decision ruled that simply proving that a child is not receiving an education as required by law is not sufficient to sustain such charges.
The Fischers are not certified teachers, and therefore their home schooling does not comply with North Dakota law. But the judge ruled that additional evidence that the child’s lack of education as required by law had resulted in “a detriment to the child’s necessary physical, mental or emotional health, or morals,” the second of three required elements in a neglect proceeding, had to be proven in order to sustain the charge. (The third element is that the neglect is not due to the family’s lack of financial means.)
Judge Schneider found that Becky Fischer was being adequately educated by her parents, and therefore she was not suffering any detriment to her health or morals, even though the means of her education was not in compliance with the law. Since this “detriment” element of the charge was not proven, the judge dismissed the petition. The judge further suggested that a neglect petition was not the proper means of prosecuting home schoolers if no real neglect were present. He concluded his opinion, “The reality is that there are still only two options: criminal charges against the parent or legislation such as House Bill 1421 as recently introduced in the present legislative session.”
This decision is of great value to North Dakota home schoolers because of this determination that educational neglect charges are not appropriate in a home schooling situation. Such charges are potentially more harmful and traumatic to families, since they could eventually result in children being removed from the home, and also involve the additional stigma of child neglect.
Furthermore, the decision suggests that if parents charged with educational neglect can show an adequate education is occurring, even if that education is not legal, the neglect charges will be dropped. We rejoice with the Fischers at this vindication of their efforts to do what is best for their children.