School districts throughout Massachusetts have tried to impose severe restrictions on home schoolers. In fact, one district—in order to demonstrate who was really in charge—took a family to court.
The Searles family in Amesbury decided to home school their child based on their religious convictions. They notified the school district during the third week of August, providing information in the four areas required by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Care and Protection of Charles, 504 N.E.2d 592 (1987). Those four areas are (1) qualifications of parents, (2) types of subjects taught, (3) sample weekly schedule, and (4) type of evaluation they would have done at the end of the year.
The Searles received a call from the school district, demanding that they immediately place their child in the public school while the information was under review. The family explained that they could not place the child in public school because that would violate their convictions. The school district official responded by threatening charges. Attorney Chris Klicka then called the school district, telling them that the family had submitted the required information and was, therefore, in compliance with the law. He reminded the official that home schooling is a right, not a privilege.
The next day the principal contacted the family, reiterating the demand that their child be placed in public school by the following day or they would charged. Later in the day, a local police officer came by and threatened that the child would be forcibly removed from the home if she were not in school by the following day.
The Searles called Attorney Klicka, and in the meantime there was another knock on the door. This time a probation officer was visiting to warn the family of the consequences of their action. The Searles handed the phone to the officer. Mr. Klicka told him the family was in compliance with the law and that they did not have to place their child in public school. The probation officer retracted the threat to forcibly remove the child but continued to insist that it was in the child's “best interest” to be in public school.
Attorney Klicka explained that the child’s educational program would be disrupted by such a move and that an education was already taking place in the home. Klicka also told the officer that he should postpone any charges for a few days because the family already had a meeting set up with the superintendent to answer any further questions. Instead of waiting, the probation officer expedited the process, and the family received charges at the end of the day, requiring their appearance in court in two days.
HSLDA secured Attorney David Chamberlain of Dracut to appear for the family, and Chris Klicka strategized with him for the hearing. God worked a miracle by having a substitute judge on the bench who was sympathetic to the Searles. The judge ruled in favor of the family, stating that the child did not have to be in public school while their home school program was being considered. The judge found that the family and the school district would be “best served if they proceeded expeditiously in a serious effort to resolve the matter by agreement.” In the Matter of Johnna M. Searles, No. 9037CH0017, District Court of the Amesbury Division, September 4, 1989. The Judge also emphasized that if the home school program was disapproved by the school district, the burden shifts to the school district to prove that the home instruction program is inadequate.
The family met twice with school district officials who wanted regular home visits, testing in the public schools, and meetings eight times a year with a public school official in order to analyze the child's work and progress. In addition, the school district wanted to review the mother's high school transcripts because they doubted her qualifications. The family refused the monitoring and offered four quarterly progress reports primarily composed of dated work samples.
The school district disapproved the family and set a court hearing date. Attorney Chamberlain represented the family at the hearing, explaining that at least two days were needed for a trial and that out-of-state counsel from HSLDA would be present. The judge did not seem to favor the school district and gave the Searles two weeks to submit more information to him on the constitutional issues. During those two weeks Attorney Klicka negotiated at length with the school district’s attorneys and by God's grace convinced them to waive all requirements and accept the family’s voluntary offer of four quarterly reports with no meetings, home visits, testing, or submission of transcripts. As a result the case was dismissed, and the Searles are freely home schooling.
HSLDA gives God the glory for the resolution of this conflict. With state interference like was attempted here, it is no wonder that some home schoolers who try to abide by such illegal requirements “burn out” within a year or two and eventually stop home schooling.
Jehovah-Nissi: “The Lord is my Conqueror”
We, the Searles family, know this personally. We want to thank each one of you out there for all your heartfelt prayers and support. God truly is on our side no matter what curve ball the enemy throws at us. Each one of you has made the difference, and we couldn’t have won without you.
Together we can make a difference because the battle is the Lord’s. The enemy is already defeated by Jesus, our victorious King. So be encouraged to go on and make a stand for the Lord because He is on our side. Learn to control the enemy in your life, and don’t let him control you.
Thank you again, each one of you, for standing by us. There is power in unity.
Growing in Him,
Nate, Kathy, Johnna, Nathan, & Kimberly Searles