Superintendent Richard Wallace of the Pittsburgh Public Schools was chastised by Federal District Judge Donald J. Lee for “flouting” the state's home-schooling law.
Wallace had issued orders to home-schooling families residing in “his” district, requiring their participation in the district's own testing program called Measuring Achievement in Pittsburgh (MAP). There are over a dozen MAP tests each year for each grade level. Wallace was the creator of the MAP tests.
Upon advice from HSLDA, several member families residing in Pittsburgh refused to succumb to Wallace's order to produce their children at the public schools for the MAP tests. These members were James and Karen Stobaugh, Mary Beddingfield, Alan and Laurie Koch, and John and Susan Robinson.
Wallace retaliated by issuing an order under Pennsylvania law that these families prepare a mid-year portfolio review which includes a review by a teacher employed by the parents at their own expense. HSLDA's Mike Farris wrote to Wallace, stating that if he did not withdraw his demand a civil rights suit would be filed in federal court. Wallace stuck to his position, and Farris filed suit.
Oral argument was held on the school district's motion to dismiss on September 6, 1990. It was clear to us that the judge was concerned that we had brought our suit prematurely. This concern led to the ultimate ruling by Judge Lee that our suit be dismissed for prematurity. The judge preferred that we wait until Wallace had taken the next step undermining the state law — revocation of our right to home school.
Even though the case was dismissed on this technical ground, the heart of the judge's ruling was a clear violation of Pennsylvania's home-schooling law. He held that families could not be required to participate in testing beyond the requirements of state law. He further stated that a superintendent could only invoke the mid-year portfolio review procedure based upon some affirmative information of wrongdoing; mere lack of information would not suffice.
Judge Lee wrote: “Though Wallace has arbitrarily chosen to flout state law, every violation of a state statute does not give rise to an infringement of constitutional rights.” Judge Lee then reasoned that Wallace would have to act to revoke a family’s right to home school before a federal civil rights action could be filed.
While we disagreed with the Judge's view on issue of prematurity, that was a sideline to the central issues in the case. Home schoolers were clearly victorious on the more important issues of whether we could be coerced into following a school district’s policy which imposed additional requirements beyond those set forth in the state law. Because of this important substantive victory, HSLDA has chosen not to appeal the technical issue.