Michigan lags behind the rest of the nation as the only state still attempting to impose a teacher certification requirement on home schoolers. But on June 17, 1991, a significant victory of home schoolers was achieved. It came in the form of a Motion to Dismiss which was granted by the St. Joseph County District Court in the People v. Pebler, File No. 91-0848-SM.
Charges against the Pebler family were based on the contention by the Michigan Department of Education that the Pebler family's home school was deficient because they had not submitted the “Nonpublic School Membership Report” and because they did not have a certified teacher as the full-time instructor. The fact that the Pebler family had voluntarily filed the Third Party Report with the state, showing they were using a certified teacher as a consultant, was entirely disregarded.
The first intimation that trouble was brewing came when the Pebler family received letters from the Intermediate School District superintendent and the local principal telling them that their home school was illegal and threatening prosecution. The family was then turned over to the Department of Social Services to investigate educational neglect. Furthermore, the family received at least a half dozen visits from various combinations of police officers, school officials, and social workers. The HSLDA legal staff spent hours talking to all of these different officials and sending them legal letters proving the legality of the Pebler's home school. By God's grace, the mother, Laurel Pebler, was strengthened to withstand this continual harassment.
St. Joseph County stubbornly insisted on following their anti-home-schooling crusade by filing three counts of criminal truancy charges against Laurel Pebler. To add further injury, she was not just summoned to appear in court, but was arrested, fingerprinted, and mug shots were taken. Negotiation with the prosecutor failed, and the case was set for a hearing on HSLDA's motion to dismiss. HSLDA secured local attorney Dave Kallman and filed a brief with the court.
On June 17, 1991, Attorney Chris Klicka met with the judge, prosecutor, and Mr. Kallman in the judge's chambers before arguing the case before the District Court. After the oral arguments the Court granted the Motion to Dismiss agreeing with Mr. Klicka's arguments.
The Court found that the Department of Education had not held an administrative hearing prior to the initiation of the criminal charges against Laurel Pebler. The Court further found that the compulsory attendance law, as applied, is vague and unclear as to what specifically constitutes a violation of that law and, therefore, Laurel Pebler was not given fair notice of what is legal and what is not legal. Finally, the Court found that Laurel Pebler was in compliance with the law without filing the “Nonpublic School Membership Report” form with the state.
After the close of the hearing, the prosecutor agreed that he would not pursue any more home-schooling cases and that Laurel Pebler’s record would be expunged. This is particularly important to several HSLDA families in St. Joseph’s County who were also being threatened with prosecution. The decision gives further support to HSLDA's position that the Department of Education cannot disapprove a home school by merely sending a letter alleging a deficiency to a local school district. (The Department has sent hundreds of such letters to school districts, causing most of the grief home schoolers are experiencing). Instead, the Department must go to the trouble of holding an administrative hearing for each home schooler!
This decision also supports HSLDA’s position that home schoolers do not have to file the “Nonpublic School Membership Report” (SM.4325) form with the state and that the compulsory attendance law is vague and basically unenforceable. If home schoolers who are contacted state that they have a college graduate or a certified teacher involved in their home school and that they teach comparable subjects to the public school, they are legal. There are no additional requirements for home schools.
Families are not required to state how many hours the certified teacher or college graduate is involved; nor must they have 180 days of instruction; nor are they required to teach science and social studies; nor do they need to be approved or registered with the Department of Education. Although the Department of Education or a local school district may try to impose these controls, such requirements are not based in law and are illegal.
This case will be very useful in negotiating the dismissal of the other case and persuading school districts in the future to refrain from harassing home schoolers.