Massachusetts Court Case Could Set Precedent on Home Visits
HSLDA has filed a federal lawsuit, challenging a Massachusetts school district’s requirement that all home schoolers submit to warrantless home visits by public school officials to observe their home schools.
The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on November 25, 1991, in U.S. District Court in Boston on behalf of Steve and Jeannie Pustell against the Lynn, Massachusetts, School District. The Lynn School Committee has insisted that the Pustell family and all other home schoolers agree to allow periodic home visits by school officials. HSLDA and the Pustells assert that the requirement of home inspections is unconstitutional, violating their rights of free exercise of religion, privacy, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Many school districts around the nation insist that home school families permit school officials to enter their homes to examine their home schools. South Dakota law requires home schoolers to open their homes for these visits. HSLDA contends that the Constitution does not permit these home visits.
“It is a chilling invasion of our constitutional freedoms to allow government agents unfettered access to our homes,” said Michael Farris, HSLDA president. “The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches of our homes without a warrant and probable cause. School officials cannot demand that parents routinely submit to warrantless intrusions into their homes in order to educate their children.”
The Lynn public school officials contend that home visits are necessary to evaluate properly the academic progress of all home school children in the district. The extreme nature of the school district’s requirement is demonstrated by the fact that both Mr. and Mrs. Pustell have Massachusetts state teaching certificates. In addition, the Pustells had agreed to allow their home-schooled daughter to be evaluated every year by a state-certified teacher selected by the parents. Still, the school district insists that the Pustells permit home visits.
At its regular meeting on November 21, 1991, the School Committee disapproved Mr. and Mrs. Pustell’s application to teach their daughter at home based solely upon the family’s unwillingness to agree to the home visits. Faced with the certainty of imminent legal action by the school district against them, the Pustells sought assistance from HSLDA and decided to initiate the federal court action to protect their right to direct the education of their daughter.
Because this case is the first major legal challenge to the practice of home visits, its impact could be significant. Many school districts and school officials outside of Massachusetts may be influenced by the court's decision on whether or not to permit home visits. “A win here could help us across the nation,” Farris said.