C O V E R S T O R Y
Alabama Case may set important Precedents
A Dothan, Alabama, mother's stand for the rights of her family may set favorable precedents in two important areas. Helene Richards, a separated mother of four children and member of HLSDA, is facing two separate legal challenges.
First, her home schooling has been challenged in a truancy prosecution. Like the vast majority of home schoolers in Alabama, Mrs. Richards home schools her children under the direction of a church-related school. The school district, however, takes the position that this form of education is not permissible. The Richards case, therefore, has the potential of establishing the legitimacy of the church-related school as umbrellas of protection and supervision for home educators in Alabama.
This fall Mrs. Richards was the subject of an anonymous tip to a child-abuse hotline. Her second legal challenge stems from her refusal to allow government social workers into her home for an inspection or interview with her children.
On January 30, 1992, HSLDA's Michael Farris appeared in court in Dothan for Mrs. Richards on both matters. HSLDA moved to dismiss the truancy charges based on the failure of the school district to provide the proper prior notice as required by state law. (The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that such a notice is mandatory as well.) The magistrate denied our motion. If this case is not dismissed on other grounds in the future, there is a strong likelihood that an appellate court will reverse this decision.
The bulk of the January 30 hearing focused upon the attempt of the government social workers to obtain a court order forcing Mrs. Richards to allow an inspection of her home and interviews with her children. On cross-examination the social worker admitted that the person who made the anonymous complaint did not claim to have personal knowledge of the family's situation. Therefore, a court order to invade the home was sought solely on the basis of anonymous and unconfirmed hearsay. The magistrate granted the requested order.
Farris and local attorney Don Bennett, who served as the juvenile judge in this same court for many years, immediately appealed the decision to the district judge. If the district judge affirms the magistrate's decision, the way will be cleared for an appeal which could set a national precedent on the limits of power social workers have to invade a family's home.