After eight long years of litigation the DeJonge/Bennett case has finally been accepted by the Michigan Supreme Court. Acceptance of this case by the high court is significant because the Michigan Supreme Court only agrees to review approximately 8% of all the cases appealed from the lower courts.
Originally, DeJonge and Bennett were separate cases. In 1988, however, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered that the cases be combined.
The DeJonge case began in 1984. Mark and Chris DeJonge of Ingham, Michigan, home school because of their religious convictions. They believe God has given them, as parents, the authority to direct their children's education. They are religiously opposed to the teacher certification requirement in Michigan as a form of licensure. After they informed the school district that they were not certified to teach and were not using a certified teacher in their home school, the school district filed criminal truancy charges against them.
At their trial in 1986 HSLDA argued that Michigan’s teacher certification requirement is unconstitutional because it is not essential for children to be properly educated, nor is it the least restrictive means of fulfilling the state’s interest that children be educated. The trial court arbitrarily rejected HSLDA’s argument. Over the next seven years, HSLDA filed more than eight briefs in various courts, reiterating the position that the trial court decision needed to be reversed in order to protect the DeJonges’ free exercise rights which were being violated by the teacher certification requirement. Four briefs were filed in the Court of Appeals, and two have already been filed in the Michigan Supreme Court.
The Bennett case began in 1985. The trial court convicted John and Sandra Bennett of Canton, Michigan, of criminal truancy in spite of the fact that the Bennetts used a certified teacher in their home school program. The judge arbitrarily decided that the certified teacher did not have enough involvement in the home school. The judge stated that he didn’t know the level of involvement a certified teacher should have in a home school, but he did not think that contact once or twice a month was enough.
The Court of Appeals stated that since the level of involvement of the certified teacher was insufficient, the Bennetts’ program was not a proper nonpublic school and therefore, did not have the right to an administrative due process guaranteed by law. The purpose of the administrative review and appeal in the law is to enable a fact-finding body to determine if a nonpublic school is deficient in following the law’s requirements. This illogical reasoning by the Court of Appeals makes it impossible for any nonpublic school to exercise its right to a due process hearing if that school is suspected of not meeting one of several requirements applicable to nonpublic schools. The entire purpose of the administrative appeal and review is to make the determination of whether or not the school is deficient.
By God’s grace, the Michigan Supreme Court has chosen to accept the DeJonge/Bennett case for review. Four of the seven justices sitting on the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the free exercise rights of parents and administrators of a Christian pre-school. The decision found that the bachelor’s degree requirement from an accredited institution being imposed on all pre-school administrators was not essential nor the least restrictive means. In addition, there is a new justice on the high court who is yet to be tested and could possibly give the court a majority of five in favor of the DeJonges and the Bennetts. Finally, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the DeJonge/Bennett case back to the Court of Appeals about 18 months ago and requested a new ruling. This demonstrates their concern that the Court of Appeals’ decision might be wrong.
Ultimately the outcome of this case is in God’s hand. Please pray that the Michigan Supreme Court would act justly in this matter. Please pray for Mike Farris and Chris Klicka as they work on the brief to be submitted to the Michigan Supreme Court. In the meantime, we fully expect to be able to use the acceptance of the DeJonge case by the Michigan Supreme Court as an effective deterrent to school districts which attempt to prosecute home schoolers during the upcoming school year.