In a major victory for home school families, the Michigan Supreme Court voted 4-3 on May 25, 1993, to exempt families who home school due to their religious beliefs from the state requirement that students be taught by a state certified teacher. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in People v. DeJonge that the Michigan school officials failed to show that the teacher certification requirement was the least restrictive means of discharging the state's interest in seeing that children are educated. This ruling protects families that are home schooling for religious reasons, because the First Amendment says that the government can interfere with religious freedom only if the government has a compelling interest that is implemented in the least restrictive means.
“This is an important victory for home schooling and religious liberty, and it is the biggest victory that Home School Legal Defense Association and the home-schooling movement has ever won! It strikes at the core of the assault that the education establishment, especially the NEA, has waged against us. This is the first time in recent American history that a state supreme court has struck down the requirement that students be taught by state certified teachers,” said Michael Farris, president and founder of HSLDA. Mr. Farris represented the DeJonge family since the inception of this case eight years ago. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the DeJonge’s criminal conviction for teaching without a certified teacher.
David Kallman, the Michigan attorney who has helped HSLDA with this case, said that the other home school decision handed down at the same time by the Michigan Supreme Court may have even more practical significance. Kallman explained that the high court vacated the criminal conviction of the Bennett family, because the government did not first take the Bennetts through a lengthy administrative process outlined by state law before dragging them into criminal court. Kallman said that this ruling means that no home school family can be immediately taken to criminal court, but must first go through the administrative proceeding. This will make it very difficult for the government to prosecute home schoolers in Michigan, Kallman said.
Kallman praised the work of Michael Farris and Chris Klicka in fighting for the DeJonges, the Bennetts, and other home school families in Michigan. Kallman pointed out that this is a significant court win that can be taken to other states.
Farris explained that requiring certified teachers is not an effective way to promote excellent education of children. “Studies show that student achievement in school does not correlate to whether the teacher is certified or not. Motivated teachers who educate children in a one-on-one or small group setting, in an atmosphere of loving encouragement, is the environment where children thrive educationally,” Farris said.
Religious Exemption Denial Overturned
On April 26, 1993, Jon-Paul and Janet Dusan appeared before Judge Snoddy, the Chief Justice of the Cumberland County Circuit Court, to appeal their school board’s refusal to grant them a religious exemption for their home school. It was a clear and unqualified victory, for after hearing the arguments from both sides, Judge Snoddy ruled in the Dusans’ favor stating, it is “not the board’s duty to determine what is best for the Dusan children,” and that “it is not for us to say whether the Dusans’ beliefs are right or wrong.”
The Dusans, like all Virginia families who are home schooling for religious reasons, have an option under the law to obtain a religious exemption from all compulsory attendance requirements.
When Jon-Paul and Janet Dusan requested a religious exemption this year, they demonstrated their religious beliefs with letters from friends who vouched for the fact that they had bona fide and sincere religious beliefs. The family also submitted affidavits from pastors who met with the Dusans and found, in their expert opinion, that their beliefs were definitely religious.
However, at the beginning of the 1992/93 school year, the Cumberland County school board denied the Dusan family a religious exemption in a 2-1 vote. HSLDA appealed the school board's decision to the Cumberland County Circuit Court.
Attorneys Christopher Klicka and Jordan Lorence represented the family in circuit court on April 26. And by God’s grace, Judge Snoddy, ruled in the Dusans’ favor. He reversed the school board’s decision and ordered them to grant a religious exemption.
This circuit court decision in the Dusan case will have an immediate impact on religious exemptions for home-schooling families in Cumberland County and the surrounding counties where this circuit judge presides. Furthermore, it will be a helpful tool in convincing other school boards throughout the state to grant religious exemptions to home school families.