HSLDA Media Release
June 5, 2001

Kentucky teen free at last to pursue home schooling

For immediate release
June 5, 2001
Contact: Rich Jefferson
(540) 338-8663 or media@hslda.org

LOGAN COUNTY, KY—A state appeals court has ruled that a Kentucky teenager was not habitually truant earlier this year, and she may return to home schooling. The opinion reverses a juvenile court judge who is hostile to home educators.

The appeals court also said the parents had not forfeited their "fundamental right to make decisions" about their child's education, contrary to the assumptions underlying the ruling of the lower court judge, Sue Carol Browning.

Sarah D, a Kentucky teenager, started home schooling last fall after ill health made it too difficult to attend public school. Despite her home schooling program, Browning concluded that Sarah was guilty of truancy and ordered her to attend public school until she turned 18.

In December Browning also issued a pick up order for Sarah, and an arrest warrant for Sarah's mother, Mrs. D, for contempt of court. The appeals court lifted the arrest warrant and the pick up order.

Besides misunderstanding the parental right to direct the education of their children, the trial court committed a serious technical error, explained Tyler L. Gill, the appellate judge in Kentucky's 7th Judicial Circuit who wrote the opinion. The trial court should have dismissed Sarah D's case because proper notification procedures were not followed by the school district. The appellate court interpreted Kentucky law to say that habitual truancy prosecutions are allowed only after the parents are notified three times of unexcused absences.

But the technical issue was not the worst thing the trial court did. Gill wrote: "Regardless of the problems mentioned above, this case turns upon ... whether the conduct of a child in being truant from school, without any showing of misconduct on the part of the parents, triggers a forfeiture of the parents fundamental right to make decisions concerning their child's education - to the State."

Gill answered this emphatically: "Absent a showing of some form of misconduct on behalf of the parent, this fundamental parental right should not be confiscated by the State because a status offense was committed by the child.... parents are in a better position to make decisions concerning their children than the courts."

David Gordon, the attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association who litigated the case, said the trial court was determined to recapture Sarah for the public school system. "We are grateful that the appeal court recognized the juvenile judge's abuse of parental rights and restored the authority of Mr. And Mrs. D over their own daughter."

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More information on the In Re Sarah D case