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12/13/2002 2:47:56 PM
Home School Legal Defense Association
Massachusetts--Good News in Ware!

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From the HSLDA E-lert Service...
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December 13, 2002

Dear HSLDA Members and Friends,

It was standing room only at the Ware School Committee meeting in
Massachusetts last night, as dozens of concerned homeschool families
rallied to show their support for the embattled O'Brien family. The
meeting was a fine example of participatory democracy in action, and
our Founding Fathers would be proud of the way that homeschoolers
have taken up the torch of liberty. The meeting was a victory for
homeschoolers: the School Committee decided to avoid litigation by
opening their policy up for public review with the input of the
homeschool community.

The School Committee was visibly affected by the turnout, as elected
bodies tend to be. The local press was there to cover the event,
which raised the stakes even higher. The meeting began with an
"executive session" discussion of the O'Brien family's legal status.
This took place behind closed doors without any explanation to the
assembled public, which left the press and the homeschoolers
wondering what was going on. After nearly an hour of frank but
productive discussion, the Committee reconvened in open session to
discuss public business.

Out of concern for the crowd of patient homeschoolers, they moved the
homeschool items to the top of their agenda. One Committee member
started the discussion by offering just what the homeschoolers had
come to request: a public review of the policy that had created all
the problems. After a brief speech, he opened the floor for public
comment. In light of his positive tone of his opening, I was the
only person to speak on behalf of the homeschool community. He
thanked the Committee for being so receptive to the homeschoolers
concerns, and thanked the O'Brien's for having the courage to risk
their own safety to raise such important issues for public
discussion. Then he explained the reason for the conflict in Ware.

The fundamental conflict in this case boils down to a disagreement
about Massachusetts law. The school's attorney believes that
homeschoolers can be convicted in court simply because they have not
been "approved" by the Superintendent or School Committee. Behind
closed doors in executive session, I questioned the other attorney
very pointedly about this matter, even to the point of demanding to
know whether she had ever litigated a homeschool case. She had not,
and tried to cite cases from the 1950s for the proposition that an
"unapproved" homeschool was by definition illegal. Unfortunately for
her, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has been quite clear
that an unapproved homeschool program can still be legal. If a
school district refuses to approve a homeschool, the "burden shifts
to the school district" to prove that the homeschool is worse that
the public school. Since Ware is officially ranked in the bottom 20%
of Massachusetts school districts, and both of the O'Briens are
certified teachers, there is no doubt that this family could win if
their homeschool was challenged in court.

Fortunately for Ware's homeschooling parents and other taxpayers, the
School Committee has avoided the embarrassment and expense of taking
bad advice from their own lawyer. HSLDA thanks the families across
western Massachusetts who turned out to ensure "liberty and justice
for all" last night.

Very truly yours,

Scott Somerville
HSLDA Staff Attorney

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