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March 2, 2006

Eighth Circuit Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Homeschoolers

A federal appeals court ruled unanimously in favor of Home School Legal Defense Association members Ron and Joann Fitzgerald on Wednesday and held that school districts may not force homeschooled children to submit to special-needs evaluations against their parents' wishes.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which includes Missouri where the Fitzgeralds reside, held that the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act does not give public schools jurisdiction over homeschooled children who may have special needs. "Where a home-schooled child's parents refuse consent [for an evaluation], privately educate the child, and expressly waive all benefits under the IDEA, an evaluation would have no purpose. . . . [A] district may not force an evaluation under the circumstances in this case."

As reported in the January/February 2005 Court Report, HSLDA has been defending the Fitzgerald family's right to privacy for almost three years. The Fitzgeralds had withdrawn their son, Sean*, from public school after years of disagreement with the school over the provision of special education services. When they started homeschooling Sean, they had his special needs privately evaluated, and they decided to obtain private special education services for him.

The school district, however, demanded that the parents permit a public school evaluation for special needs, even though it admitted that it could not force the family to accept any actual services from the public school. An administrative panel agreed with the school district and ordered the family to submit to the evaluation. HSLDA appealed to the federal district court, which agreed with the school district. The Eighth Circuit reversed these decisions.

"This victory is going to help homeschooling families all over the country," said HSLDA litigation counsel James R. Mason III, who argued the case in the Eighth Circuit. "The court recognized that homeschooling parents may provide for the special needs of their children without undue interference from meddling school officials."

HSLDA is representing another member family in New York where a public school district seeks to evaluate their child.

* Name changed to protect family's privacy.