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Nebraska

December 1, 2011

Homeschool Families Face Criminal Charges

New truancy enforcement laws have sparked criminal charges against several homeschool families in Nebraska. A Dawson County Sheriff’s deputy actually threatened to remove one family’s children unless they enrolled them in public school.

The family had recently moved from another state to Nebraska. Believing that Nebraska regulations permitted them to select their own school year without regard to the public school calendar, they had not filed their exemption paperwork.

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly called the deputy, and he agreed that it would be inappropriate to remove the children under the circumstances. However, the county prosecutor was unwilling to drop criminal charges, and the family received a formal summons to appear in court. HSLDA is working with local counsel Amber Ackerson to represent the family. So far, other contacts from homeschool families have been resolved without court appearances.

The new laws, which passed in 2010, have received significant media attention and criticism. The law shifts responsibility for making decisions about school absences from schools to the legal system. School districts must now report to their county attorney if a student misses more than 20 days of school in an academic year—even if some of those absences were excused.

The Omaha World Herald reports parental opposition.

“At what point are families no longer free to govern themselves?” asked Stephanie Morgan, a Millard parent and leader of the Nebraska Family Policy forum. “I don’t think [the government] should be intervening so often and so readily.”

Critics often cite an increase in government intervention in cases where children have been unable to attend school due to chronic illnesses. State Senator Tony Fulton reportedly said that the law should be amended because, “We are criminalizing good parents to get after bad parents.” HSLDA agrees with Senator Fulton that parents—not the state—are in the best position to determine what is in the best interests of their children.

These situations show how a law that was not intended to affect homeschoolers can nevertheless affect them. Thus, it is essential that vigilance be exercised and that homeschoolers are prepared to defend themselves both in the legislature and in court.