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Nebraska

February 13, 2012

HSLDA to Appeal Criminal Conviction for Homeschool Family

You will recall that on January 17, 2012, the state of Nebraska tried the Thacker family on charges of truancy under Nebraska’s new truancy laws.

When the Thackers moved to Nebraska last year, they discovered there was no deadline to start an exempt school. As first-time filers under Rule 13, the family decided to begin their school year mid-fall. Despite starting two months after the local public school began classes, the family’s proposed schedule left them more than sufficient time to meet the hourly instruction requirements of Nebraska’s compulsory attendance law.

Based on an anonymous report to authorities that the Thacker children were not in school, a sheriff’s deputy visited the Thacker’s home to investigate charges of truancy. In the course of the investigation, the deputy threatened to take the family’s children if they did not enroll them in public school immediately. The family contacted HSLDA, and we informed the official that the family was in compliance with the law and that it was unnecessary and unconstitutional to threaten them because they were homeschooling. Rather than dropping the case, the county’s prosecuting attorney decided to take it to trial.

HSLDA’s litigation team traveled to Nebraska to represent the family in their criminal prosecution. The judge agreed that the Thackers had not neglected their children’s education and could likely complete Nebraska’s instructional requirements before the end of the school year.

Despite these conclusions, however, the judge ultimately decided that the Thackers had violated the compulsory attendance law because they did not file their notice of intent to homeschool before the local public school began classes in August. Fortunately, the judge did not impose any fine or jail sentence on the Thackers.

While we praise God that the judge did not impose any criminal penalties on the Thackers, we are disappointed that the judge chose to convict the Thackers of a criminal misdemeanor. In addition, we believe that the judge’s decision is contrary to Nebraska’s laws governing exempt schools. This ruling is also inconsistent with the Department of Education’s guidelines in Rule 13, which states that parents are free to establish an exempt school at any time during the year, so long as they do so 30 days before the exempt school begins operations. In fact, the Nebraska Department of Education actually approved the Thackers’ exempt school prior to the trial, stating that they had complied with Rule 13.

This week, HSLDA will file an appeal, asking the district court to overturn the Thackers’ conviction and correct this misreading of Nebraska’s compulsory attendance statutes and regulations. We also intend to challenge the conviction on constitutional grounds as a violation of the Thackers’ due process rights to know beforehand that their actions were illegal.

The good news is that the trial judge’s decision does not affect the Thackers’ current ability to homeschool their children as we attempt to exonerate their actions. Please continue to pray for the Thackers, as this process has been difficult for them and their family.