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October 30, 2007

Homeschooler Told by Police ‘You Have No Rights’

In September 2007, a single homeschool mother and her two elementary age children left their Florida home to go to New York to visit her father, who was recovering from triple bypass surgery.

Mrs. Denard (name changed to protect family’s privacy) was able to teach her children in her father’s apartment while assisting him with his recovery.

Everything was going well until, unfortunately, a neighbor made an anonymous tip to the Department of Human Services. A social worker came to the apartment and left a card when she could not reach the Denard family. Mrs. Denard dutifully called the social worker, who said she would return the next day to investigate allegations that the children were not in school.

In the meantime, Mrs. Denard contacted Home School Legal Defense Association and talked with Attorney Tj Schmidt. He said that the easiest way to clear up the case would be for Mrs. Denard to get the notice of intent that she filed faxed to her so that she could show compliance with Florida homeschool law.

When the social worker came to the apartment the next day Mrs. Denard, aware of her Fourth Amendment rights, opened the door while keeping the chain on, and handed the Florida Notice to Homeschool to the social worker. Mrs. Denard also explained that she was just visiting for a few weeks to nurse her father back to health.

The social worker’s response was very aggressive. She demanded entry into the apartment to “strip search” the children to see if they had any bruises. She shoved the papers back to Mrs. Denard, exclaimed she did not want them, and demanded entry into the apartment. The mother steadfastly refused, even though she was shaking and scared to death.

The social worker then called the police, who came to the scene and also demanded entry. When Mrs. Denard explained through the chained door that she had certain rights under the Fourth Amendment, they told her “You have no rights!” They furthermore said that if she did not let them in, she would be guilty of “obstructing justice” and a total of three felonies. In the meantime, Mrs. Denard was trying to call on HSLDA’s emergency line.

Attorney Chris Klicka was on call while traveling in another state. He advised Mrs. Denard that she was doing everything correctly and asked her to hand the phone out the door, but the police had left, departing with a threat that she would be charged with felonies the next day. Chris Klicka immediately called the social worker’s cell phone and explained that the mother and her two children were residents of Florida, that she had the paperwork to prove they were in compliance with Florida’s homeschool law and that there was no need for this aggressive behavior.

The social worker did not like the answer and indicated that the family would be going to court the next day. When Klicka asked to talk to her supervisor or to her lawyer, she said she would have her lawyer call him and that “we have a big legal department.”

The next morning, the social services lawyer called Klicka to say he was going to the courthouse to file educational neglect charges against the family. When Klicka quickly explained that the family members were residents of Florida and just visiting New York, she slowed down. When he also told her the mother had offered a copy of their Florida Notice of Intent to the social worker—she stopped and said, “Let me ask the social worker. She is right here.” The social worker denied it. The lawyer then explained that if she could get proof of compliance with Florida homeschool law, she may not need to file this case. Meanwhile, the mother had returned to Florida with concern that she would be pursued there.

After receiving evidence that the family was complying with the Florida Homeschool Statute, the charges were never filed and the case was not pursued, as the prosecutor agreed to drop it.

We are thankful to God for this outcome.

HSLDA Social Services Contact Policy

We desire to advise our members in every contact with a social worker and/or police officer in investigations resulting from allegations of abuse or neglect. If homeschooling is an issue, we will represent our member families until the issue is resolved. On Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure issues, HSLDA will advise our members whenever the privacy of their home is violated by forced or coerced entry for the purpose of an unsubstantiated investigation. HSLDA membership benefits do not extend to court actions resulting from non-homeschooling matters. However, in circumstances where there is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, HSLDA may, as we have done in the past, choose to take the case in an effort to establish legal precedent.