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New York

January 5, 2010

HSLDA Achieves Return of Homeschooling Child to Family

What began as a simple misunderstanding between an Albany school district and Sherry Fleming (names changed to protect privacy) quickly escalated when the New York Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) removed her son Carson from her custody.

Ms. Fleming submitted her notice of intent and began homeschooling at the start of the 2011–2012 school year. In the state of New York, it is normal for weeks to pass between parents’ withdrawal of their child to homeschool and the school’s processing of their paperwork. In the meanwhile, some schools may record several weeks’ worth of unexcused absences.

While Ms. Fleming waited for the school to review her information, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) received an anonymous accusation, presumably from a schoolteacher, that Carson had unexcused absences from school. Blaming Ms. Fleming for refusing to cooperate with school officials, DCYF charged her with educational neglect. At her hearing, the judge, unfamiliar with New York’s homeschooling laws, refused to recognize that Ms. Fleming was in compliance with the law and ordered that Carson attend public school. But after Ms. Fleming visited the school officials the next day, they approved her homeschool and informed the court.

Because her homeschool program had been approved by the school district, Ms. Fleming thought that the neglect charges would be dropped and that she could focus on teaching her son. Outrageously, the judge refused to drop the charges, and, finding out that Carson had not been re-enrolled in public school, he ordered that Carson be taken from his mother and put into a foster home. After the DCYF removed Carson, Ms. Fleming called Home School Legal Defense Association.

HSLDA was proactive in making sure Carson was returned to be homeschooled by his mother. We appealed the judge’s order and represented her at her trial. Faced with convincing testimony contradicting the DCYF’s allegations, the DCYF backed down and dismissed all charges. Ms. Fleming regained custody of her son and continues to homeschool him.

Tj Schmidt, HSLDA’s contact attorney for the state of New York, recommends that parents who begin to homeschool “submit their documents to the school district as soon as possible. If they suspect the local school is continuing to log unexcused absences, they should contact HSLDA immediately to sort it out.”

Litigation Attorney Darren Jones agrees: “One of the problems that homeschoolers face in New York is that school districts are very quick to involve DCYF when there is even a minor dispute over paperwork. Don’t face these hassles on your own—join HSLDA so we can help.”