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June 6, 2012

On the Case:

Misplaced Reports Lead to Court


Senior Counsel Jim Mason is a member of HSLDA’s litigation team. He and his wife homeschool. Read more >>

Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt answers questions and assists members with legal issues in New York. He and his wife homeschool. Read more >>

By mistake, the Trinells’ (names changed to protect privacy) homeschool reports were not delivered to the superintendent of the local school district. But it wasn’t the school that contacted the homeschooling family who are members of HSLDA. Instead, Social Services opened an investigation and brought the Trinells to court for educational neglect.

When a New York school district considers a child to be truant, instead of dealing with the issue by the state’s truancy law, the district usually notifies Social Services, who inevitably investigates the child’s parents for educational neglect. While some school districts make attempts to contact the family before calling Child Protective Services, others automatically report families.

Homeschoolers such as the Trinell family can find themselves caught in the crossfire of the New York school districts’ practice. As required by law, Stefani Trinell submitted the Individualized Home Education Plan (IHIP) for each of her homeschooled sons at the beginning of the school year. Every quarter, she faxed the required attendance and summary reports to the school. Unfortunately, she was faxing the reports to the wrong extension, so the documents were being sent to another office at the school, not the superintendent’s office. Evidently, no one delivered the reports to the superintendent. But because no one from the school ever contacted Mrs. Trinell, she assumed the superintendent was receiving her reports.

Unknown to the Trinells, the school contacted Social Services and claimed that the Trinell children were truant. CPS investigators surprised the family with a visit and opened an investigation into educational neglect. Mrs. Trinell immediately called HSLDA. We compiled copies of Mrs. Trinell’s submitted IHIP and quarterly reports and delivered them to the district superintendent. We also submitted a copy of the paperwork to the Social Services investigator. Because Mrs. Trinell had filled out the paperwork and simply made a mistake in delivering the reports, we hoped that the investigation would be quickly closed.

Normally, Social Services would close an investigation after receiving evidence that a family was homeschooling in compliance with the state law. In this instance, they decided to open a court case against the family. HSLDA represented the Trinells at their first and second hearing. After explaining the situation, and producing additional evidence to the court, the judge finally dismissed the case against the Trinells. The Trinells are now able to focus on what they do best—educating and raising their sons.