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January 7, 2008

Homeschool Mom Exonerated of Compulsory Education Charges

On December 7, 2007, Utah Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Lindsley dismissed with prejudice the criminal charges brought against a Salt Lake County homeschool mom for failing to enroll her daughter in the local public school. After consultation with Home School Legal Defense Association attorneys Mike Donnelly and Jim Mason, attorney Frank D. Mylar, president of UTCH, filed the motion to dismiss that ended this case.

Though the mother had been properly notifying the school district for the past two years that she was homeschooling her 12-year-old daughter, she inadvertently delayed notifying for the 2006-2007 school year until February 2007. The district decided that failure to file the affidavit before the first day of the public school year was an automatic criminal violation of the state’s compulsory school attendance law. Yet Utah’s home education statute does not specify a filing deadline, requiring only that an affidavit be sent to the district “annually.”

When the district received the mother’s notification affidavit, it referred the matter for criminal charges, claiming that the mother failed to enroll her child in a public school, failed to cooperate with district officials, and failed to attend appointments and meetings. The district further demanded that the child be tested by school officials. Although the mother did refuse to have her child tested (testing is not required by Utah homeschool law), she never even heard from the district regarding any matter other than testing. After the mother filed her affidavit in February, the district granted the child an exemption certificate, as required by law. However, the district also referred the matter to the district attorney, claiming the mother had violated the compulsory attendance laws from September 2006 through February 9, 2007, when she filed her notice. The district attorney filed criminal charges and demanded that the child be tested, presenting the mother with the possibility of six months in jail and fines. With help from HSLDA and Frank Mylar, the mother filed a motion to dismiss, and the case is now closed.

According to Mylar, “this is a great victory for all homeschoolers in Utah and will hopefully send a message to district officials that they cannot intimidate homeschool families who may inadvertently file their notice affidavit after the public school year begins.”