The Washington Times
September 28, 1999

Government intervenes too often in family life

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
September 28, 1999

Neither the academic success nor the increasing popularity of home-schooling has deterred government officials from taking an incredibly aggressive approach at the beginning of this school year.

The Levittown, N.Y., school district reported the names of many home schoolers-including many who had complied fully with the burdensome paperwork requirements of New York law-to Nassau County Department of Social Services. In turn, the department mailed letters to the home-schooling families, advising them that they were being investigated for child abuse.

New York isn’t the only place that officials don’t seem to understand what constitutes child abuse. In Hickory, N.C., a 2-year-old girl slipped outside her family home about 7 a.m., apparently while searching for her pet cat. She had been alone in the yard for about four minutes when her older brother discovered his sister had acted with the typical 2-year-old’s lack of inhibition—she was naked at the time—and brought her back inside. She never left the family’s property. She was not in the street. But, social services workers insisted on coming into the family’s home and interrogating this little girl concerning the incident.

It makes me wonder whether these social services workers have ever had a 2-year-old. They improperly assume that a parent is neglectful if a 2-year-old wanders and that they can get reliable information from a child this age.

To test this, I asked my 10th child, Peter, who is 2, if he remembered wandering outside naked chasing his kitty cat a few days earlier. Peter said, yes, even though we have no cat, and he has never wandered outside naked. I asked him if his daddy and mommy failed to watch him that morning. He said, “OK” and started jumping across the kitchen floor, kangaroo-style.

In Edgemont, S.D., Paul and Debbie Nabholz were arrested, photographed, fingerprinted, booked, and then released. For what, you ask? For failing to give copies of their children’s birth certificates to the school district. State law requires the parents to give a copy of a child’s birth certificate to the child’s school. Private schools keep the certificates for their students. In South Dakota, home schools are considered private schools and the Nabholzes believe they are in compliance with the law because they operate the child’s school. I can understand a legal dispute over this issue, but arresting parents for it is the worst case of overkill I have seen in more than 17 years of defending home schoolers.

The superintendent in Watertown, S.D., wins an award for presumptuousness. Even though he has no authority under state law to subjectively evaluate the teaching ability of parents, he rejected one mother’s application before she even filed it! He said, “I know her—she can’t teach.”

We are familiar with the classic fable of the man who murdered his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan.

West Virginia’s Paw Paw Public Schools system seems to have adapted this lesson to its own use. Sharon Fravel withdrew her son from the public school on April 28 because he was simply not making suitable academic progress. He took a standardized achievement test on April 16-before to beginning home-schooling-and scored very low.

Even though his years of public schooling are the reason for his low scores, the school district has demanded that the boy return to the public schools for remedial education. But why? It was public school instruction that failed.

The Vermont Department of Education is frustrating many families this year by refusing to approve academic programs deemed acceptable in previous years.

As you can see, at the Home School Legal Defense Association, we have our hands full. And there are other stories I could tell. If our experience is any indicator, many of these situations will be resolved when higher officials with cooler heads respond to our intervention on behalf of the families. But some of these cases will end up in court. I guarantee it. The association will sue some of these officials for civil rights violations.

It looks like an exciting school year ahead. I’ll keep you posted.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and president of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

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