March 18, 2009

District Claims It Can ‘Take Better Care’ of Kids at School

For nearly two years, single mother Heather Plano (name changed to protect privacy) had juggled her children’s illnesses and medical care along with their public school attendance and homework. Having one child with a severe blood disorder and immune system problems, Heather finally decided that homeschooling would be better, not only for his health but also for his academics, as he would not miss classes due to illness.

Just before Christmas in 2008, Heather officially withdrew her son from public school and began homeschooling. On January 5, the LaSalle County truant officer called Heather to inform her of a meeting that had been called about her children’s “situation” and to avoid court action. Heather, her sons, and several school officials attended the meeting, during which they accused Heather of improper motives for homeschooling. The school also had a reporter document the meeting but refused to provide Heather with a copy of the notes for her records. Ultimately, Heather was told that if she did not re-enroll her son in public school, the truant officer would file for educational neglect with the state's attorney.

A few days later, unsure of what else to do, Heather put her son back into public school. Unfortunately, the boys continued to struggle with illnesses—even visiting the emergency room—but when Heather spoke with the principal about their absences, he told her he was “tired of your games” and that he could “take better care of the kids at school.”

As a last resort, Heather contacted HSLDA for assistance. A legal assistant helped her to withdraw both boys from public school to homeschool, while Senior Counsel Chris Klicka wrote a letter to the principal and assistant superintendent on her behalf. He explained Heather’s fundamental and legal right to choose her children’s method of education and verified that she was in full compliance with Illinois homeschool law. Furthermore, he included multiple notes (which the school had already received) from doctors and healthcare providers explaining the ongoing health problems and excusing the children from school attendance.

When the principal received the letter, he called Klicka. It appeared that the matter was resolved.

However, the truant officer refused to give up. On February 24, she visited the family home unannounced, asking to review the boys’ schoolbooks. She left after commenting that she did not think Heather’s teaching was “good enough.” Two days later, she called Heather and told her to bring all of her homeschooling supplies and the boys’ work to the superintendent’s office for review. The appointment was scheduled in March.

Heather again sought HSLDA’s help. Klicka called the truant officer to cancel the appointment, but she resisted. When he refused to give way and explained Heather’s right to homeschool without interference, the officer backed down and cancelled the appointment.

This three-month saga is finally over for the Plano family.