December 29, 2004

"17 Fs - Time to Homeschool and Get Summoned Into Court"

When her son brought home a report card with 17 Fs, Mary Crane (not real name) knew something had to change.

Her son should have been held back the previous year in school, but his teacher said he had to be moved to the third grade because of his age and height.

She told her son's teacher that she wanted to see real progress in one week or she would pull him out and homeschool him. She told the teacher that he would probably respond to encouragement, such as stickers and happy faces. The teacher said that she had twenty-three students in her class and was too busy to draw smiley faces on students' papers.

At the end of the week, her son was doing no better. She wrote a letter to the school guidance counselor stating that she was withdrawing her children and that they were going to start attending a private school (homeschools are considered private schools in Kansas). Mary registered her Kansas City-area home-based private school with the State Board of Education.

Two weeks later, Mary responded to a knock at her door and was shocked to find a social worker who wanted to come in and question her and her children. Mary declined the social worker's request and the social worker departed.

Vexed by this unwarranted harassment, Mary called the guidance counselor. He admitted he was behind it. His pitiful explanation was that he didn't like the way she wrote the letter withdrawing her children, so he called social services.

As if this indignity were not enough, two weeks later Mary and her husband received a summons to appear in District Court to answer a charge that their son was "in need of care" because of truancy. The judge appointed a "guardian ad litem", a person authorized to act as a substitute parent on any issues relating to that particular litigation. Guardians ad litem sometimes disregard what the child wants and advocate for their own personal vision of what is best for the child. Having the guardian ad litem on your side is helpful, but they are unpredictable.

HSLDA hired attorney and homeschool dad Kent Vincent of Topeka to represent this member family. On the morning of the court date, he showed the guardian ad litem a list of Mary's books, her schedule, an outline of her school program, and evidence she had registered her home-based private school. He was convinced.

The guardian ad litem met with the judge, and the judge announced he was throwing out the case. The prosecutor protested, saying he thought homeschooling would not "work" for this child.

The judge was unmoved. He said that the child's education is the parents' responsibility, and they can pick the type of education they believe is best for their child.

Sometimes children who appear to be failing in public schools thrive in the nurturing environment of a homeschool. The public school's black sheep may yet become the blue ribbon sheep. We are grateful the judge respected these parents' rights so they could give him a second chance.