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February 7, 2017

School Wrongly Throws Family into DCF Investigation

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A troubling pattern of homeschool paperwork cases being referred to social services led to one family being subjected to an intrusive home visit—nearly twice.

Mike Donnelly MIKE DONNELLY Contact attorney for Massachusetts

One recent afternoon I took a call from a Home School Legal Defense Association member who had a Department of Children and Families (DCF) worker at her home investigating alleged educational neglect. The member had already given permission for something we generally advise against: she had allowed the DCF worker to speak with her children individually and without their mother being present.

When I spoke with the caseworker, she assured me she had no concerns about the children’s safety and that the report had been made simply because the family had not yet submitted a homeschool notification.

The mother, who had been preparing to file her notice, had started her family’s school year later than the public school start date and had simply gotten into a different pattern of paperwork submission.

Even though there is no deadline for submitting the annual notification, local public school officials did not like this situation and referred the matter to DCF.

Disturbing Pattern

This is a pattern I have witnessed in Massachusetts and one that is a cause for increasing concern. It is wrong for schools to refer disputes over homeschooling to DCF. Massachusetts law is quite clear that it is the responsibility of the local school district to manage the state’s relationships with homeschool families. That school districts are so quick to call in DCF and its highly intrusive, one-size-fits-all investigative approach isappalling.

In this case, I helped our member complete and submit her homeschool notification to the school district. I then sent a follow-up letter to the DCF worker explaining that the homeschool paperwork had been submitted and the school board planned to issue the approval letter at its next meeting.

When I next spoke with the DCF worker, however, her attitude was combative and intrusive. She insisted that she needed to visit the family’s home—again—or she would keep the case open. She told me that she had to complete her entire investigation “because the kids are not visible within the community.”

Defending Rights

I politely informed the worker that the allegations had nothing to do with the family’s home, and that since the worker had seen and spoken with the children and had no concerns about their safety, our member was well within her rights to decline any further unwarranted invasion of privacy.

The DCF worker became agitated trying to express her reasons for continuing the investigation. Eventually she got frustrated, told me that the “conversation is over,” and abruptly hung up.

I try to be understanding of public officials doing their job. DCF workers are trained to investigate, but regrettably they are not always properly trained in protecting and respecting the rights of citizens.

I sent another letter to the DCF worker reminding her that choosing to substantiate a concern despite the children’s demonstrated safety would be inappropriate and that HSLDA was prepared to defend our member’s constitutional rights to whatever extent necessary.

The DCF worker’s response was a condescending message that she had received my letter but didn’t read it.

The next communication I received from the department came a few weeks later in the form of a letter stating that the allegation had been closed as unsupported.

Should your family ever encounter a caseworker investigating allegations against you, we urge you to contact HSLDA right away. We try very hard to professionally and politely communicate to public officials the decisions of our members and to resolve disputes like this one as amicably as possible.