April 6, 2009

School District Drops Truancy Charges to Avoid Jury Trial

Kristin Warren (name changed to protect the family’s privacy) decided to withdraw her son from public school due to ongoing health problems. During the time that her son was enrolled in public school, Ms. Warren had communicated with school officials about his illnesses and also provided doctor’s notes for his absences. Nevertheless, when Ms. Warren told the public school she was planning to withdraw her son, the school threatened that if she began homeschooling him, they would have no choice but to “pursue the [truancy] matter.”

Concerned, Ms. Warren called Home School Legal Defense Association for help. HSLDA local counsel Dave Kallman met with the family, the truant officer, the court referee, and the prosecutor at the courthouse for a pre-trial hearing. Kallman filled out a required form and on it checked the box to request a jury trial. He then met with the prosecutor, referee, and truant officer to discuss the matter. Kallman explained that the family had sent an official withdrawal letter to the public school, had been legitimately homeschooling, and was already seeing positive changes in the son. Kallmman also explained the son’s health problems and assured the school that the absences were only due to illness.

Despite the prosecutor and referee’s interest in dropping the matter, because it was obviously not a true truancy case, the truant officer refused to give up. As the conversation turned to the next proceeding—a jury trial—the referee explained that because the school district had filed the truancy petition directly, without going through the prosecutor’s office, the school district would have to pay its attorney to prosecute the case. Because Kallman had requested a jury trial, everyone involved knew that the process would require a lot of time and expense. At this news, the truant officer began to hesitate, and he eventually decided it would be best to withdraw the petition.

After the discussion, Kallman rejoined the family to share the news that the school was dropping the truancy charges! In an expression of thanks to Kallman and HSLDA, Ms. Warren wrote, “To say I’m impressed would be an understatement, and I wanted to express my gratitude to your organization for putting the right person on the case… . Thank you and your organization for all the help you have given us.”