November 5, 2012

On the Case:

Looking out for the Least of These

Staff Attorney Darren Jones is a member of HSLDA’s litigation team, which helps homeschool families who are facing legal challenges. He and his wife homeschool.

In September 2012, Dan and Jenny Altario (names changed to protect privacy) received a notice that the cash aid they received from the Family Independence Program, FIP, had been canceled. They were allegedly not eligible for FIP benefits “due to non-cooperation with school attendance requirements.”

Members with Home School Legal Defense Association, the Altarios homeschool their 8-year-old son Cody with an extensive fourth grade curriculum and rely on the FIP benefits during their difficult economic circumstances.

Interestingly, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recognizes homeschooling as a legitimate educational option for families. The Department was not discriminating against families who chose to homeschool. Rather, the agency had recently updated their policy on the evidence they needed to verify that a student was homeschooling—a positive change—but they had neglected to communicate the new policy to homeschool families.

Without notifying the Altario family on the changes, they automatically canceled the benefits. The Altarios contacted HSLDA.

Hoping to avoid the hassle of an administrative hearing, Litigation Attorney Darren Jones responded directly to the Department of Health and Human Services. He verified that the Altarios were legally homeschooling and explained that homeschoolers have the option under Michigan law to not register their homeschool program. The family voluntarily submitted a curriculum list proving that Cody was studying the required subjects. Within days of receiving our letter the department restored FIP aid to the Altario family.

Attorney Jones explained that HSLDA’s role in restoring the benefits was important, not only for the Altario family, but also to assist the Department of Health and Human Services in understanding Michigan homeschool law. “The agency had just changed the verification policy a week before canceling the benefits. Without HSLDA’s intervention, this family wouldn't have had the ability to continue receiving FIP aid.”