January 24, 2007

State Official Asks: ‘Are You Capable of Teaching Your Kids Trigonometry?’

Few homeschoolers have suffered the level of intimidation that the Pucketts of Camdenton, Missouri, recently experienced.

After a tipster called and said their kids were not in school, Donna and Gordie Puckett were told to attend a meeting with a juvenile officer. Home School Legal Defense Association Attorney Scott Woodruff helped them get ready for the meeting. If they were asked for anything beyond simply what the law required, he advised them to respond, “I’ll review that request with my attorney and get back to you.”

At the meeting, the juvenile officer and a social worker were present. The juvenile officer said she wanted to have the Pucketts’ children tested. She harangued the parents with, “Are you capable to teach them trigonometry?” When the Pucketts asked what the purpose was of this interrogation, the juvenile officer said, “We want to make sure they can function in public school if they ever have to go back to public school.”

Although the Pucketts brought with them abundant documentation of their homeschool program, the juvenile officer did not even glance it. She merely made a copy of the family’s logs and filed it away. The social worker said, “I’ll come do a home study and look at the other stuff.” There were ominous hints: “If you are not up to standards we might have to .... If we have to remove your children from their home for their own protection ..., etc. ”

The Pucketts reported all this to Attorney Woodruff who explained that none of these demands or threats had a lawful basis. Before taking further steps, he wrote and asked the juvenile officer to put in writing everything she wanted the family to do. Officials will sometimes make outrageous demands orally, but are far more cautious when committing their threats to writing—they know the permanent record will provide a means to hold them accountable. Bullies thrive only when there is no accountability.

After six weeks of silence, the juvenile officer called and told the family she was going to close the file. She never replied to Woodruff's letter. None of the threats or demands were ever fulfilled.

HSLDA is familiar with Camdenton, Missouri. We spent nearly three years defending the Fitzgerald family there after the Camdenton R-III School District tried to force their homeschooled child to be evaluated for special needs, ending in a resounding victory for the family in the Federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in early 2006.

 Other Resources

Eighth Circuit Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Homeschoolers

Camdenton R-III School District v. Mr. and Mrs. F