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May 31, 2016

Social Worker Prevents Family from Homeschooling

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Home School Legal Defense Association recently intervened on behalf of a new member family in New York’s Massapequa Union Free School District when the family’s decision to educate their sons at home was blocked by an overbearing social worker.

Tj Schmidt TJ SCHMIDT Contact attorney for New York

Because of their struggles with chronic illness, the family’s two teenage sons had been receiving “homebound instruction” through their school district since the fall of 2015. (Homebound instruction is a service for public school students who are unable to attend school because of special circumstances, such as a medical condition.)

Even with this special accommodation, however, both sons’ illnesses caused them to miss some of their homebound instruction appointments. Because of these missed appointments, the school district contacted Child Protective Services in December and accused the parents of educational neglect—even though the district was familiar with the boys’ medical circumstances and had received medical documentation from the boys’ physicians. The case was closed in March.

In the meantime, after months of working with medical providers to determine the cause of the boys’ illnesses, the family received a diagnosis in December and began to investigate appropriate treatment.

More Allegations

To add to the family’s stress of seeking treatment for their sons, the school district filed another complaint with CPS in April, again alleging educational neglect. The school district had refused to accept notes from the boys’ doctor and nurse practitioner because these medical providers were from other states.

In light of their sons’ need to continue their education in a non-adversarial environment while undergoing treatment for their illnesses, the family decided to pursue homeschooling. HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt advised the family on how to navigate the homeschooling notification process with the school district and how to communicate with their CPS caseworker about their decision to homeschool. The family carefully followed Schmidt’s guidance, submitting their letters of intent to the school district and their letters of withdrawal to their sons’ schools.

Although the family had done all that was required to begin homeschooling their sons, and they were cooperating with social services to resolve their case, the family’s caseworker insisted that they could not begin homeschooling their sons until the family’s individualized home instruction plan (IHIP) was submitted and approved by the school district. Intimidated by the caseworker, the school district agreed and required the family to continue to receive homebound instruction until the family’s IHIP had been submitted and approved.

Schmidt contacted the family’s caseworker and informed her that her demand contradicted New York homeschool law, which allows a parent to begin homeschooling immediately after withdrawing his or her child from public school. Schmidt pointed out that parents have two weeks from when they begin homeschooling to submit a notice of intent to the school district, after which the school district has 10 days to respond with a copy of the homeschool regulations and a form for the IHIP. The caseworker, however, stubbornly refused to change her position and prevented the family from beginning to homeschool.

Knowing that the caseworker had no authority to make such a decision, Schmidt contacted the school district’s attorney and explained the family’s situation. The attorney agreed with Schmidt that there was no requirement that the family continue homebound instruction, and that they could begin homeschooling. She only requested that the family inform the school district in writing that they no longer required homebound instruction.

With this clarification of the law from the school district’s own attorney, Schmidt expects the situation to be fully resolved in the family’s favor.

This case is just one recent example of the frequent instances where a social worker unfamiliar with a state’s homeschool law makes demands of a homeschooling family he or she has no authority to make. Please contact your HSLDA staff attorney immediately if you are in such a situation.

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HSLDA Social Services Contact Policy

We desire to advise our members in every contact with a social worker and/or police officer in investigations resulting from allegations of abuse or neglect. If homeschooling is an issue, we will represent our member families until the issue is resolved. On Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure issues, HSLDA will advise our members whenever the privacy of their home is violated by forced or coerced entry for the purpose of an unsubstantiated investigation. HSLDA membership benefits do not extend to court actions resulting from non-homeschooling matters. However, in circumstances where there is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, HSLDA may, as we have done in the past, choose to take the case in an effort to establish legal precedent.