February 27, 2012

School District Drops Charges on Appeal

A school district near Erie, Pennsylvania, charged Mr. and Mrs. Douglas (names changed to protect privacy) with failure to comply with Pennsylvania’s home education law. Although Mrs. Douglas had submitted an affidavit during the summer, a school district official called her in September wondering where the family’s home education paperwork was. Mrs. Douglas explained that she had mailed it over a month earlier, and she mailed district officials another updated affidavit shortly after the telephone conversation.

Unfortunately, the school district decided to file truancy charges against Mr. and Mrs. Douglas. At the trial, the state presented its case, and Home School Legal Defense Association moved to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the state had not proved that the Douglases had been officially notified by certified mail of their need to comply with the law within three days. The judge agreed that Pennsylvania law requires this notice, but instead of dismissing the charges, he reopened the state’s case on his own initiative, postponed the rest of the hearing, and told the school district to come back with proof of notification.

At the next hearing, the school district was unable to provide proof that the family had been notified by certified mail as required by law. But the judge still found the family guilty of truancy, apparently concluding that regular mail was sufficient.

HSLDA appealed on behalf of the family and began preparing for a new trial in a higher court. But less than a week before the family’s new trial was scheduled to begin, we received a telephone call from the prosecutor stating that the school district was unwilling to proceed, and that he was dropping all charges. This means that Mr. and Mrs. Douglas’s conviction is vacated.

“Pennsylvania’s home education law is the most regulated in the country,” said HSLDA Staff Attorney Darren Jones. “But the school district can’t legitimately prosecute a family for not following the law when it doesn’t follow the law either.”