February 10, 2014

On the Case:

Invoking Religious Freedom Leads to Truancy Charge

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.

For years, an HSLDA member family claimed a religious exemption to Pennsylvania’s restrictive homeschool law because of their sincere beliefs. The school district annually requested the family’s portfolio and affidavit but, after HSLDA Senior Counsel Dewitt Black responded on the family’s behalf, never insisted on it.

In 2002 Pennsylvania passed the Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA). When several homeschoolers claimed a religious exemption to the homeschool statute under the RFPA, HSLDA represented them in court. HSLDA’s litigation on this issue is still continuing, and until the courts rule in favor of homeschool freedom, there is no recognized religious exemption option in Pennsylvania. (Check out “Charting Freedom’s Course” in the Court Report Volume XX, Number 6 for our report on the Newborn case.)

When our members recently moved to the Mahanoy Area School District, they contacted district officials with the same desire to continue homeschooling under a religious exemption. Although the school district has statutory authority to recognize the family’s religious exemption, it still required the family to submit an affidavit and a year-end portfolio.

Under Protest

HSLDA wrote the district defending the family’s desire to homeschool under the RFPA. The school district’s attorney responded, insisting that the family comply with the homeschool law. At HSLDA’s recommendation, the family submitted their affidavit under protest until litigation is completed in the other cases.

The school district then claimed that the homeschool children were truant from the time they moved into the school district until they submitted the homeschool affidavit. The family received truancy summons, and HSLDA’s litigation team prepared to defend them.

After HSLDA attorney Darren Jones notified the prosecutor that the district had not followed the law when filing charges against the family, he withdrew charges against the family. With the charges dropped by the court, the family was able to continue homeschooling while waiting for the outcome of HSLDA’s litigation on the RFPA.

Please pray for the success of our litigation at the Commonwealth Court, so that other families can receive the protection that the Pennsylvania General Assembly intended by passing the RFPA.