In this era of big government, home schoolers have sorely felt the government's pernicious clutch on the home in the area of child welfare. Government officials-social workers, police officers, public school officials-have somehow been duped to believe that they, not parents, are responsible for the care and well-being of the children of America. In countless incidents across the country, these self-proclaimed "child savers" have spurned the United States Constitution, illegally and painfully reaching their tentacles into the homes of innocent families. Though Home School Legal Defense Association has long told its members that these officials may not enter your premises without a court order or search warrant, investigators come undaunted by the law.
The Calabrettas look like many other American home schooling families. Robert Calabretta has a masters degree in mathematics and works as an engineer at Rockwell Institute in Sacramento, California. Shirley Calabretta has a bachelor's degree in art and does some freelance work out of their home. They have five well-mannered and attractive children, ranging in age from 12 years to nine months. They serve the Lord in a local church and get along with their neighbors. But on November 10, 1994, a social worker and uniformed police officer turned their world upside down by coercing entry into the home to investigate a report of alleged child abuse.
Shirley Calabretta received no warning prior to social worker Jill Floyd's arrival at her home on October 31, 1994. Floyd demanded entry, explaining only that she needed to question the children about "a report," and that she must interview them "alone." Floyd insistingly said, "I have a legal right to enter your home and will go get a police officer to prove it," threatening to write in her report that Mrs. Calabretta was "uncooperative." Mrs. Calabretta, acquainted with her rights, stood her ground and refused to permit Floyd entry. Floyd stormed away, leaving Mrs. Calabretta and her children frightened and confused. Mrs. Calabretta promptly contacted HSLDA, and was reaffirmed and advised that she had acted responsibly and lawfully.
Ten days later, at about 3:00 in the afternoon, Jill Floyd once again appeared unannounced and uninvited. But this time, as promised, she was accompanied by a police escort. "We need to come in so [Floyd] can question the children," the officer said. Mrs. Calabretta was ready and responded properly with "Do you have a search warrant? My husband and my lawyer said you cannot enter without a search warrant."
"No, we don't need a search warrant," the officer replied. "The law does not require a search warrant. You have to open the door and let us come in."
"I am being accused of something. I have the right to know what it is I am being accused of."
The social worker responded this time. "I can't tell you until you let me talk to the children."
"I need to call my lawyer," protested Mrs. Calabretta. But the officer was determined to enter and announced, "No, we are not going to let you do that. The longer you wait to open this door, the more we suspect you."
"Suspect me of what?" asked Mrs. Calabretta, trying to get some clue as to what this inquiry was all about.
"We'll tell you after I talk to the children," explained Floyd.
"Open the door now," demanded the officer. "We're not going to wait out here all day!"
It was obvious to Mrs. Calabretta that further conversation would be fruitless, and she feared that the officer was going to break down the door if she continued to refuse entry. After Mrs. Calabretta opened the door, her 12-year-old daughter was whisked into a separate room for interrogation by the social worker. Mrs. Calabretta called HSLDA's emergency line, but left the wrong area code in her panic. The officer advised Mrs. Calabretta that the report under investigation was from a neighbor who claimed to have heard a child crying in the back yard on October 25. The child was alleged to have said, "No, Daddy, no" or "No, no, no." Mrs. Calabretta explained to the officer that her 10-year-old son had fallen on a post in the back yard several weeks before and injured his wrist. The child was present to tell the officer about the accident. Mr. Calabretta was not even in town when the incident occurred.
In spite of this explanation, the investigation continued. 12-year-old Tamar and her 3-year-old sister, who had entered the room after her nap, were heard crying in the next room, so Mrs. Calabretta rushed in. Mrs. Calabretta later learned that Tamar had been interrogated on family matters such as Daddy's response to spilled milk, the methods of discipline, spanking, the most recent event of spanking, and the Bible. To the credit of her parents, Tamar explained the Biblical basis for spanking and proceeded to get a concordance to point out to Floyd the verses on discipline. It was when Tamar was asked to disrobe her 3-year-old sister Natalie that the crying began. "We have a rule that we are not allowed to let others see our private parts," Tamar told the worker. At this point, Natalie began screaming.
When Mrs. Calabretta burst in, Floyd insisted that she see the child's bottom and demanded that Mrs. Calabretta remove the child's pants. Though the child was crying and struggling against it, Mrs. Calabretta proceeded to demonstrate to Floyd that there were no marks or bruises on her daughter. Seeing nothing, Floyd nevertheless reprimanded Mrs. Calabretta for spanking a child with an object (a 9-inch piece of Lincoln log roofing that had been shown to Floyd) and told her that she had violated California law in doing so. (This was a lie, since California law specifically excepts spanking from abuse.) The officer and social worker gave their business cards to Mrs. Calabretta and departed.
Later that same afternoon the case was classified as "unfounded" and closed by the social services office. Nonetheless, the terror of the invasion of their home remained open like an old sore. For months, even 3-year-old Natalie would become frightened at the sound of the doorbell or her mother's phone conversations with strangers.
On February 24, 1995, HSLDA filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Calabretta family, alleging violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be safe and secure in their home from unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy and family integrity. The suit is filed against the police officer and social worker who committed the deeds, as well as their departments which authorized or approved the unlawful acts. The suit seeks damages for the family and an injunction against the departments to prohibit similar unlawful conduct in the future.
The defendants responded to the Complaint with what is called a Motion to Dismiss. In it they asserted that social workers and police officers are not subject to the constraints of the Fourth Amendment when conducting child abuse investigations.
The issue was of paramount importance to both sides, because federal district court decisions can be relied upon as a precedent. If the defendants succeeded in getting the case dismissed at this early stage of the litigation, the protection of the Fourth Amendment for families in America would take another blow and the "child savers" would beat on America's front door with more bravado than before. On the other hand, a victory could mean a court decision that would work its way throughout California and the entire United States to give parents the courage to stand against the infringement of their fundamental rights. Both sides submitted extensive legal briefs.
At the hearing, federal district court judge Lawrence Karlton made it plain to defense counsel that he was aware of no binding precedent that excludes child welfare investigators from Fourth Amendment law. He debated with defense counsel and condemned the alleged conduct of his clients for about 10 minutes. The judge's decision to deny the Motion to Dismiss was so certain that he turned to Mike Farris, who had not yet spoken a word on behalf of the Calabrettas, and said, "You don't want to talk me out of it, do you counsel?" "No, your Honor," was Mike's only statement in court that morning.
Judge Karlton's written opinion has now been furnished to all parties. The motion to dismiss was denied in every respect and contains these important words: "It is well settled law that in the absence of exigent circumstances, the privacy and sanctity of the home cannot be invaded without a warrant-even when the invasion is accomplished under statutory authority and when probable cause is clearly present." This means that unless your child is facing an immediate threat of danger or harm, a social worker or police officer cannot enter your home without a search warrant or court order. (Call HSLDA with the social worker on your front steps, if possible, so we can work toward a resolution of the situation without the interrogation of your children.)
It is now up to the defendants in the Calabretta case to demonstrate to the court the specifics of the alleged report and basis for their unwarranted intrusion into the Calabretta home. It appears that unless the social worker and officer can prove that a reasonable person in their position would have believed an emergency situation existed, they will be held liable. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the lawsuit, home schooling families have been fortified by this recent decision. The Lord used a judge in Sacramento, California, to rebuild a section of the Fourth Amendment wall that protects home schooling families from unlawful attacks of social services on their freedom and privacy.