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HSLDA Fights Benefits Discrimination

Case: Mrs. F. v. Department of Social Services
Filed: August 2011

by Darren A. Jones

Home School Legal Defense Association is fighting to protect homeschooling mother Veronica Fordell (name changed to protect privacy) from Sonoma County’s unfair discrimination.

Under California law, parents wishing to homeschool must set up a private school in their home and enroll their children in it. In the fall of 2010, Ms. Fordell established a private school and began to teach her 15-year-old daughter Trisha. Ms. Fordell anticipates teaching Trisha through high school.

Because Ms. Fordell is disabled and lives on a limited income, she receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in order to help pay her family’s bills. Receiving TANF depends on proving a child’s attendance at school, and each particular county has sole discretion in determining what constitutes “regular school attendance.” Although the state of California recognizes Ms. Fordell’s school as a legitimate private school, the Sonoma County Human Services Department denied benefits to the Fordell family in September 2011, stating that Trisha “does not have adequate verification of satisfactory school attendance as required by regulation.” Sonoma County insisted that Ms. Fordell had to enroll in the local public school’s independent study program, which would require her to take Trisha to public school three days a week, in order to qualify for aid.

HSLDA Staff Attorney Darren Jones flew out to Santa Rosa to represent Ms. Fordell at an administrative hearing. He argued that this mother’s benefits should be reinstated because California law expressly authorizes parents to enroll their children in a private school, and the attempt to completely close off private homeschooling is unconstitutional. The case is now in the hands of the administrative law judge, who should issue a ruling shortly.


Family Court Recognizes Homeschool Diploma

Case: In re: TD
Filed: December 2010
by Darren A. Jones

HSLDA defended a family against a perplexing decision by the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency that refused to recognize a homeschool diploma.

Nikita Brutti homeschooled her three children from her first marriage and received child support payments from their father, Fred Derwent (names changed to protect privacy). In October 2009, her oldest son, Tristan Derwent, turned 18 years old, and in June 2010 he graduated and enrolled in a community college. In accordance with the law, Mr. Derwent paid child support for Tristan until his graduation from high school.

In December 2010, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency arbitrarily determined that Tristan’s high school diploma was not valid because it was not issued by a public school. Despite both Mr. Derwent’s and Mrs. Brutti’s protests, the agency decided that child support payments should have ceased with Tristan’s 18th birthday. Consequently, they ordered Mrs. Brutti to repay the child support she had received for Tristan from his birthday in October through his graduation in June, which would have been a severe financial burden for her. Mrs. Brutti contacted HSLDA for legal advice.

HSLDA Staff Attorney Darren Jones represented Mrs. Brutti at a hearing in Ohio. He argued that Tristan’s homeschool diploma was legally valid and that the child support payments had been correctly paid until Tristan's graduation. Two months later, the hearing officer agreed that the agency had made a mistake. Mrs. Brutti was under no obligation to return Tristan’s child support payments, and Mr. Derwent was vindicated in his desire to financially provide for his son until graduation.

According to Jones, “HSLDA does not normally involve itself in divorce and custody cases. But in this case, we were able to defend Mrs. Brutti’s right to homeschool her children and support both Mrs. Brutti and Mr. Derwent against a child support enforcement agency that did not recognize homeschooling.”

Pending Cases

AL B Family v. Social Security Administration

AZ Loudermilk Family v. Administration for Children, Youth and Families

CA F Family v. Social Security Administration

CA M Family v. County of San Bernardino

CO In re: K Family

CO State v. K Family

IN Department of Child Services v. B Family

KY In re: C Family

MO In re: H Family

NE State v. T Family

NH In re: V Family

NY In re: F Family

NY L Family v. Social Security Administration

OK L Family v. Social Security Administration

PA In re: D Family

PA In re: K Family

PA Newborn v. Franklin Regional School District

TX In re: W Family

TX K Family v. Social Security Administration

TX State v. S Family

VA In re: M Family

VT In re: B Family

WI In re: P Family