|HSLDA News||March 30, 2001|
Civil Rights Suit Progresses
PRINCE FREDERICK, MARYLANDCalvert County won't let home schoolers conduct educational activities in its four community centers. The County claims it would unnecessarily "duplicate services" to allow home schoolers to use the centers for educational purposes when the public schools already provide an education. When the County refused to amend its policy, two home schoolers filed a civil rights suit in the Maryland federal district court. On March 30, 2001, HSLDA filed a brief on their behalf that urges the court to strike down this unconstitutional policy.
In their brief , Lydia Goulart and Kyle Travers argue that the community center has been used for almost every kind of lawful activity, from foreign language lessons to Bible studies to fantasy wargaming. The brief says:
Calvert County has created a public space for expressive activity. The County allows a broad variety of groups to use its Community Centers for a wide variety of activities. The County has established a short list of reasonable restrictions on the use of the Community Centers: no alcohol, no criminal activity, no profit-making activities. The County has established an even shorter list of unreasonable restrictions on the use of the Community Center: no home school activities. This violates the Constitution.
The County policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it discriminates against one small group of citizens solely because they choose to teach their children themselves. The brief reads:
The County lets anybody use the Community Center for non-profit educational activities-anybody except for private and home schoolers. If a group of public school children want to get together for a knitting class, that is fine with Calvert County; but if home school children want to start a Fiber Arts Club, it is forbidden. Equal Protection law forbids this kind of discrimination just as surely as it forbids discrimination on the basis of race or religion.
The County says it excludes home schoolers to keep from "duplicating services." Since the County already spends a great deal of money on the public school system, it argues that any additional services to home schoolers would be wasteful. The Plaintiffs' brief challenges this argument. The record shows that it does not cost the County a single additional penny to allow a home school group to use an empty room at the Community Center. This means there is no waste as a matter of fact. The County policy cannot be justified on the basis of saving money or preventing waste.
The record in the case makes it clear that the County first established its policy in an effort to keep a private school from setting up a full?time operation that would dominate one of its facilities. In a memo dated Sept. 9, 1994, Defendant Paul Meadows explained his reasoning for rejecting the application of the Benjamin Franklin Academy:
If the school enrollment grows the request may come for more space. If the program does not grow to the point where they can construct their own facility but the numbers support continued use of Mt. Hope Community Center this could easily become a permanent arrangement. Either situation restricts community and recreational use.
Finally, the County makes a tremendous financial contribution to the Board of Education and parks and Recreation has a very close working relationship with the board of Education. Allowing a private, non-accredited school to operate in our facility sends the wrong message to the Board of Education.
In its zeal to send the "right message" to the Board of Education, Calvert County apparently chose to ban private educational activity at the community centers. This sent the "wrong message" to home schoolers. It is now up to the federal court to determine whether Calvert County can discriminate against private and home schoolers in this way.
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