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April 22, 2014

Policy Over People?

Family Fights for Sick Homeschooled Child

Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly protects homeschool freedom in Massachusetts. He and his wife homeschool. Read more >>

The D family in Massachusetts had intermittently homeschooled their son, Sam, for the past several years through the ups and downs of his battle with Lyme disease. Recently, at their son’s request, the family agreed to re-enroll him in the local middle school. However, his illness made it impossible to maintain consistent attendance. By the end of February Sam’s parents decided to withdraw him from school and homeschool him. They were convinced that the greater flexibility of homeschooling would be better suited to his condition.

However, even though the family had been approved to homeschool previously, this time the superintendent’s office denied their plan. School officials added that they would be filing a petition in court seeking supervision over the family due to truancy.

“We must consider Samuel’s absence from school unlawful and take the necessary steps to report this information to the appropriate authorities,” officials said.

Court Summons

Five days later, the family was summoned to court to respond to the charges of truancy. The family turned to HSLDA for help.

When Michael Donnelly, HSLDA attorney for Massachusetts member affairs, made contact with the district’s superintendent he discovered the main concerns were Sam’s course load and specifics regarding his medical condition.

Donnelly negotiated more time for the family to revise their homeschool plan and to get letters from Sam’s doctor. Donnelly and HSLDA’s Massachusetts Legal Assistant Claire Rossell worked with the family to assemble the materials.

Struggling to Keep Up

It is not uncommon, Donnelly explained, for busy superintendents who are struggling to keep up with their many responsibilities to move quickly to take legal action.

“This particular superintendent expressed a general support for the concept of homeschooling, but deferred to the middle school principal on how to handle the attendance issue,” he said. “Although she defended her district’s rapid escalation to a court petition, I pointed out to her that the Massachusetts Supreme Court had explicitly counseled parents and school authorities to work through disputes before bringing a case to court.”

“Unfortunately, all too often policies can trump people,” Donnelly explained. “When school officials get too busy, they just can’t give each situation the attention it needs. So they follow policy—it’s just the reality of an institutional environment. This is a good reminder for people of how homeschooling usually provides each child more individualized attention and an environment suited to their unique needs.”

Positive Outcome

Just days later, HSLDA was contacted by the family with good news.

“We received a letter from the superintendent that our homeschooling was approved. And with your help we got the court date canceled!” Sam’s mother told HSLDA in an email. “Thanks for all your help with everything. We couldn’t be happier with the outcome and the excellent service you have provided us.”

Homeschooling can be an excellent approach to any child’s education and is particularly well-suited for children who are chronically ill. With HSLDA’s support this family and others can be confident when they start and continue homeschooling.

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Protect Your Family

If you or someone you know is not a member of HSLDA, will you consider taking a moment today to join or recommend us? Your support for our work enables us to defend individual families threatened by government officials and protect homeschooling freedom for all. Join now >>