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April 5, 2006

HSLDA Confronts Harford County's Child Interrogation Tactics

A Harford County pupil personnel worker called to remind a member family about their year-end portfolio review, then dropped a bombshell. The official asked the parents to bring their children to his office so he could question them. Perplexed and troubled by this unusual request, the family immediately called us for advice.

Home School Legal Defense Association promptly called the official, who said he wanted to ask the kids if they enjoyed homeschooling and were getting enough to eat. He said he was going to ask the kids to draw a picture for him. Child abuse investigators often ask children to draw pictures, then "interpret" the pictures using Freudian and other psychoanalytic techniques that they believe will reveal whether abuse is going on in the home.

It was obvious the school official was confusing his job with that of a child welfare worker. He was treating this family as if they had been reported for child abuse, and evidently intended to conduct his own personal investigation of every homeschooling family with whom he dealt.

We confronted the official and firmly explained he had no legal authority for this. He conceded we were correct and withdrew his request.

HSLDA subsequently learned that all eight Harford County pupil personnel workers had attended a meeting where the school system's supervisor of psychological and pupil services urged them to use these tactics.

HSLDA will follow this troubling situation closely. Treating all homeschool families like child abuse suspects is intolerable and unlawful. The best defense, however, is for every homeschool family to understand their rights and the limits on the authority of officials.

Update, April 10: Since posting this article, we have asked the county's supervisor of psychological and student services to provide us with an official statement concerning the questioning of children by pupil personnel workers. We hope to receive this statement in the near future.

 Other Resources

HSLDA Research: The Fourth Amendment's Impact on Child Abuse Investigations