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November 18, 2008

“You’re Not Going to Get Away With It!” But Family Stands Firm

Missouri’s homeschool law takes the sensible approach that paperwork is of little value to anyone, so families can start homeschooling without filing anything. But if you live in St. Joseph, watch out.

In March, Shari Egarta told the elementary school teachers for her four children that she would be homeschooling them the following year. In May, she followed up with a letter to the principal. On the last day of school, a school counselor told Mrs. Egarta to fill out certain forms so she could homeschool. Mrs. Egarta patiently explained that she had already given school notice, and was not required to fill out any forms. The counselor insisted that she had to in order to homeschool. Mrs. Egarta explained that she had read Missouri’s law and it said nothing about mandatory forms. The counselor said, “The laws have changed.”

Giving the counselor the benefit of the doubt, Mrs. Egarta brought the form home to read it. It was called the “Homeschool Notification Form.” Near the bottom, it said that it would be sent to the prosecuting attorney’s office. Mrs. Egarta double checked and confirmed that the laws had not changed, and no such forms were required. She explained this to a school official who became very hostile, frightening her young daughter who was with her, and said she had to sign the papers or she would report her. When Mrs. Egarta was firm, the official said, “You just can’t do that, and you are not going to get away with it!”

Although Mrs. Egarta did not know it at the time, the school had kept the children on the rolls, so when school began, the school’s official records began recording unexcused absences for all four children.

The Egartas received a letter dated September 5 from a special investigator in the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney asking her to come to his office, “…as with other cases regarding homeschooling.” He said, “I will be asking you to bring the appropriate documentation required by law to show that you are within the guidelines for homeschooling.” Knowing she was under no obligation to meet with him, she declined. It never crossed her mind to give in to these grown-up playground bullies.

On September 23, the special investigator filed a court statement saying the Egarta children “…have been absent every day from Noyes School where these children are enrolled…” Three days later the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed misdemeanor information against Mr. and Mrs. Egarta.

Now in court and facing criminal charges, the family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for help. Because they were members of HSLDA, attorney Scott Woodruff immediately called both the assistant prosecuting attorney assigned to the case and the attorney for the school system.

After numerous rounds of correspondence with Woodruff, the assistant prosecuting attorney seemed to understand that something had gone awry and sensibly dismissed the prosecution. The family was delighted.

The attorney for the school system was not so forthcoming, however. He did not acknowledge that the school system had erred or offer any concrete steps to prevent such errors in the future. Woodruff therefore followed up with a letter cautioning the school system’s attorneys that if the school system ever again refuses to disenroll a child after being told the child will be homeschooled, or places an unlawful demand upon the family as a prior condition to disenrollment, the possibility of legal action against the school system would be considered.

In the series of events above, the Egartas followed the law and acted within their rights in every case. It was government agents who stepped outside the boundaries of the law and caused such unnecessary grief.

If you live in St. Joseph and are withdrawing a child from public school, HSLDA recommends that you communicate with the school by certified mail, return receipt requested, and follow up to make sure the school has removed the children from the rolls. If they have not, please contact us promptly so we can look into the matter further.