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October 12, 2016

HSLDA plans to appeal homeschool mom's guilty verdict.

Judge Sentences Family for … Late Paperwork?


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Imagine this: You have a child in public school. Your child is intelligent and has a desire to learn, but that doesn’t appear to be translating to the school setting. Things are okay, but not ideal.

So near the end of the semester, you withdraw your child and file a notice of your intent to homeschool. Soon your child begins to thrive in this one-on-one learning environment. As the school year winds down, you decide that despite all the work required, homeschooling is the ideal situation for your child.

At the end of May, you receive a letter from your local school district telling you about the upcoming annual notification process. Naturally, you have some questions. After all, you withdrew your child from school mid-year, so this is the first annual notice you’ve ever had to file. So you call the school to get some answers.

The school says you need to file a notice and an end-of-year assessment, but that there’s no deadline for doing that. In fact, they say, plenty of homeschoolers teach their children year-round. You thank the official for her time and decide that spending an extra few months on school sounds like a good idea. So you continue homeschooling your child through the summer.

In early September, you prepare your notice for the next school year and arrange for your child’s end-of-year assessment.

Then, out of the blue, a letter arrives from the school, telling you that the “no-deadline” paperwork you discussed back in May was actually “due” on August 1, and that the public school has been marking your child “absent” from school for six weeks.

This is the first you’ve heard of it. Hastily, you send off that notice you were preparing, and call the school to say you’ll get them the assessment as soon as it comes in. Within two weeks, you receive the results of that assessment (97th percentile!) and send them to the school. The school sends a letter confirming that all required paperwork is in and you’re good to go.

A few days later, you receive a summons to court on criminal charges for “contributing to the delinquency” of your child. Not because you didn’t educate your child, or because your child didn’t perform well academically, but because you filed paperwork later than a school official said you could file it. And by the way, if you’re convicted, you could be sentenced to 180 days in jail.

Stranger than Fiction

Unfortunately for an Ohio family who withdrew their son from a public school to homeschool him in January 2015, this absurd chain of events is not imaginary. Days after they received a letter from their school district recognizing their homeschool program for the 2016–2017 school year, this family was summoned to juvenile court on criminal contributing charges.

In April 2016, the case was tried before a magistrate. At the trial, the mother testified extensively about her decision to homeschool, her conversation with school officials, her son’s summer-school program, and his stellar assessment results. The magistrate decided to convict her anyway, sentencing her to the full penalty available under the law: 180 days in jail (although those sentences were suspended provided that the mother attend truancy classes with her child—which she did).

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

In Ohio, a magistrate’s verdict has to be ratified by the court of common pleas, so HSLDA filed a lengthy list of objections in that court. On September 30, 2016, the common pleas judge decided to overturn the magistrate’s recommendation that the mother be convicted of contributing to the delinquency of her child, noting specifically that the child had been continuously educated at home even while her paperwork was outstanding.

Unfortunately, the judge decided to convict the mother of another crime: “failure to send a child to school”—a less serious offense, but still a criminal misdemeanor.

While we are relieved that the judge revoked the magistrate’s “contributing” conviction along with its draconian sentence of jail time, we are disappointed that the judge instituted any conviction at all. We are preparing an appeal to overturn this new conviction on grounds that were raised before the magistrate and the court of common pleas, both of which ignored our arguments. The state’s evidence fell far short of the standard required for a criminal conviction, and we will make sure the court of appeals receives that message loud and clear.

The Fight Continues

Although many people are forced to accept disappointing judgments, HSLDA is blessed to have the resources to pursue appeals in important cases like this one, where clear legal requirements were not properly followed.

Thanks to the support and contributions of our 80,000 member families across the country, as well as the generous friends of homeschooling who give to the Homeschool Freedom Fund, we plan to appeal this decision for as long as it takes to protect the legal rights of this family—and to send a message that homeschooling families cannot be prosecuted for crimes they did not commit.

If you have not previously partnered with HSLDA in defense of homeschool freedom, there is no time like the present. By joining HSLDA, giving the gift of membership to someone you love, or making a tax-deductible donation to our litigation work through the Homeschool Freedom Fund, you make it possible for us to defend real families with real stories and real needs, and to advance the cause of liberty in ways that will benefit those who cannot speak for themselves.