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Son’s Illness Lands Mom in Court

by Darren Jones • February 20, 2018

Leslie Sacks’ son is a gifted athlete, especially in hockey. But when it comes to academics, he has been diagnosed with a mild language disability that makes it difficult to learn in large group settings.

Due to his disability, he was retained in middle school, and Leslie had to fight to get him the type of education he needed. His public school 8th-grade year was quite successful; he received A’s and B’s in all his subjects.

But when he moved up to high school last year, it was a totally different story. His health took a severe downturn—he suffered many anxiety attacks, and Leslie had to keep him home numerous days while she searched for a doctor who could help.

Finally, she found an out-of-state specialist who put her son on a long-term medical protocol to get him back to good physical and emotional health. Because the specialist pointed out that his health problems were exacerbated by having to learn in large groups, and because the high school special education department was unwilling to work with his needs, Leslie also decided to homeschool.

She submitted her notice of intent at the beginning of October and joined HSLDA.

Unfortunately, by this time, her son had missed several days that the school claimed were “unexcused,” and the school charged him with “Violation of Compulsory School Attendance.” For three weeks, the school also began robo-calling every day at 10:02 a.m. to inform Leslie that her son was illegally out of school.

Sympathetic Judge

I drove up to Pennsylvania to represent Leslie and her son at their court hearing. Before the judge even got into the courtroom, the school district representative agreed that he would only prosecute the days before the mom filed her notice.

The judge was very sympathetic to Leslie’s plight. It helped that the medical specialist had written a letter saying that the treatment could take up to two years before significant improvements were realized, and recommending that the school should assist in transitioning him to a homeschool environment.

However, the judge also recognized that this is the type of case that the law doesn’t have an exact answer for. There was no question that Leslie was now in full compliance with the homeschool law, and she even brought along a log to show that she was teaching her son just as she should be.

The problem was that there were a number of days in September that weren’t excused by a doctor’s note. The judge was also concerned that her son—an athlete with academic challenges who had already been held back in school—didn’t just “fall through the cracks.”

So between the judge, the school, Leslie, and me, we worked out a deal that we thought was best for everyone. Leslie would continue homeschooling her son, who was already making very good academic and physical progress at home. Once she finished out the year, she would let the school district know she was done, and they would pass that information on to the judge, who would dismiss the case. The judge didn’t put any other requirements on Leslie at all.

I was impressed with how the judge understood that the truancy law is not designed to punish kids who are gifted in one area like athletics, but just really don’t fit into the system. I think this was a solution that worked to make sure everyone’s rights were protected.

I’ll leave the last word to Leslie Sacks, who wrote, “It was an honor to meet you yesterday, in person. Both my son and I are very grateful for your assistance in working with the School District. Thank you for all that you do and for all of the wonderful work that you do for the Home School students.”

If HSLDA had not been there for Leslie and her son, things could have gone much differently. Won’t you join today? And if you’re already a member, please donate to make sure that we can protect other homeschool families just like Leslie’s.

Darren Jones

Senior Counsel

Darren is a litigation attorney and homeschool graduate who helps HSLDA member families resolve legal difficulties related to homeschooling. Read more.

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