Mom Survives Hurricanes, Only to Face a CPS Investigation
by Dave Dentel • November 27, 2018
She had already survived a pair of hurricanes. But the CPS investigators who stormed through the door with a court order to remove her four youngest children left her feeling nearly overwhelmed.
Nana Marconi, a single mother and Air Force veteran, wondered at that moment how her decision to homeschool on the otherwise tranquil island of Puerto Rico could have gone so wrong.
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“I was scared,” she recalled. “I followed the law and here they were to take my children.”
Adding to her turmoil was the fact that Nana spoke little Spanish. Combined with cultural differences, this language barrier made her feel like a disadvantaged outsider.
She needed an advocate—one with local ties who could navigate the island’s bureaucracy. So she called Home School Legal Defense Association.
A Place in the Sun
Nana started homeschooling several years ago to accommodate her oldest son’s special needs, and because of concerns over the safety of her children and the values being taught at the local public schools.
But when the family moved to Puerto Rico in the summer of 2017, Nana decided to give public schools another chance.
Nana said she enrolled her children because “I wanted them to be immersed in the culture and to better learn the language.”
Then disaster struck—twice.
Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico in early September 2017, followed by the even more powerful Hurricane Maria later in the month.
As the island struggled to recover from the resulting devastation, schools remained closed for weeks. Like others in her community, Nana’s focus veered from education to more essential concerns: food, water, and adjusting to life in the tropics without electricity.
When schools finally reopened, Nana informed officials that she intended to keep her children at home and educate them herself—just as she had done before they moved to Puerto Rico.
In November a CPS investigator contacted Nana to confirm that her children were indeed being homeschooled.
The visit prompted Nana to call HSLDA for the first time. We referred her to our local counsel in Puerto Rico, Carlos Perez, who is a homeschooling father and a leader in the island’s home education movement. The case appeared to be quickly resolved.
Later in the year Nana accepted an invitation to spend several weeks in Virginia—a welcome respite from storm recovery in the Caribbean.
When Nana and her children returned to Puerto Rico in January 2018, she again informed the local officials of her intention to homeschool. The family settled into a peaceful routine they hoped would last. But it was not to be.
Caught in a Tempest
In September 2018, CPS investigators started coming to the Marconi home—apparently following up on the visit from almost a year before! At first investigators simply asked for proof of homeschooling.
This sort of evidence is not required by law, so Nana told investigators she would not comply with their request and instead referred them to attorney Perez.
Again, perhaps in part because of language difficulties, the case was not resolved, but escalated.
The next day the CPS investigator returned, accompanied by her supervisor and two police officers. The officials presented Nana with the court order, then insisted on inspecting the home and interviewing all her children.
Nana allowed the officials in her home and was shocked to see that the investigators were no longer just trying to confirm that the children were being homeschooled. They were looking for signs of abuse.
In fact, said Nana, she tried to show officials the online curriculum her family uses, but the CPS investigator ignored it until one of the police officers intervened.
At this point, said Nana, she felt “that I had absolutely no power” over the situation.
Finding a Haven
Her outlook changed after talking further with HSLDA. We pledged to defend her in court and assured her that investigators had overstepped their authority.
“CPS was totally out of bounds,” explained Darren Jones, a member of HSLDA’s litigation team.
There was no evidence of negligence on Nana’s part. And she certainly had not transgressed the home education law.
“There is actually no requirement for a notice of intent in Puerto Rico,” Jones said. “And yet Nana had let the schools her kids had been attending know that she intended to homeschool.”
Jones added that in his view, investigators never should have sought a court order to remove the children just based on a question about what curriculum they were using. But instead of focusing on the children’s education, “the CPS worker was too interested in running through her checklist.”
Thankfully, the social workers left without removing the children. But Nana was summoned to an October court hearing where a judge would decide if the children would be removed.
Just before the court date, Jones flew to Puerto Rico to provide additional support.
“We wanted to show we are fully vested in representing our member,” Jones explained.
After coordinating with Jones, Perez and his associate Juan Gaud represented Nana during the court proceedings. They refuted the investigator’s accusations about Nana’s parenting, illustrating that she not only was educating her children but enjoyed a close relationship with each of them. Perez also convinced the judge there was no need to continue any sort of court oversight, over the objections of the state-assigned advocate for the children.
The case was closed, and Nana is now fully cleared of the wrongful charges brought against her.
The outcome came as a great relief to her.
HSLDA’s attorneys “were so empathetic and helpful,” Nana said. “The lawyers who worked on my case were ultimately wonderful, and I am very thankful for the help they provided.”