Will the Supreme Court Rein in this Rogue School District?
by Jim Mason • January 22, 2020
Imagine you follow your state’s homeschooling law to the letter. Then your school district threatens to prosecute you for truancy because you didn’t follow its brand-new local policy that adds new requirements that don’t exist anywhere else in the state.
That is what happened in Virginia to first-time homeschoolers Kirk and Kristen Sosebee when their oldest child turned school age.
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When the school board in Franklin County, Virginia, adopted a local policy that expanded the legal requirements to homeschool, Kirk and Kristen knew that homeschool freedom would be put at risk if they did not say, “Non!”
When the district would not relent, Kirk and Kristen filed suit, with the help of homeschool graduate and HSLDA lawyer Peter Kamakawiwoole.
When Courts Need Supervising
The trial court ruled in favor of the school district. This is not unusual, in my experience. We have often had to bring our cases to a higher court.
For example, Valerie Bradley was prosecuted in Ohio because she turned in her homeschool paperwork after classes at the local school had begun. Even though she expeditiously got her notice in, the school charged her with the serious misdemeanor crime of contributing to the delinquency of her son—who scored in the 97th percentile—based on the so-called absences he accrued while she completed his year-end assessment.
The trial court convicted her—but suspended all sentences and fines. At the first level of appeal, that judge reduced the charge to simple truancy, but convicted her of that—again suspending the fine.
But the Ohio Court of Appeals reversed both lower courts, and Valerie’s conviction was thrown out. Common sense and a right understanding of the law prevailed.
Appealing to Higher Authority
In Kirk and Kristen’s case, after the local court held that the district had authority to do what it did, we first had to ask the Supreme Court of Virginia to hear their appeal. Peter Kamakawiwoole argued before a three-judge panel on October 30, 2019. The Supreme Court agreed to hear Kirk and Kristen’s appeal, and we filed our opening brief before Christmas. The school district responded, and we just filed our reply to the district.
Here is our opening paragraph:
Franklin County School Board has claimed the authority to add requirements to Virginia’s homeschool statute and threatened to prosecute the Sosebees for not following those additional requirements. The question before this Court is whether the General Assembly decides how families lawfully homeschool in Virginia, or whether a school board may add requirements to the statute according to its own local lights. In other words, is there one homeschooling law in Virginia, or 133—one for each school division in the Commonwealth?
To ask the question, we submit, is to answer it.
In the coming days we expect the Supreme Court to schedule oral argument, which this time will be in front of all seven justices.
Freedoms are eroded when government bodies are allowed to exceed their authority—through fear or complacency or a failure to understand that we the people are sovereign. We are not subjects.
Kirk and Kristen believe that. We at HSLDA believe that. We trust that you believe that too.