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April 6, 2001
State v. Kathy D
Criminal truancy charges brought against home schooling mother

Filed: October 22, 2000, Washington County.

Nature of Case: A home school mom spent Valentine's Day in a Maryland criminal court this year. Before the day was out, however, she had won over the prosecutor, the judge, and even the school officials who filed the criminal charges.

Late last summer, Kathy D told her school district that she planned to teach her sons at home this year. She filled out her Assurance of Consent form on August 27, 2000, and kept her children home. School officials insisted that the boys had to be in school until her program was "approved," so she briefly enrolled them back in public school. The school district recognized her home school program on September 27, but then filed criminal charges against her for 15 unexcused absences before that date.

The district was wrong to file these charges, but this problem may have stemmed from their outdated procedures. Back in the 1980s, Maryland parents could not teach their children at home without "approval" from the superintendent of their county's public school system. In 1987 and again in 1991, the Maryland Department of Education revised the law to allow parents to teach their own child at home without approval from the local school district. Under Maryland's home school by-laws, parents are free to begin home schooling 15 days after they file an "Assurance of Consent" form with the local school district. Thus, most of the "unexcused absences" on the criminal complaint were actually legal home school days.

HSLDA Attorney Scott Somerville represented Kathy in criminal court, with the capable assistance of Bruce Kent, a home schooling father and Maryland attorney.

The prosecutor insisted that she had nothing against home schooling. Quite the contrary: she had a very positive impression of home schoolers, especially her home schooling baby-sitter, who had impressed her enormously. The prosecutor made it clear that she was more than willing to keep the matter out of court if the school district would agree.

Attorneys Somerville and Kent then met with the school officials who had come to testify against Kathy. The two attorneys carefully explained how the by-laws should have worked in this case. Before long, both sides understood the procedures that should have been followed. Better yet, both parties could see that following the procedures would mean each side would get what they wanted. The school officials agreed to keep the matter out of court.

The prosecutor was delighted to discover that the school district no longer wanted to go to trial, and agreed to continue the case for 90 days, with a promise to drop the charges altogether if both sides followed the procedures in the by-laws.

Ruling: When the two parties informed the judge of their decision, he agreed to it, but only after expressing his objections to the criminal charges that had been filed against the mother. "In general, I disapprove of this kind of case," he commented. "It is almost impossible to show a criminal intent."

Status: The case has been dismissed.

Last Updated: April 6, 2001.