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January 24, 2012

Truancy Difficulties: One Family’s Ongoing Saga

As reported in December Nebraska’s new truancy enforcement laws are causing problems for a homeschool family in Dawson County.

Home School Legal Defense Association represented the Thacker family in court last week on truancy charges brought by an aggressive prosecutor. The family moved to Nebraska in 2011 and started homeschooling in November. HSLDA interprets Nebraska homeschooling law to say that there is no deadline for parents to file their enrollment notice the first year they begin homeschooling. They are only required to send in their notice 30 days before beginning homeschooling for the year.

The school sent a truancy officer to investigate the Thacker family near the end of September. He threatened to remove the children from the home if they did not enroll in public school immediately. The Thackers sent their enrollment notice to the State Department of Education, which processed it and notified the school and the sheriff’s department that the children had been exempted from attendance for the year. HSLDA informed the truancy officer that because the family was homeschooling they were in compliance with the law and that threatening them was unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Prosecutor Files Charges

Unfortunately, the county prosecutor did not agree with our interpretation of Nebraska law, and he filed truancy charges against the parents for the time between the beginning of school in Dawson County and the time the Department of Education sent its exemption letter.

HSLDA litigation attorneys Darren Jones and Peter Kamakawiwoole traveled to Nebraska last week to defend the family. At the trial, we presented the family’s proof of compliance with Nebraska law, including Mrs. Thacker’s very detailed calendar and daily schedule that showed their homeschool would provide far more than the hours of instruction required. The judge recognized that the family was providing a good instructional program, but found them guilty of a technical violation since the children were not enrolled in a school and attending regularly for the month of September. Thankfully, he refused to fine the family since they were presently in full compliance with the law.

“The result was disappointing,” said Jones. “I think the judge just misread the compulsory attendance statute, which is pretty confusing.”

Kamakawiwoole agreed. “Neither the law nor the regulations set out any deadline for a first-time homeschooler to file. The parents should not have been found guilty, and HSLDA plans to appeal this decision.”