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Ohio

June 20, 2016

School Drops the Ball, Calls Foul on Mom

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HSLDA remains committed to obtaining justice for a homeschooling mother convicted of contributing to the delinquency of her son, all because the local school gave her incorrect deadline information.

The case is one of three that arose earlier this year in two Ohio school districts, where families contacted HSLDA after they were served with criminal complaints.

The offense? They provided incomplete homeschool documentation to their local school superintendents, which resulted in their children being marked “absent” from public school. The penalty? Up to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in the county jail.

Thanks to the quick intervention of HSLDA, two of these prosecutions were dismissed before trial. In the third case, where the mother was found guilty because she followed the school’s advice about when to turn in her academic assessment, we are actively working to have the conviction overturned.

This injustice stemmed from a simple misunderstanding. The parent had called the school’s office to find out when her assessment was due, and was mistakenly told there was “no deadline.” The parent only discovered this mistake months later, after a truant officer from the school district came to her door.

Within two weeks, the mother returned the completed assessment to the school, showing academic achievement in the 97th percentile. But she was convicted after the magistrate judge found that she had acted “recklessly” in failing to provide the assessment until the truant officer asked for it. The judge arrived at this conclusion despite several mitigating facts:

  • The original confusion about the paperwork came from the school’s office,
  • The mother acted quickly to obtain and submit the assessment once that mistake was pointed out to her,
  • The assessment itself demonstrated that the student had received an excellent education while he had been homeschooled.

Last week, HSLDA filed written objections to the written decision of the magistrate, and has asked the court of common pleas to recognize that this family was wrongfully convicted. Please pray for HSLDA over the next couple of months, as we help to prepare legal briefs, motions, and other documents on behalf of this homeschooling family.

Outrageous Charges

In defense of these three families, HSLDA argued that charging them as criminals is egregiously out of proportion to the alleged offense.

While Ohio law clearly describes the documentation that homeschooling families need to provide to the local public school superintendent, it also defines a clear procedure that schools are to follow when they believe a student is accumulating unexcused absences.

Rather than proceeding directly to criminal prosecution, schools are required by law first to make good-faith attempts to notify parents and provide them with an opportunity to explain and/or correct any problems. Criminal prosecution is a last resort, reserved only for when parents have acted recklessly and are ignoring a situation that is causing obvious harm to the child.

In all three of these cases, however, the school districts jumped straight to criminal prosecution without following the law’s procedures for addressing truancy. The only “harm” to the children was that they were being marked “absent” by the public school—the children themselves were actually being educated at home by their parents the entire time. Quite simply, these situations do not constitute “delinquency” as envisioned by the Ohio Legislature.

Partial Victory

Thankfully, we have already resolved two of these three cases. One was dismissed after the family moved for a jury trial and filed both a motion to dismiss and motion to reconsider, and HSLDA Vice President of Litigation Jim Mason filed paperwork stating he was going to be part of the family’s defense team. The second was dismissed within days of its filing, after the state was informed that HSLDA again sought to try the case before a jury of the parents’ peers.

Although HSLDA remains concerned that the districts in these two cases may employ these hard-nosed tactics again, we are relieved that these families are free from the threat of criminal penalties.

Thanks to their membership in HSLDA, these families received legal representation at no cost to them. This is only possible through the support of HSLDA’s 80,000 member families across the country, and the generous friends of homeschooling who give to the Homeschool Freedom Fund.

Would you consider partnering with us in defense of homeschool freedom? When you join HSLDA, give the gift of membership to someone you love, or make a tax-deductible donation to our litigation work through the Homeschool Freedom Fund, you make it possible for us to advance the cause of liberty in real, tangible ways, and to defend the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves.