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January 18, 2017

Court Praises Mom, Then Finds Her Guilty

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Can a mother whose son is not missing any school, learning eagerly, and even excelling academically still be considered criminally reckless when it comes to his education?

Jim Mason by Jim Mason
Vice President of Litigation

Our litigation team doesn’t think so, and we’re asking an Ohio appeals court to agree with us.

We recently filed papers in Warren County, Ohio, seeking to overturn the criminal conviction of a mother who had been praised by a magistrate for the way she was teaching her son.

Last September, a common pleas judge convicted Valerie Bradley of failing to send her son to school. This verdict was supposedly more lenient than her original conviction by a magistrate: contributing to the delinquency of a minor. (At least it did away with her 180-day jail sentence.)

In attempting to clear Mrs. Bradley of these charges, Home School Legal Defense Association is doing more than arguing that in her case the law was misapplied. We see her situation as another example of bureaucracy gone awry, where officials laud a mother for exceptional attentiveness to her child’s needs then penalize her for allegedly failing to comply with excessive red tape.

David and Valerie Bradley began homeschooling their son in January 2015. They withdrew him from the local public school because they recognized he has a different learning style which made it difficult for him to focus in the classroom. They notified school officials of their intent and obtained an excuse from attending for the remainder of the academic year.

That summer the Bradleys received a form letter from school officials requesting that by August 1 they file a notice of intent for the coming year, as well as a student end-of-year assessment.

A short time later, Mrs. Bradley spoke with a school employee who told her, correctly, that there is no deadline for the student assessment.

By late October, the Bradleys had filed their notice of intent but were still arranging to have their son tested to meet the assessment requirement. It was then that the state filed a criminal complaint against Mrs. Bradley, alleging that the delay in filing her homeschool paperwork had contributed to the delinquency of her child.

Not Really Reckless

Mrs. Bradley was especially shocked by what these sort of charges imply—that she had harmed her son by neglecting his education.

As she testified in court, her son’s home education was “the best thing that ever happened to him.” She said he was “doing better than when he was in public school,” and that his academic performance was “exceptional.”

Subsequent test results supported her claim. On his end-of-year assessment, her son scored in the 97th percentile.

Even the magistrate who convicted Mrs. Bradley applauded her for “being so successful with the education aspect” of her homeschool program. Another state official admitted the Bradleys’ son’s “education did not actually suffer measurable harm.”

So why is this successful homeschooling mother being treated like a criminal? It’s because of what the court calls a “technical mistake” involving paperwork and missed deadlines.

Punished for Helping Her Son

We intend to show that the real harm in this case is being done by state officials who are misapplying the law and punishing a parent who only wants what is best for her child.

In our brief, HSLDA is asking for the chance to demonstrate how state officials bungled Mrs. Bradley’s case in three fundamental areas: homeschool law, the procedure for dealing with truancy, and the determination of when a parent is reckless.

To begin with, prosecutors should never have faulted Mrs. Bradley for failing to submit a student assessment by August 1. That deadline is completely arbitrary; the homeschool statute mentions no date by which such assessments must be completed. And public schools did not even begin classes until late August.

In matters of alleged truancy, state officials must follow a specific procedure that favors remediation. Prosecution is reserved for recalcitrant parents who repeatedly refuse to address the educational needs of their children. This certainly was not the case with Mrs. Bradley.

When she learned that officials were investigating why her son was not attending public school, Mrs. Bradley acted immediately. She sent her notice of intent on September 28, scheduled an assessment for her son, and telephoned local school officials to update them on her progress. She obtained a letter of excuse by October 21.

In other words, Mrs. Bradley acted precisely as the legislature intended parents should act when questioned about truancy: promptly and decisively. That should have been the end of the matter.

Finally, there is no evidence that Mrs. Bradley acted recklessly—or, as it is defined legally, “with indifference towards a known and obvious risk to her child.” On the contrary, Mrs. Bradley’s education of her son during the time he was being marked absent was continuous and of high quality.

Get in on the Defense

Mrs. Bradley’s case may be outrageous, but it is not unusual. Aggressive officials are a common reason why homeschooling families come to HSLDA for help.

Your support makes it possible for us to defend these families. You can become a part of the cause by joining HSLDA or giving to the Homeschool Freedom Fund.