A veteran homeschooling family in Pennsylvania received a surprising start to their school year: a summons to court.

The family, who had homeschooled for more than two decades and are members of HSLDA, started the year as they had started every other: by filing their end-of-year evaluation for last school year, along with their homeschool affidavit and learning objectives for the new academic term.

School district officials acknowledged receipt of these documents, but said that the student’s learning objectives were not complete because several subjects were missing. The mother explained that her son was a graduating senior who had already completed those subjects. Additionally, he was already 18, which meant he was no longer required by law to attend school.

The district responded by filing a complaint accusing the mother of violating Pennsylvania’s compulsory school attendance statute. The complaint did not allege that the parents had failed to submit a homeschool affidavit or were not teaching their son. The sole issue was that the list of learning objectives for their 18-year-old son did not include enough subjects.

Making a Statement in Court

The family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association when they received the complaint—and a summons to court. At their trial, I argued that the family was innocent for three reasons.

First, there was no question that the family had filed everything required by Pennsylvania law. They filed their evaluation for the previous school year, which showed that the student had made adequate progress. They filed an affidavit for this school year, attesting that they would provide instruction in accordance with Pennsylvania law. And they filed their learning objectives for the subjects that the student would be taking this year—and the only subjects he had yet to complete before graduating from high school. The family fully complied with Pennsylvania law.

Second, it is true that Pennsylvania’s homeschool statute requires parents to submit learning objectives, and also permits school districts to call a hearing when they reasonably believe a homeschool program is out of compliance with the statute. But the statute is also clear that a district cannot call a hearing based solely on the learning objectives—in fact, the statute explicitly says that “[t]he required outline of proposed education objectives shall not be utilized by the superintendent in determining if the home education program is out of compliance with this section.” The district’s objection—based solely on those objectives—was contrary to Pennsylvania law.

Finally, the homeschool statute creates a special procedure for addressing compliance issues. Rather than filing a complaint, the law requires districts to provide the family with written notice of any compliance problems. The family then has 30 days to respond. If they fail to do so, the district can call an administrative hearing before an impartial hearing officer, whose opinion can then be appealed to the commissioner of education. Only then can the matter be taken to a judge. Here, the family never received a 30-day notice letter, and no administrative hearing took place. In the absence of these steps, the district’s complaint was also contrary to Pennsylvania law.

Clear Verdict

I cross-examined the assistant superintendent for about 20 minutes. I was able to show that the principal did not have a correct understanding of the law and had brought the case to court without legal grounds. Then I presented 10 minutes of argument explaining Pennsylvania’s homeschool statute, after which the judge found the mother “not guilty.”

It’s unfortunate that a situation this minor was taken to court, but it is not uncommon. While homeschooling has become commonplace, there are still many—school officials, prosecutors, and judges—who are unfamiliar with their state’s homeschool laws and the special protections that parents enjoy from both state statutes and the United States Constitution.

That is one of the core reasons why HSLDA exists. Whether driven by concerns about safety, the values of one’s faith, a desire to invest in their children’s education and maturity, or a combination of all the above, the decision to homeschool is important to so many families. And a decision that important deserves to be protected.