Court Report

A Hall of Courage: Seven Stories

Over the past 40 years, hundreds of families have acted on the firm belief that homeschooling provided the best educational experience for their students. At the same time, many school officials held the equally firm belief that homeschooling was not legal. And when those beliefs clashed, the resulting lawsuits thrust some of those families into the legal spotlight.

These moms and dads weren’t looking to turn their lives into test cases for determining whether certain laws were just, or whether some government procedures and policies violated important rights. But they took up the cause to protect homeschool freedom.

The resulting lawsuits and court cases have benefited the movement: most higher education institutions now recognize homeschool diplomas, employers typically accept home-educated graduates, and more government laws protect homeschooling as a legitimate educational option.

The legal precedent set by the outcomes of these cases means each of these families’ stories has and will continue to positively affect numerous other court decisions, sometimes even decades into the future.

But let’s not forget the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual cost of those initial cases on the families themselves.

For instance:

  • Imagine the stress of appearing in front of a judge and attorneys during a trial.
  • Imagine facing down a child protective services (CPS) investigator who is threatening to take your kids away from you, even though you’ve done nothing wrong.
  • Imagine an experience so stressful—like constant harassment by school and public officials—that you immediately move out of your hometown, because merely being near where the incident happened is triggering.

It’s great to read about the outcomes of the past 40 years’ worth of cases, and their effect today . . . but it’s also important to remember and appreciate how the families involved in these cases were affected back then.

Here are seven cases, out of many over the past several decades, with outcomes that have directly and significantly shaped home education freedom.

1. Mark & Chris DeJonge | Michigan, 1993

In 1985, Michigan required all homeschooling parents to possess a state teaching certification.

Mark and Chris DeJonge objected to this requirement on religious grounds: they possessed a sincere belief that the education of children was a responsibility given solely to the parents, and not to the state.[1] The mandate to obtain a state teaching certification would cause them to violate their conscience, and therefore infringe upon their religious liberty.

The DeJonges were faced with an impossible decision between three options. They could compromise their religious convictions by getting a teaching certification in order to homeschool. They could hand their kids over to a public school (again violating their religious convictions). Or they could continue homeschooling—and defend themselves on the ground that the certification requirement was unconstitutional.

DeJonge case oral arguments

Oral arguments for the DeJonge case at the Michigan Supreme Court

HSLDA took up their cause, arguing before the courts that this imposed choice effectively violated the Free Exercise clause of the Constitution. The case went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court: in a historic win for homeschooling, the court agreed with HSLDA and ruled on May 25, 1993, that the teacher-certification requirement did indeed violate the First Amendment. The state legislature changed the law after the case was finally decided.

2. Robert & Shirley Calabretta | California, 1999

Calabretta family

Knock. Knock. Knock. A CPS investigator demanded entrance to Robert and Shirley Calabretta’s home, based on an anonymous report of a young child’s cry coming from her home. Shirley refused to let the investigator in, and after observing that the children who were standing with Shirley at the door appeared unharmed, the investigator left.

The investigator took a 10-day vacation, then returned to the Calabrettas’ home with a policeman. Once there, the investigator and officer entered their home without consent, interviewed the Calabrettas’ 12-year-old daughter without her parents present, and attempted to strip-search their 3-year-old.

HSLDA sued the CPS investigator and the policeman on the Calabrettas’ behalf, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor.[2] The court found that both the nonconsensual entry into the home and the strip search—without warrant or probable cause—violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection of “children’s interest in the privacy and dignity of their homes and . . . the lawfully exercised authority of their parents.” This precedent protecting families from warrantless searches played a crucial role in later cases, such as Josiah and Holly Curry’s case (page 17).[3]

3. Jim & Mary Ann Stumbo | North Carolina, 2003

Stumbo family outside the courthouse

One day in 1999, Jim and Mary Ann Stumbo were in the middle of their family’s morning routine—dressing children and getting breakfast going. Two-year-old Jonie saw her kitten slip out the front door, and the toddler promptly dashed after her pet. Unfortunately, her parents hadn’t finished getting her dressed for the day.

Although Jonie’s brother quickly scooped her up, CPS received an anonymous report that a naked child was running around in the Stumbo’s front yard, which resulted in a visit from an investigator. The worker demanded to be let into the home to interview each child—and when the Stumbos refused, the worker went to court to try to compel them.

Jonie Stumbo

Jonie Stumbo in 2018

HSLDA defended the Stumbos,[4] appealing all the way to the North Carolina State Supreme Court. On July 16, 2003, in a unanimous decision that had important implications for another case 20 years later, that court held that evidence—and not just allegations—are necessary to initiate a home entry and investigation.

In the court’s own words, “[this is] a circumstance that probably happens repeatedly across our state, where a toddler slips out of a house without the awareness of the parent or caregiver. . . . such a lapse does not in and of itself constitute ‘neglect.’”

4. Uwe & Hannelore Romeike | Michigan, 2013

Romeike family

Do nontraditional educational approaches create dangerous “parallel societies”? That’s what Germany believes, which is why the government essentially banned homeschooling. And as the government cracked down more on home education, it sought to prosecute individual homeschooling families.

Enter Uwe and Hannelore Romeike. They were in danger of losing custody of their five children and going to jail—simply for homeschooling them. The Romeikes fled to the US for asylum, kicking off an almost decades-long court battle involving questions of international religious freedom, immigration law, and the government’s authority over education.[5]

Although the Romeikes did not ultimately prevail in court, their courageous example brought national attention to the plight of homeschooling families in countries like Germany and Sweden, while encouraging homeschooling families in other nations to secure their freedom for future generations. Shortly after the US Supreme Court declined to hear the Romeikes’ appeal, the Department of Justice indefinitely deferred their removal, allowing them to remain here in the United States (where they continue to teach their own children at home).

BREAKING NEWS: In September 2023, right after we published this issue, the Romeikes were told during a routine check-in that their deferred status had been revoked. The family was given four weeks to prepare for deportation to Germany. But there is still hope. Learn what you can do to help the Romeikes here.

5. Tanya Acevedo | New York, 2016

Tanya Acevedo

Due to concerns about her son’s safety and the quality of his education, Tanya Acevedo had withdrawn her son from public school to homeschool him. She had followed the law to a T: all the documents had been filled out, and all the paperwork had been filed. She even had the advice and support of several other homeschooling families.

But a CPS investigator showed up at her apartment, insisting on interviewing Tanya’s child in private and on inspecting the apartment. The allegation: “educational neglect.”

What triggered this visit? In accordance with the law, Tanya notified both the school district and central office that she was withdrawing her son. In NYC, school districts do not handle their own attendance databases, as far as homeschooling records are concerned. Instead, the city consolidates all those administrative functions into the understaffed, underpaid, and overworked Central Office of Homeschooling. And due to the resulting bureaucratic inefficiencies and delays, the central office simply had not yet counted Tanya’s son as “homeschooled” in their database.

In short, Tanya had fulfilled all her legal obligations. The central office just failed to fulfill theirs. After HSLDA sued New York City on behalf of Tanya and all other families in her situation, the court appointed HSLDA as the official monitor to ensure that New York followed its own laws.[6]

6. Josiah & Holly Curry | Kentucky, 2020

Holly Curry

On the way to karate practice, Holly Curry, a homeschooling mom, left her six kids in the family’s locked, air-conditioned van for a few minutes as she quickly ran into a local bakery to grab muffins. When Holly came out of the bakery, a couple of police officers informed her that—even though she had broken no law and her children were safe and sound—they had to report her to CPS.

Later, a CPS investigator and sheriff’s deputy arrived at Holly’s house and threatened to remove her children from the home if she didn’t let them in. Once in the house, the social worker not only privately interviewed Holly’s oldest daughter, but also strip-searched all six children in front of the police officer.

On behalf of the Curry family, HSLDA filed—and eventually won—a federal civil rights case against CPS, alleging a violation of Fourth Amendment rights reminiscent of what the Calabrettas had endured two decades before.[7] The judge in Holly’s case described the story as a “three-act tragedy”: “Act One: An ‘attentive and loving’ mother gets muffins for her children. Act Two: There’s a knock on her door and a threat by the government to take away her children. Act Three: Her children are strip searched without cause.

“America’s founding generation may never have imagined a Cabinet for Health and Family Services. But they knew their fair share of unwelcome constables. And they added a Fourth Amendment to our Constitution to protect against this three-act tragedy.”[8]

7. Kristen & Kirk Sosebee | Virginia, 2020

As homeschool graduates themselves, Kirk and Kristen Sosebee were familiar with Virginia’s homeschooling law—and Kirk was an attorney. All they had to do was notify their school district of their intent to homeschool, providing their child’s name, age, and home address. They submitted all the necessary paperwork on time.

The Sosebee family

But Franklin County School District added to these requirements, insisting that Kristen and Kirk Sosebee needed to provide their child’s birth certificate and proof of residence on top of what the state required. If they didn’t, the district threatened to take action with “court intervention.”

HSLDA teamed up with the Sosebees to sue Franklin County School District, arguing that the local district’s policy wasn’t just a confusing addition to the state’s homeschool regulation—it was an illegal one, since only the state legislature can add to state law.[9] The Supreme Court of Virginia agreed with us, adding that the law allowed the board to adopt policies “for the supervision of public schools, not home instruction.


A Homeschooling Hall of Heroes

The space here only allows for seven brief stories. But there are so many more brave parents who also risked personal comfort and security—more than we can recount. We know that the following list is incomplete, but we want to acknowledge and thank that following families for their part in courageously standing up for the homeschool freedoms we enjoy today.

ARIZONA | John and Tiffany Loudermilk | Loudermilk v. Arpaio, 592 Fed. Appx. 596 (9th Cir. 2015)

IOWA | Greg and Karen Trucke | State v. Trucke, 410 N.W.2d 242 (1987)

MAINE | Sammy and Susan Pelletier | Pelletier v. Maine Principals’ Association, 261 F.Supp.2d 10 (D. Maine 2003)

MARYLAND | Lydia Goulart, Kyle Travers | Goulart v. Meadows, 345 F.3d 239 (4th Cir. 2003)

MASSACHUSETTS | Michael and Virginia Brunelle, Stephen and Lois Pustell | Brunelle v. Lynn Public Schools, 428 Mass. 512 (1998)

NEW YORK | Joseph and Karen Durkee | Durkee v. Livonia Central School District, 487 F.Supp.2nd 313 (W.D. N.Y. 2007)

NORTH DAKOTA | Gerald and Sheryl Lund, Richard and Kathy Reimche | State v. Lund, 424 N.W.2d 645 (N.D. 1988) • Lawrence and Deborah Anderson | State v. Anderson, 427 N.W.2d 316 (N.D. 1988) • Jonathan and Diana Melin, State v. Melin, 428 N.W.2d 227 (N.D. 1988) • Joseph and Renee Van Inwagen | Van Inwagen v. Sanstead, 440 N.W.2d 513 (N.D. 1989) • Gary and Nancy Brewer | State v. Brewer, 444 N.W.2d 923 (N.D. 1989) • Chris and Neil Toman | State v. Toman, 436 N.W.2d 10 (N.D. 1989) • Clinton and Judith Birst | Birst v. Sanstead, 493 N.W.2d 690 (N.D. 1992)

OKLAHOMA | Lynn Stephen | Stephen v. Stephen, 937 P.2nd 92 (Okla. 1997)

PENNSYLVANIA | R.G. and S.G. | In re Petition to Compel Cooperation with Child Abuse Investigation, 875 A.2d 365 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005)

SOUTH CAROLINA | Timothy Lawrence, Richard and Debora Kaiser, Maureen Deaton | Lawrence, et. al. v. South Carolina State Board of Education, 306 S.C. 368 (1991)

VERMONT | T.M. | In re T.M., 171 Vt. 1 (2000)