Many parents choose to homeschool because their child has unique learning challenges that, despite the best intentions of school staff, are difficult to meet in the traditional classroom setting or school environment. Homeschooling empowers parents to provide an individualized instructional plan with creative solutions that enable their child to thrive.

But some school officials are reluctant to let go of struggling students; and when parents decide to homeschool, officials press truancy charges in court.

One Wisconsin homeschooling mom experienced this firsthand, earlier this year.  

Her 11-year-old daughter was struggling in school due to a death in the family and some health needs that led to attendance challenges. For the first half of the 2019–2020 school year, mom tried to work with school officials to accommodate her daughter’s unique needs. But by Christmas, it was clear to mom that public school was just not the best educational option for her daughter.

She notified the local school that starting on January 1, 2020, she would begin homeschooling.

Beginning the journey

She picked out curriculum, hired a math tutor, arranged for therapy, and hoped that homeschooling would help her daughter excel.

It worked.

Right away, mom noticed improvement. Her daughter was progressing academically, and homeschooling seemed to bring back some of the joy of learning. Everything was going great.

Then she received a court summons in the mail. She was being charged with contributing to truancy. She had sent doctor’s notes for most of the days her daughter missed in the fall, but these charges included absences in January—after she started homeschooling.

Desperate for help, she reached out to Home School Legal Defense Association and was quickly connected with our legal team and education consultants. Our legal team walked her through Wisconsin’s homeschooling requirements and verified that she was in compliance, while one of our consultants answered practical questions about transitioning into homeschooling from a public school environment.

On her behalf, we filed a response to the charges against her and prepared to assist her in court.

But prior to the first hearing, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the case, based on mom’s compliance with Wisconsin’s homeschool law. Mom was relieved to finally see the cloud of uncertainty dissipate. And she was even more confident that she was making the right choice for her daughter.

Different states, same issue

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated occurrence. Just a couple weeks before this mom’s case was dismissed, I was assisting a custodial grandparent in Delaware with a nearly identical legal scenario.

It was a different family with different circumstances, but the same underlying issue—withdrawing children from public school over disagreements about what was best for them led to truancy charges.

In this case, grandma decided to homeschool her two custodial grandchildren after they experienced school bullying that led to anxiety and other mental health concerns. The children’s psychiatrist specifically recommended homeschooling. But school officials went to court, claiming grandma hadn’t filed the correct paperwork.

She had filed the correct paperwork. But the right person in the school district apparently hadn’t received it.

I spoke with the attendance officer who was prosecuting the case. He quickly agreed to drop the charges.

Not always this easy

But not all cases are resolved so quickly. Families in West Virginia and Massachusetts have similar stories to tell, but their cases are still pending due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Massachusetts, when a family withdrew their daughter with special needs because she had experienced severe bullying and mistreatment, school officials filed truancy charges in court and reported the family to child protective services, only adding to the challenge of homeschooling.

My colleague who is handling the case, HSLDA Senior Counsel Mike Donnelly, said he was able to work with the family to close the child protective services case surrounding the educational neglect allegations, but the truancy case is ongoing.

“These cases are often resolved quickly,” Donnelly said, “but it is also common for them to drag on and cause a lot of stress and anxiety for people who are tied up in the court system over paperwork.”

Withdrawing a child from school creates a natural friction point between parents and educators, who may disagree on what is best for a child. While every situation is unique, parents are generally in the best position to make educational decisions for their child. Because school officials are quick to go to court when a child is withdrawn, even good parents regularly face legal hurdles when they follow the law.

HSLDA stands ready to equip, support, and defend parents who decide to give homeschooling a try but face legal opposition from local school authorities.