HSLDA filed an emergency appeal in Texas on February 29 to reverse a district court order that compels a homeschooling family to submit to a search of their home against their wishes.

The order also authorizes a Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) investigator to transport all five children for “an interview relating to the investigation or for examinations, including medical, psychological, or psychiatric examinations.”

What prompted this intrusive order? The family’s 8-year-old son walked to the neighborhood dollar store without permission.

Someone called the police, and the boy was driven home. The boy’s mother had already sent the boy’s teenage siblings out to look for him and was about to get in her car to look for him herself. The boy had never done this before, and the parents grounded him to teach him that it was not okay to do so again.

This all happened on Dec. 22, 2023. Almost two weeks later, an investigator from DFPS came to the home and spoke to both parents. She expressed concern that the children played by the neighborhood creek and pond.

The parents explained that the 8-year-old boy is usually accompanied by older siblings, and that mom is usually home with the children. The father also explained that, after the dollar store incident, the 8-year-old had been grounded and had not broken family rules since.

The parents asked the DFPS investigator what she needed to do to complete her investigation. The investigator “explained our process,” which included searching the home and conducting private interviews with all the children. The family declined, and the investigator left the home, explaining that “legal action may be sought.”

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Legal action in the case

The investigator reported to the court that the parents didn’t “feel my involvement is needed in their home and my services could be used elsewhere. [Father] stated that the children are well taken care of, they have food in the home and everything they are needing.” She also noted that the family had no previous police or DFPS involvement.

The family heard nothing further until they received a letter from the court on February 27, telling them that an order had been issued on February 22. The enclosed order said that the court had concluded that the circumstances described above as alleged in the DFPS papers were so dire that there was “no time, consistent with the physical health or safety of the child, for a full hearing.” In other words, a DFPS attorney had asked for the order without giving the family an opportunity to tell the court their side of the story.

The court further found that “the child is in imminent danger of being subjected to aggravated circumstances.”

Then the court clerk dropped the order in the mail.

The family called HSLDA immediately when they read the court clerk’s letter on Tuesday afternoon.

The next day—Wednesday, February 28—we filed an emergency motion asking the judge to stop DFPS from carrying out its search of the home and seizure of the children to give us time to ask the court of appeals to reverse it. That same day, the court set an emergency hearing for the following morning.

The DFPS investigator came to the family’s home on Wednesday afternoon, unaware that a hearing had been set for Thursday. The investigator called her attorney, who confirmed that an emergency hearing had been set for the following day and left.

On Thursday, the DFPS attorney agreed to hold off on executing the order until March 5, 2024. Later that day, we asked the appellate court to prevent enforcement of the order while it considered our appeal.

In our appeal, we argue that when an 8-year-old child disobeys family rules and walks to a neighborhood store without permission, that is neither “abuse” nor “neglect” as defined in Texas law. Accordingly, no investigation should have been initiated in the first place.

We further argue that when the DFPS investigator confirmed that the family had taken appropriate measures to prevent future occurrences, that should have ended the investigation.

We believe that DFPS investigators play an important role in discovering and preventing child abuse and neglect. But there are rules that they and juvenile court judges are supposed to follow to prevent the investigations they pursue from doing more harm to children than good.

Previous cases

In 2020, we successfully appealed a similar order to the Texas appellate court in Tyler.

That court said, “[t]he State’s responsibility to protect children from abusive parents does not authorize the State to oversee the internal affairs of every family,” and “[t]o conclude otherwise would subject a parent’s fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of her children to potential arbitrary governmental interference for any conduct or decision with which the government may disagree or of which it may disapprove.”

A case HSLDA handled in North Carolina on behalf of the Stumbo family is also instructive. After a young child wandered out of the house, the local CPS investigator obtained an order like this one.

We appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of North Carolina. “On this record,” the court held, “we have a report of a circumstance that probably happens repeatedly across our state, where a toddler slips out of a house without the awareness of the parent or care giver—no matter how conscientious or diligent the parent or care giver might be. While no one wants that to happen, such a lapse does not in and of itself constitute ‘neglect’ under [North Carolina statutes].”

As the United States Court of Appeals said in one of HSLDA’s early cases, “[t]he government’s interest in the welfare of children embraces not only protecting children from physical abuse, but also protecting children’s interest in the privacy and dignity of their homes and in the lawfully exercised authority of their parents.” 

Why we defend the sanctity of the home

When CPS investigators attempt to interview children apart from their parents, they typically go to the child’s school, where school officials agree to the interviews without the parents’ knowledge or consent. We don’t agree with that practice, but it does happen.

When a child is homeschooled, however, it sets up a confrontation with the parents at the home. That is how HSLDA became involved in protecting the sanctity of the home.

For agents of the state—including DFPS investigators—to enter the home requires consent, a true emergency, or a court order based on probable cause to believe that abuse or neglect is occurring. And when an investigator goes to court, it is the job of the judge to make sure the constitutional rules are followed and that families are protected from needless intrusion.

We have urged the court of appeals to hold that neither the DFPS investigator nor the judge did their jobs correctly, to the detriment of this family and to the rule of law.

As of March 1, the court of appeals has ordered the DFPS investigator to respond to our appeal by Monday, March 4, at noon.

If you are not a member of HSLDA, please consider joining to stand with other homeschooling families in need of legal assistance during this kind of emergency.

Your generous donation will help us to protect homeschooling families and fight government overreach.

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