From time to time I like to provide a brief summary of some recent court cases relative to homeschooling. Today I’m stressing only those decided by a court of appeals or higher, not district court decisions. We’ll begin with a couple of special education decisions that together say something important about homeschooling children with special needs. Then we’ll move on to the more unseemly stuff.
T.B. by W.B. and J.B. v. St. Joseph School District was decided by the 8th Circuit Court in late April of 2012. Read the full decision, which includes a comprehensive summary of the facts of the case, here. Bottom line is that parents of special needs kids who provide home-based education need to show explicitly how their home-based program is meeting the child’s IEP if they want the school district to reimburse them for expenses. The family in this case did not provide an education appropriate to their child’s needs, and so when they sued to have the school reimburse their expenses, they lost, both at the district level and on appeal.
Matter of Andes Cent. School Dist. v. King was decided by the New York Supreme Court in April 2012. Here again the parents sued their school district when it refused to reimburse them for transportation to and from their child’s special education services, which the child took in addition to being homeschooled. The New York State Education Department agreed with the parents but the School District appealed, stating that transportation wasn’t special education. But it is, as both federal and state law clearly say, so the State Supreme Court sided with the parents. Read the details here. To me the significance of these two cases combined is that homeschooling parents with children with special needs should make sure that they are compliant with all laws and try to work with rather than against special education service providers. When proper procedures are followed, as was the case here, the parents will win in court if a school district doesn’t want to play along. But when the parents try to do it maverick style, as with the prior case, the courts will not likely be friendly.
It must be said over and over that it’s important not to generalize about the entire homeschooling movement based cases like these. By definition situations that make it into court are atypical. But having said that, such cases do help explain why so many Americans who do not homeschool look at those who do with suspicion.
People v. Goddard was decided by the California Court of Appeals in June of 2012. The facts of the case are very sobering. They detail the years-long sexual abuse of an adopted girl by the husband of the girl’s stepsister. The abuse was able to go on so consistently for so long because the girl was homeschooled, and the husband was frequently left alone in the house with the girl while the stepsister was at work. Goddard was convicted of several counts of sexual abuse of a minor. You can read it all here.
Titus v. Titus, Decided in April of 2012 by the Nebraska Court of Appeals, is an interesting case largely because of who it features. Phyllis Titus is very well known in the Nebraska homeschooling world, having served for several years as the point person for the Home Educators Network, a leading regional organization. She’s been scrubbed from the site’s actual pages, but you can still find her name all over the internet from years past. Anyway, The Tituses divorced, and Mr. Titus appealed the original decision because he thought he was having to pay too much alimony. The court of appeals confirmed the earlier decision, citing among other things the years and years of sacrifice Mrs. Titus gave to her earning potential so that she could homeschool the couple’s two children, which both parents had always wanted her to do. The former Mrs. Titus now can benefit financially from all those years of service.
Bowen v. Bowen, decided by the Arkansas Court of Appeals in June of 2012, is interesting mostly for the wild homeschooling set-up it divulges. The case is really about whether grandparents have a right to see their grandchildren if a parent doesn’t want them to, but what prompted the trouble between paternal grandparents and father was a divorce followed by a decision to homeschool. From the facts of the case, which you can read here, a husband and wife divorced, which led the husband’s father to fire his son from the family business. This led the father to stop allowing the grandparents to visit the house, so they saw their grandkids during lunch at school. But eventually the husband’s new wife and his ex-wife, decided to homeschool the children. The grandparents sued to get visitation rights, which the lower court granted. But the court of appeals reversed the decision, saying that in such cases a parent’s wishes take priority unless a very high threshold is cleared, and the grandparents didn’t clear it. I include the case here only because it is the first example I’ve ever come across of a homeschooling situation where a divorced biological mother and the step mother who replaced her homeschool children together.
Finally, we have In re C. S. et al., decided by the California Court of Appeals in April of 2012. It’s the kind of custody case nobody wants to hear about, for it involves the use of “homeschooling” to mask neglect and abuse. If you want the details you can read them here. Bottom line is that cases like this, and there are many, need to be kept in mind by homeschoolers like David Mills, who recently expressed in the fine journal First Things his exasperation with the skepticism with which his decision to homeschool is often greeted by outsiders. One reason so many people are skeptical is that not all homeschoolers behave like David Mills.