Truancy Charges Against Homeschooler Dismissed
- Wednesday, February 18, 2004
An Illinois prosecutor dismissed truancy charges against homeschool mom, Kathy Benson (not real name), after HSLDA attorneys demonstrated to the prosecutor that a school superintendent's allegations were completely unfounded.
On September 4, 2003, single-mom Kathy Benson was roughhousing with her two daughters in their new home when the doorbell rang. A school official from the public school across the street asked to come in to look at her curriculum. When Kathy told the official that it wasn't a convenient time for her because she had just moved in and hadn't finished unpacking, the official threatened to file a report with the Division of Children and Family Services.
Faced with this threat, Kathy allowed the official into her home and explained that she had been lawfully homeschooling her 9 year-old daughter for three years and that her youngest daughter was not yet of compulsory attendance age. She also explained that because of their recent move, her school schedule would not begin until the following week.
Under Illinois law, homeschools are considered to be private schools and are not required to follow the public school schedule. The Supreme Court of Illinois in the Levison decision of 1950, specifically held that parents who teach their children at home are in compliance with Illinois's compulsory education laws and that the law does not require education to occur in "any particular manner or place."
The school official, without Kathy's permission, also asked Kathy's 9 year-old to define "Subject" and "Noun." The official quizzed the children on a couple of more topics, looked at the books that Kathy was able to dig out of packing boxes, then left.
The next day the official wrote a letter ordering Kathy to enroll her children in public school or face truancy charges. Her letter explained that because it took Kathy a few minutes to locate her schoolbooks "this certainly does not indicate that they were used recently." She also stated that she was "concerned" because Kathy had not begun teaching yet when the public school year had started two weeks earlier. She noted that the children did not answer some of her questions correctly and that because the girls appeared to be "very active" she could not "imagine that effective learning can take place in this environment."
After receiving the official's letter, Kathy, who was not a member of HSLDA or of any other homeschool support group, attempted to resolve the situation herself. She offered to allow a return visit to show the school superintendent the curriculum she had since unpacked, organized, and had begun using. She also attempted to contact the state's attorney to explain the situation to him, but was unable to speak with him before he filed charges early in December.
After the coerced 15-minute home visit, charges were filed, and Kathy's plight came to the attention HSLDA.
"Intimidation of homeschoolers by school officials is unacceptable, especially in the home," said Jim Mason, HSLDA litigation counsel. "What happened to Kathy could happen to any of us," he added.
Like most homeschoolers, Kathy could not afford an attorney. When Kathy was offered free legal representation, she said, "I can't believe anyone cares so much."
With the assistance of attorney Rich Baker of Chicago, a long-time HSLDA ally and homeschool dad himself, we provided the prosecutor with a preview of the evidence that we would use at trial. After discussing the evidence with the superintendent, who reportedly conceded that she had overreacted, the prosecutor dismissed the case.
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