The social worker saw that LuAnn’s father was fine. She left in a few minutes, telling LuAnn that she was doing a good job. Fred has since passed away while in the comfort of his family’s home.

What’s really going on here?

I teach my children to be respectful toward and thankful for police officers and others in government service—those whose job is to keep the peace and serve the public. In fact, before I became a lawyer, I served in law enforcement for many years. In that time, I personally conducted just about every kind of search known to man.

So what was really going on in Orchard Park on April 17, 2012? We don’t know everything for sure, but here is what we surmise:

  • First, adult protective services received a vague, anonymous report about Fred’s care.
  • Second, the social worker called the police and asked them to meet her at the home. In our experience, investigative social workers, whether for children or adults, frequently call the police to accompany them to ensure “cooperation” when they arrive.
  • Third, the police officers arrived first and were chatting with each other while waiting for the social worker. We suspect that they did not know the precise nature of the report—only that one had been made.
  • Fourth, when he was approached by a young man asking why they were at his house, Lt. Buccilli decided to not wait for the social worker.

Here is what we do know: the Fourth Amendment does not permit the police to enter anyone’s home without a warrant unless there is a real emergency—even if it’s called a “welfare check.”

A civil rights lawsuit

After much prayer and thought, the Batts decided to sue Lt. Buccilli for violating their Fourth Amendment “right … to be secure in their house.”

They did not make that decision lightly, since they deeply respect law enforcement personnel in a real and personal sense. But they also hold the rule of law in high regard. They understand that police must respect citizens’ rights, and that when they don’t, they should be held to account.

The family hopes that their experience will result in good legal precedent, so that others will not be mistreated in the same way.

On December 11, 2012, HSLDA filed a civil rights suit against Lt. Buccilli in federal court. You may read the complaint here.

The battle for the front door

This case presents a new twist on an old story. In the early days of the homeschool movement, homeschooling was (wrongly) assumed to be illegal in many states. Homeschooling as an educational option was not as well-known as it is now, and far fewer children were being homeschooled back then.

Too often, early homeschoolers found an investigative social worker at their front door, often accompanied by uniformed police officers. These authorities were typically investigating anonymous tips that didn’t have much to do with homeschooling itself—often something like this: “The children are always home, they don’t go to school, and the family seems really religious.”

Homeschoolers soon learned that front-door encounters with an investigative social worker could be traumatic for both parents and children alike. Protecting our member families from such unwarranted investigations was what drew HSLDA into what we call “the battle for the front door”—defending Fourth Amendment rights.

Now, as many homeschooling families are beginning to care for aging relatives, we are seeing new challenges in the battle for the front door.

HSLDA has long believed that it is important to dispel the notion among police and other authorities that all Fourth Amendment bets are off when they demand to enter a home to conduct a “welfare check.”