Authorities in Ohio have filed criminal charges against homeschool parents in two families, with trials later this month that could result in fines and jail time if convicted.
For missing paperwork deadlines.
The parents, whose identities are not being publicized at this time, are facing accusations of “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” for not having their paperwork filed appropriately – or on time.
The families are being defended by officials with the Home School Legal Defense Association, the world’s biggest advocacy organization for homeschoolers. It has fought battles on behalf of homeschoolers in the United States as well as overseas, taking on state and federal governments from Germany to Sweden to Arizona and California.
The organization explained the paperwork pitfalls that snared the now-criminal case defendants.
“Both families were somewhat new to homeschooling in Ohio. One family filed a notice of intent when they began homeschooling last year, but did not know they had to file another notice for this school year. The other family filed their annual notice of intent, but did not submit an educational assessment with their notice because they had not yet completed it, and had been told by their school district that there was no deadline for submitting the assessment.”
HSLDA continued its explanation, “Even though both families continued to educate their children, their school districts decided to treat the children as ‘truant.’ The schools also waited to contact the families until the children had accumulated more than a month of ‘absences,’ instead of addressing the issue when the school began marking the children ‘absent.’”
Peter K. Kamakawiwoole Jr., a staff attorney for the HSLDA, told WND the organization is in full defense preparation mode for the families, even though it is hoped that cooler heads eventually will prevail.
“I wish I could say that this incident is an isolated occurrence, but unfortunately cases like this tend to recur every few years in Ohio: Families submit a document late, and rather than the school district following up with the family after a few absences are accrued, the district waits until many absences are accrued. When these families finally were contacted by school officials, they provided the missing paperwork, and the school filed criminal charges against them.”
He said the counts here, “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” are usually used for parents who are abusing the system anyway – “aiding or abetting their child in the commission of a crime or a serious offense (obtaining a firearm, for example).”
Or the penalties are designed for those guilty of “chronic truancy,” which, he said, “is defined as more than 15 absences from school without excuse. The statute is clearly intended to deal with situations where parents are unwilling to correct persistent – and in some cases, dangerous – misbehavior by their children.”
“Unfortunately, that statute is being applied here to parents who had no idea that there was an issue – and at worst committed a clerical error – and more importantly, the children have literally done nothing wrong,” he continued.
“The children were attending the school they thought they were enrolled in, they were obeying their parents who expected them to do their school work, and they were doing their lessons daily. These are simply not the sort of families that the Ohio Legislature intended to be subject to these sorts of criminal penalties.”
He said it’s hard to imagine a family being jailed for months or fined thousands of dollars under the circumstances at hand.
But, he said, “Those are the potential stakes for families when school officials choose to prosecute under this statute.”
He continued, “The tragedy is that these prosecutions are entirely avoidable. Ohio’s compulsory attendance statute has specific provisions which are supposed to apply when a school district believes that a child is truant, and those provisions require – among other things – that parents be provided notice when a district believes a child is truant, and affords parents multiple opportunities to correct the behavior of the child (or, in this case, to correct clerical errors). The compulsory attendance statute recognizes that parents can ultimately be prosecuted – but only as a last resort, after intermediary measures have been taken to correct the problem, and have failed.”
He said in the current cases, school officials have blown off those procedures.
Instead, he reported, officials allowed the students “to accumulate weeks’ worth of ‘absences’ before the parents were ever contacted, and then prosecuting them even though the families have documentation showing that their homeschools are in compliance with state law.”
It’s an unsettling situation, he explained, one for which the HSLDA is marshaling its members and resources to address.
“The fact that these families are even facing prosecution is disturbing, and the fact that they could face significant fines or jail time if convicted is disproportionate and draconian. It is our hope that by defending these families and drawing attention to their plight, that we can prevent this issue from recurring in the future.”
In Ohio, the criminal charge is a first-degree misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in jail – and “each day that a child is ‘truant’ can be considered a separate offense.”