Homeschooler's neighbor sparks social services case
Investigator did 'drive-by,' said family was planning to flee
A Colorado homeschooling mother has won a social-services case sparked by a neighbor’s complaint about the family that escalated when a social worker did a “drive-by” and concluded they were planning to flee.
A neighbor of the single mother, whose identity has been withheld to protect her family’s privacy, tipped off social services that the mother had been homeschooling several children, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
When an investigator arrived at her door in the fall of 2011, the mother immediately contacted the HSLDA, the nation’s premiere legal defense fund dedicated to parents’ right to home educate.
The mother was instructed by HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly to ask the social worker to leave, and the social worker complied. But this was only the beginning of the mother’s ordeal.
The social worker did not close the case and continued to investigate the mother’s right to homeschool on the grounds that some of her children have learning disabilities that public schools would be better suited to handle.
Donnelly argued against social services’ assertion that a traditional school setting is better equipped to meet the needs of special-needs children.
“Many families homeschool their children who have learning disabilities because they find that the children’s needs are better met in a one-on-one homeschool setting,” Donnelly said. “Research shows that this is true. It is intolerable that someone would question a family’s right to homeschool simply because their children have a learning disability.”
Things took a turn for the worse when the social worker drove by the home and erroneously concluded that the family was attempting to the flee the state. Social services obtained a verbal order from the court to take the woman’s children into state custody pending a full investigation.
Even though the mother demonstrated that she had no intention of fleeing the state and was legally homeschooling under Colorado law, a prosecutor proceeded to open a case over educational neglect.
At the mother’s initial hearing, she was defended by HSLDA local counsel James Rouse. He successfully argued to have the state nullify the vocal court order to take the children into state custody when the mother demonstrated she had enrolled legally in an independent school in Colorado.
The prosecutor proceeded with three educational neglect hearings and a five-day trial. The mother was represented by Donnelly at the recent December trial date.
Donnelly called on an expert witness to testify that the children were receiving an adequate education. After several more visits with the family, the social worker sided with the mother and convinced the prosecutor the case was not worth pursuing on the second day of trial.
Donnelly considers the victory a significant one.
“This victory is important for all homeschooling parents, because it strengthens the idea that all children have the right to be homeschooled and the need for HSLDA,” he said.
“How would this single mother have defended herself? The resources needed for this were far beyond her own means, and most court-appointed defenders simply do not have the experience or sympathy to aggressively defend a mom homeschooling in this situation. I consider it a privilege to have been allowed to defend this mom who was doing what I believe was indeed best for her children.”