Extra-Legal Homeschooler Harassment: Happens Often, But It's Not News

This is not a promo for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) per se, as there may be other similarly effective organizations out there to help families who homeschool their kids.

But if the following examples don't prove that homeschooled children and their parents need to have access to legal help at a moment's notice, I don't know what will. I will present blood-boiling excerpts here, but strongly advise all to read the full stories at the links.

First, the HSLDA reported the following incident at their web site on November 6 (HT One News Now):

The Smiths (named changed to protect privacy), an HSLDA member family in Miami, received an unexpected note on their front door from a social worker asking them to call the number on an attached business card. Little did they know, this was the beginning a nightmare they would not soon forget.

The father, a doctor, telephoned as requested. The social worker to whom he spoke asked to meet the family. Dr. Smith requested that the meeting be at a neutral site at a time that would minimize interruptions in his busy work schedule at a medical clinic. The social worker refused, and declared she would arrive at the Smith home the next morning to “enter the home and interview the children.”

Dr. Smith then asked what the allegations were. The social worker refused to answer, but indicated she knew the family homeschooled. Sure enough, when the social worker showed up at the Smiths’ doorstep the next morning, she again refused to explain what the allegations against the family were. This clearly violated federal law, which states that social workers must reveal allegations at the initial time of contact.

The social worker also did not have a search warrant, so Mrs. Smith initially refused to let her enter the family home. This prompted the social worker to call for two police officers.

With this intimidation, Mrs. Smith allowed the social worker to start talking to the children on the front porch. During the first interview, the social worker went so far as to lift up the shirt of the Smiths’ 9-year-old daughter, which greatly embarrassed the girl. Later, the family learned that the allegations had nothing to do with their 9-year-old.

At this point, Mrs. Smith called HSLDA, desperate for help.

..... (at one point) the social worker had one of the police officers move toward Dr. Smith, and she told the officer to handcuff him so she could remove his children from the home.

After being threatened to this extreme, the family felt they had no choice but to let the social worker into their home to interview the children, who were now crying and wailing. During the interview, the social worker would not let the witness the family provided be present. She also proceeded to lift the shirts and clothing of each child, even those whom the allegations did not concern.

The social worker found nothing—but said still she wanted the family to “undergo a formal psycho-social assessment."

On November 18, HSLDA reported on a drawn-out drama in Missouri:

In March, Shari Egarta told the elementary school teachers for her four children that she would be homeschooling them the following year. In May, she followed up with a letter to the principal. On the last day of school, a school counselor told Mrs. Egarta to fill out certain forms so she could homeschool. Mrs. Egarta patiently explained that she had already given school notice, and was not required to fill out any forms. The counselor insisted that she had to in order to homeschool. Mrs. Egarta explained that she had read Missouri’s law and it said nothing about mandatory forms. The counselor said, “The laws have changed.”

Giving the counselor the benefit of the doubt, Mrs. Egarta brought the form home to read it. It was called the “Homeschool Notification Form.” Near the bottom, it said that it would be sent to the prosecuting attorney’s office. Mrs. Egarta double checked and confirmed that the laws had not changed, and no such forms were required. She explained this to a school official who became very hostile, frightening her young daughter who was with her, and said she had to sign the papers or she would report her. When Mrs. Egarta was firm, the official said, “You just can’t do that, and you are not going to get away with it!”

Although Mrs. Egarta did not know it at the time, the school had kept the children on the rolls, so when school began, the school’s official records began recording unexcused absences for all four children.

..... (ultimately) the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed misdemeanor information against Mr. and Mrs. Egarta.

Now in court and facing criminal charges, the family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for help.

..... After numerous rounds of correspondence with (HSLDA attorney Scott) Woodruff, the assistant prosecuting attorney seemed to understand that something had gone awry and sensibly dismissed the prosecution. The family was delighted.

The attorney for the school system was not so forthcoming, however. He did not acknowledge that the school system had erred or offer any concrete steps to prevent such errors in the future.

This final incident, reported by HSLDA on November 7, "appears" to be not as threatening (but see the question that follows). Nonetheless it reveals dangerous prevailing attitudes, even among those whose job it is to "protect and serve" (bold is mine):

A dog warden showed up at the Jones (name changed to protect privacy) family home in Northern Ohio after receiving a tip from neighbor. She demanded entry into the family’s home, because she wanted to “see if their dog was healthy.”

Mrs. Jones, a homeschooling mother of 10, responded respectfully to this surprise intrusion by politely informing the dog warden that she had a Fourth Amendment right under the Constitution protecting her from warrantless searches and seizures. Mrs. Jones politely explained that her dog was healthy and that unless the dog warden had a search warrant, she would not allow her to come into the house or see the dog.

The dog warden became annoyed and threatened to call the police if Mrs. Jones did not allow her to see the dog. Mrs. Jones politely stood her ground, calmly stating that she would explain her right to the police officer if necessary. The dog warden spitefully called the police.

..... When one of the children opened the door, the mother quickly closed it to protect her children from this unnecessarily ugly intrusion. “You almost shut the door on his fingers,” stated the dog warden, and turning to the officer she stated, “She homeschools, too.” The officer began to criticize the mother for homeschooling, stating that she was being a poor example to her children, questioning the accuracy of her teaching, and asserting that the children had to swallow whatever she told them.

Unanswered question: If this incident is really about the pet, why does the dog warden blurt out that the kids are homeschooled?

One must also assume that these rights-trampling efforts are not of concern to the ACLU, even though the first incident directly involves Fourth Amendment rights, a supposed specialty of theirs.

Of course, as you can see from this Google News search on Home School Legal Defense Association (not in quotes), none of this rights trampling has been worthy of coverage by traditional local or national media outlets (HSLDA President Michael Smith did have an op-ed on an unrelated matter published in the Washington Times on November 8).

If incidents such as these received the attention they deserve, perhaps the country's cadre of social workers would work on cleaning up, or cleaning out, their bad apples.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.