(Daniel Jennings) Two separate homeschool families in Ohio face jail time and thousands of dollars in fines for narrowly missing state deadlines of which they were unaware.
The charges are for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” – even though the children were homeschooled and even though school officials later acknowledged that the parents’ program met state requirements.
The school system says the parents did not provide proper notification on time that their children would not be in public school.
Instead of notifying the parents when they were in violation of the law, school officials let the absences for the children pile up for about a month before bringing criminal charges against them, attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) said.
In most cases nationwide, Kamakawiwoole said, “if the family resolves the issue promptly, state officials rarely pursue further action—like criminal prosecution—against the parents.”
“Unless you happen to live in Ohio,” he wrote on the HSLDA website.
Both families were relatively new to homeschool laws in Ohio, the attorney said.
“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,” Kamakawiwoole wrote. “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.”
School officials should have contacted the families when the absences began piling up but did not, Kamakawiwoole said.
“As soon as both families realized their errors, they took action to comply with their districts’ demands,” he wrote. “After filing the paperwork, both families received a letter from their superintendent verifying that their homeschool program is in compliance with state law for the 2015-2016 school year.”
But then the school district brought criminal charges – charges which carry a maximum penalty of $1,000 in fines and six months in the county jail. Significantly, though, “each day that a child is ‘truant’ can be considered a separate offense,” Kamakawiwoole said.
That means jail time could reach years and fines into the tens of thousands of dollars.
“There is no question that homeschooling families have to meet certain filing requirements in Ohio, and this statute’s primary purpose is to deal with parents who ignore their responsibilities to direct the upbringing and education of their children,” Kamakawiwoole wrote. “But that is not what is happening here. When schools use this statute to prosecute families for what amounts to a simple clerical error, the response is disproportionate and draconian.”
The two families are scheduled to face the charges later this month, and HSLDA is representing them.
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