Parents from two homeschooling families in Ohio face up to 23 years in jail for missing filing deadlines imposed by the state.
Despite the fact that each of the families were relatively new to homeschooling in Ohio — along with hundreds of other families around the country who report having trouble navigating their state’s notice requirements for the first time each year — school district officials filed criminal complaints against them.
This severe course of action of having both families served — which can cost them tens of thousands of dollars in fines and decades behind bars — has baffled attorneys with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which serves its 80,000 member families across America.
“Even when a family may have missed a key filing deadline, these situations can often be quickly corrected,” HSLDA Staff Attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole. “And usually, if the family resolves the issue promptly, state officials rarely pursue further action — like criminal prosecution — against the parents.”
Once they discovered the errors, both families quickly righted the wrong(s) … but no matter.
Similar charges were filed against the two families over the past month, with each facing possible jail sentences of more than a decade.
Denying the fact that a failure of communication on both sides was reportedly responsible for the misunderstandings, school officials moved forward with legal action in each case against the parents, who sought legal representation from HSLDA as member families.
“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 explained. “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.”
The way both districts dealt with the families is considered unjust and misleading by the nonprofit Christian legal group.
“Even though both families continued to educate their children, their school districts decided to treat the children as ‘truant,’” HSLDA reported. “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.’”
Problem solved … so what’s the problem?
Both families wasted little time to correct their errors and immediately took action steps to make sure they met every one of the demands made by their respective school districts.
“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,” HSLDA attorneys added. “Then they brought criminal charges against the parents.”
If the allegations stick against the families, exorbitant fines and extensive prison sentences can be imposed.
“The criminal charge is ‘contributing to the delinquency of a minor,’ a first-degree misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of up to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in the county jail,” Kamadawiwoole informed. “Each day that a child is ‘truant’ can be considered a separate offense.”
The HSLDA attorney says that the issue isn’t about any negligence on the home educators’ side — it’s about the state seeking control and usurping parental rights when it comes to the education of their children.
“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,” Kamadawiwoole explained. “But that is not what is happening here.”
He and other HSLDA attorneys are building their case in defense of the Ohio families, who are both being tried later this month.
“When schools use this statute to prosecute families for what amounts to a simple clerical error, the response is disproportionate and draconian,” the HSLDA legal team asserted in a statement that promises to vigorously seek justice for both families against the school districts in court.