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Home educators win in Berkeley
Posted By Julie Foster On 07/12/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
The Alameda County District Attorney’s office has decided not to pursue
criminal truancy charges against four home-schooling families, thanks in
part to a series of reports by WorldNetDaily, says the families’ lawyer.
The families, who have become known in home-school circles as the
“Berkeley Four,” were preparing for a possible trial instigated by the
Berkeley Unified School District’s student attendance review board.
The review board interrogated the families in a May hearing after a confidential complaint was filed against the home schoolers. During the hearing, the board asked the home-educating parents to submit evidence of their children’s school attendance. The board later modified the request to require information on the families’ curricula as well, refusing to extend a May 31 deadline.
Believing the review board’s actions to be a violation of their rights, the families declined to submit the material. One week after the deadline, the board informed the families that their case had been sent to the district attorney’s office for criminal investigation.
The investigation is now completed, and no charges will be filed against the families.
Three of the “Berkeley Four” are represented by attorney Will Rogers, who credits
WorldNetDaily’s reports as a contributing factor to the families’ success.
“The DA was very reasonable,” Rogers said. “He could’ve taken a very hard-line approach, but he was very reasonable, straightforward and candid. He was not going to be told what to do by the school board. He wasn’t just going to follow their line. He looked at it independently.”
Rogers said he discussed the case with Assistant District Attorney John Adams on Monday. If the DA were to press charges, Rogers said he would have filed a demurrer, objecting to the statute under which his clients were being scrutinized.
“We discussed what a trial would look like and the legal maneuvers that I would make,” Rogers told WND. “If they were to file charges, I would file a demurrer, which says that the statute that the defendants are being charged under does not give sufficient notice to a person regarding what they’ve done to commit some kind of offense. The statute here is vague, and he (Adams) agreed.”
Even if the demurrer, or objection, were to fail, Rogers said the district attorney’s office was facing the legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” when proving truancy — a standard that would be very difficult to meet.
Adams told WND the case was very simple.
“There is documentation that I now have that says these kids are in school,” he remarked. “That pretty much settles it.”
Two of the families are enrolled in an independent study program through a private school. Rogers was prepared to get testimony from the principal of that school, showing the children had no attendance problems.
“The only alternative was to put all of home-schooling on trial, and Mr. Adams was not willing to do that,” Rogers continued. “He analogized it to abortion where both sides have very strong opinions. The inference is that this is a political, rather than a legal matter and needs to be resolved through political channels, rather than through the criminal courts.”
Rogers said the case is a victory for his clients and other home-schooling families.
“This is a victory, not only for the four Berkeley families, but for home schoolers throughout Alameda County and throughout California,” he said. “[Home-schooling families] can go to sleep a little bit easier at night without the worry that they will be facing imminent prosecution for something they believe in their hearts is the best for their children.”
The attorney has not heard from the review board since it referred the families’ cases to law enforcement in early June. He added that he doesn’t expect to hear back from the board, because the DA’s actions “took the wind out of their sails.”
California Education Code Section 48291, “the official making the determination not to prosecute shall provide the school attendance review board with a written explanation for the decision not to prosecute.”
“We are eagerly awaiting [Adams's] report to Berkeley Unified School District officials and hope that it will be useful in helping other home schoolers,” said Cathy Cuthbert of the
California Homeschool Network. “There are several families around California currently in the same predicament that these Berkeley families were. I hope this news gives them the courage to continue to stand up for their educational liberties.”
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