A Kentucky circuit court judge overruled a lower-court’s decision to force a home-schooled teen into public school until she was 18, saying home schooling is a fundamental parental right.

The decision, made Thursday by Judge Tyler L. Gill, was announced by the Home School Legal Defense Association yesterday. HSLDA’s David Gordon represented Sarah and Mrs. D. (Names in cases involving juveniles are kept confidential.)

“We are grateful that the appeal court recognized the juvenile judge’s abuse of parental rights and restored the authority of Mr. and Mrs. D over their own daughter,” said Gordon, who believes the trial court was determined to recapture Sarah for the public school system.

The teen is now free to continue home schooling until she graduates.

As reported by WorldNetDaily, Sarah D, a 15-year-old Kentucky high-school student, started a home-schooling program last fall after poor health made it difficult for her to attend public school. Despite her home-schooling program, Logan County District Court Judge Sue Carol Browning concluded Sarah was guilty of truancy and ordered her to attend public school until she turned 18 – two years beyond the state’s compulsory education law. In December, Browning also issued a pick-up order for Sarah and an arrest warrant for her mother for contempt of court. But the appeals court lifted the arrest warrant and the pick-up order.

Gill responded favorably to HSLDA’s arguments in the appeal proceedings and overturned the lower court. He found that Browning had committed a technical violation by allowing prosecution of Sarah for truancy even though her absences were not reported, as required by law. More importantly, he held that Browning had violated Mr. and Mrs. D’s fundamental right to home-school Sarah.

“Regardless of the problems mentioned above, this case turns upon whether the conduct of a child in being truant from school, without any showing of misconduct on the part of the parents, triggers a forfeiture of the parents’ fundamental right to make decisions concerning their child’s education to the state,” wrote Gill.

“Parents have a fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. This right includes the right of parents to choose an alternate education in lieu of public schools,” he continued. “Absent a showing of some form of misconduct on behalf of the parent, this fundamental parental right should not be confiscated by the state because a status offense was committed by the child. First, penalizing the parent for the conduct of a child usually only occurs in the case of criminal conduct by the child. Second, generally speaking, parents are in a better position to make decisions concerning their children than the courts.”

While the ruling is good news for home-schooling parents, Gill’s written opinion was not without a warning to parents who are not properly educating their children according to the state’s standards.

Gill noted his awareness that “some parents withdraw their children from school under the pretext of home schooling with no intention of doing so and that some other well-intentioned parents may be incapable of providing an adequate education for the children. As a result, there are many children in Kentucky who have been withdrawn from public school by their parents who are receiving little or no education.”

The judge acknowledged such questions were not directly addressed in Sarah’s case, yet he added that “it is clear from the record that these were the underlying concerns of the school officials who initiated the charges and of the (lower-court) judge. These are proper concerns. The facts of this case certainly give rise to legitimate concerns about the quality of Sarah’s home schooling. These concerns may properly be addressed through investigation and, if merited, direct action against [Sarah’s parents].”

His opinion concluded with a summary of Kentucky education law, which permits the state “to monitor private and parochial schools (home schools are considered private schools) by appropriate standardized achievement testing programs.” He added, “A legal framework has long been in place which permits the State Board of Education to closely monitor home schools. This includes the ability of the State Board of Education through the Director of Pupil Personnel to demand of home-schooling parents that they provide proof of curriculum, attendance and any other records necessary to establish that compulsory education requirements are met.”

No such investigation is known to be under way against Mr. and Mrs. D at this time.

Related stories:

Judge orders girl to public school

Home-school mom not going to jail

Home-educating mom fights arrest warrant

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