Facing a possible jail sentence for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” California home-schooling mom Sandra Sorensen claims the San Juan Unified School District and Carmichael Elementary School have been harassing her and her family since they withdrew their son from the “unhealthy environment” of the public school.
Officials accused Sorensen of neglect, reporting her to California child welfare authorities, and are planning to prosecute her in the Sacramento County courts. The legal actions arose after she and her husband decided to set up a private school within their home for their 10-year-old son.
“It seems that once you enroll a child in the San Juan School District they think he’s a possession for life,” Sorensen told WorldNetDaily. According to Sorensen, Carmichael principal Deborah Kraus made numerous threats in person and over the telephone to her since the January decision.
“When I said I was withdrawing my son and setting up a private school, she said, ‘That’s illegal. I’m going to make sure you go to jail. And I will guarantee that any problem [your son] has at this school is transferred to any other school he goes to,’” said Sorensen.
Kraus did not return calls seeking comment, and her assistant referred “questions regarding the Sorensen case” to the district coordinator of the Student Attendance Review Board, or SARB, Joe Tucker. Tucker likewise told WorldNetDaily he “can’t answer specific questions regarding a specific case.”
‘Who’s running the zoo here?’
The catalyst for the Sorensens’ decision to withdraw their son, whom they wish to not name for the sake of his privacy, was an unusual school policy of children giving school suspensions to other children. Sorensen explains her son began bringing home the green cards apparently filled out by children and signed by a teacher and the principal in October. By December, the 10-year-old was coming home with numerous suspensions each day and, as a result, suffered a loss of self-esteem.
“Children should not have the power over other children. Nine and 10-year-olds shouldn’t be giving out suspensions. Kids can be mean,” complained Sorensen.
When she sought an explanation for the suspensions from Kraus, Sorensen said she was first called a “liar” and then ignored.
“After 30 days of onsite detention, he stopped wanting to go to school. So I asked the principal, ‘Who’s running the zoo here?’ She took offense to that and accused me of being a bad mother,” said Sorensen.
Calls to the district public affairs office, the district director of elementary schools and the superintendent’s office were not returned. But the assistant to the associate superintendent of instructional services told WorldNetDaily that she could not speak for the teacher, but that there is no such policy at the district level. “Children don’t suspend other children,” she said.
“I think it’s very sad and irresponsible on the part of the Carmichael school,” Karen Taylor with the California Home School Network told WorldNetDaily. “There’s such a thing as gang mentality on the part of children. I would be outraged if my child were a part of this … because I would not want him to be learning this [behavior.]”
Said Sorensen, “My child’s welfare is most important to us. I would be derelict if I didn’t do something to protect him. I harbor a lot of guilt for not acting sooner. My son is a beautiful, beautiful human being, a kind soul, and for all of this to happen to him is disgusting.”
‘Neglect’ and ‘truancy’
The Sorensens researched private schools and determined they could not afford any of the established schools, and so they decided to set up their own. There is no home-school law in the state of California. And according to the state board of education, the state neither approves nor regulates private schools. Three sections of the state education code address the establishment and operation of private schools. The sole requirement for parents enrolling their children into a private school is to file an R-4 affidavit with the state exempting the student from the public school system. The R-4 affidavit (as described in California education code Section 33190) seeks the private school’s name and address, all employees’ names and addresses, school enrollment, by grades, number of teachers and the courses of study offered by the institution.
In January, Sorensen filed the R-4 affidavit with the state, receiving confirmation that the affidavit was received. She then notified the school that she had filed the R-4 and was formally withdrawing her son. Weeks later, an investigator with Child Protective Service contacted Sorensen regarding a complaint the principal filed accusing her of neglect. The allegation was that Sorensen was not getting proper medical attention for her son, who suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. After interviewing Sorensen, Kraus and the boy’s physician, the investigator concluded the neglect charge to be unfounded.
Upon the resolution of the CPS case, Sorensen explains, she started getting letters and phone calls from Tucker regarding her son’s “truancy.” Tucker scheduled a SARB hearing to address the boy’s “attendance problem” and in correspondence to Sorensen explained “failure to appear will result in referral to the district attorney for action under penal code section 272 (contributing to the delinquency of a minor.)” In another letter, Tucker sought documentation from Sorensen he claimed would help him “ascertain that this is indeed a private school.” In the letter, Tucker lists the documentation that Sorensen was to bring with her to the SARB meeting:
A copy of your appropriate business licenses for your private school.
Department of Justice fingerprint certification per Education Code 44237 and California Department of Education Private School Affidavit R-4.
A list of the course of study offered by your private school, and a list of textbooks used per E.C. 33190(f)(2).
Records of attendance per E.C. 48222.
A copy of Sandra Sorensen’s Bachelors Degree and college transcripts per E.C. 48222, and 3 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 193.
But Tucker’s request for documentation is not supported by California education code. Section 44237 requires “Every person, firm, association, partnership, or corporation offering or conducting private school instruction on the elementary or high school level shall require each applicant for employment in a position requiring contact with minor pupils … submit two sets of fingerprints prepared for submittal by the employer to the Department of Justice for the purpose of obtaining criminal record summary information from the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” In other words, the code requires the private school to fingerprint its employees. It does not, however, authorize public school districts to require the fingerprints from the private school administrator.
There is no education code that requires a copy of “an appropriate business license,” a copy of the administrator’s bachelor’s degree or college transcripts.
When asked whether it was appropriate for the school district to be requiring such documentation of a private school, Vanessa Pruitt with the State Board of Education replied, “That wouldn’t be their business. They have no jurisdiction over private schools. We don’t have any dealings with them at all.”
Maintained Tucker, “By law I’m required to fully and impartially investigate any complaints in regards to truancy and to verify whether or not if in fact the student is truant, and I do that through the SARB hearing process. … It is all prescribed in California education code.” In his letter, Tucker sites Education Code 48920 which reads:
48290. The governing board of any school district, shall, on the complaint of any person, make full and impartial investigation of all charges against any parent, guardian, or other person having control or charge of any child, for violation of any of the provisions of this chapter.
Education code Section 48415 requires the attendance supervisor of the district to verify that the private school has complied with the provisions of Section 33190, which is the filing of the R-4 affidavit. The code further states, “The verification required by this section shall not be construed as an evaluation, recognition, approval or endorsement of any private school or course.” Then, according to the code, once it has been verified that an R-4 has been filed, the child is exempt from the requirements of compulsory public school attendance.
When WND left a message on Tucker’s voice-mail inquiring why the R-4 filed by the Sorensens was being ignored and officials still considered their son to be truant, the call was not returned.
Following the official SARB hearing yesterday, Will Rogers, an attorney retained by the California Home School Network on behalf of the Sorensens, told WorldNetDaily, “I think the head of the SARB, Joseph Tucker, had already made up his mind. The whole thing was a complete waste of time. He would not let me present my client’s case. He kept interrupting me and cut me off when I tried to present the facts. This was clearly designed to intimidate the Sorensens. They even had a sheriff’s deputy there.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, Rogers successfully defended three home-schooling families against criminal truancy charges instigated by the Berkeley Unified School District in July 2000.
“I think this is part of a concerted effort on the part of public school administrators to bring home-schooling families back into the fold, so to speak, and re-institutionalize their children,” Rogers explains. “Across California public schools are making it hard for families to obtain the R-4 to allow them to be exempted from public school.”
At the completion of the Sorensens’ SARB hearing, Tucker announced he was referring the case for prosecution to the Sacramento County district attorney’s office. The conclusion came as little surprise to Rogers, because the district attorney’s office had already sent a threatening letter to the Sorensens warning them they face a fine of $2,500 or imprisonment, and their child could be made a ward of the court.
Eric Kindall, deputy district attorney for Sacramento County said it was “standard operating procedure to send out warning letters” prior to the SARB hearings.
Attorney Rogers disagrees: “I think that’s entirely inappropriate. The district attorney is supposed to be searching for the truth. If they’ve already taken the side of the school [before the SARB hearing] where’s the search for truth?”
Kindall says the Sorensens’ letter is one of 150 such letters sent out last week. “There is a real problem with students being enrolled in ‘private schools’ that are being home-schooled,” Kindall explains. “It has to be a qualified private school, and there’s educational code that lays out the standards.”
When asked to cite the specific code he’s referencing that details qualifications and standards of private schools (other than filing of the R-4 affidavit and the requirements detailed earlier in this article) Kindall responded, “Where the requirements are I can’t say … but there are requirements set forth.” Kindall then referred WorldNetDaily to the “expert” on education code, a woman working within the local public school district. A call placed to her was not returned.
“It’s clear they are not following California law, and my clients are following the letter of the law,” said Rogers. “What the district is doing is embellishing it to read into the statute what is not there … to keep families from home schooling.” Rogers is preparing a legal brief to argue the case with the district attorney’s office.
As for Sandra Sorensen, she’s preparing herself mentally to go to jail.
“I have to stand on my laurels. I refuse to send my son back to that school. The thought of jail scares me but then I look at my little boy’s face and know that that’s what I’ll do.”