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District backs off home educators

The San Juan Unified School District has decided “it will not be taking further action” in its truancy case against a
home-schooling family.

As WorldNetDaily was first to report last month, the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB) district coordinator, Joseph Tucker, told Sandra and David Sorensen he was referring their case to the Sacramento County district attorney’s office for prosecution. Tucker announced
his intentions at the conclusion of an SARB hearing on March 21 at which the Sorensens’ attorney, Will Rogers, was also present. Prior to the hearing, the Sorensens received a letter from the district attorney warning them they faced up to one year in jail if found guilty of “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” To Tucker, who enforces the state compulsory attendance laws, the Sorensens’ 10-year-old son has been truant since January when the couple decided to home-school, formally withdrawing him from Carmichael Elementary

In a letter to Rogers dated April 3, the district’s general counsel, Diana Halpenny, says “the decision was made on Thursday, March 28, and so the Sorensen’s case was not forwarded to the district attorney. I apologize for not
communicating this to you sooner.”

“Cooler heads prevailed,” Rogers tells WorldNetDaily. “Because the SARB chairman told us at the end of the hearing he was sending the case to the district attorney. But he’s just an angry guy and could have been spouting off.” Following the hearing, Rogers wrote a letter to the district attorney describing Tucker as “rude and offensive” during the hearing and outlining the facts of his clients’ case, which he says he was prevented from presenting by Tucker’s “constant interruption.”

Repeated calls to Tucker have not been returned.

“Everyone deserves the right to choose how to educate their kids. It shouldn’t be the government deciding,” Sandra Sorensen tells WorldNetDaily. Sorensen feels somewhat vindicated but remains leery of the district. “I don’t think they’re finished with me. I just don’t trust them. Every time I think it’s over, something else comes along.”

As WorldNetDaily reported, the Sorensens say their son, who suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, was being harassed at his school to the point of damaging his well-being. Sandra Sorensen cites an unusual peer-discipline policy where children give suspensions to other children. Sorensen says her son began bringing home 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.

According to Sorensen, when she informed the school that she had decided to remove her son from the “unhealthy
environment” and home-school, Carmichael principal Deborah Kraus made numerous threats in person and over the
telephone to her over the decision, calling her a “bad mother.” Sorensen was subsequently investigated by the state’s Child Protective Service and allegations of negligence were determined to be unfounded. Kraus did not return calls seeking comment, and her assistant referred “questions regarding the Sorensen case” to Tucker. The Sorensens see Tucker’s pursuit of the case, including his request for a copy of her “appropriate business license, Department of Justice fingerprint certification, and a copy of her Bachelors Degree and college transcripts as a continuation of the school’s harassment.

“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,” Tucker maintained, and stated in the Sorensens’ letter the requested documentation was to help
him “ascertain that this is indeed a private school.”

California education code does not address home-schooling and it is considered by the state to be “unauthorized.” The
compulsory education law which dates back to 1874 requires “each person between 6 and 18 years of age to attend public full-time day school … unless legally exempt.” Carolyn Pirillo, a deputy general counsel in the state department of education lists the exemptions as attendance at a private, full-time day school, education via a credentialed tutor or independent study through the public school district.

Private schools are neither regulated nor monitored by the state, and are not required to comply with public school
district standards. And because the education code doesn’t specifically define what a private school is, many families have elected to set up private schools within their homes. The Sorensens did just that, filing an affidavit, called the R-4,
required by private schools with the state.

“An R-4 is only a registration document,” Pirillo told WorldNetDaily, “Filing it doesn’t transform the situation into a private school. A parent is not a private school.” Pirillo cites case law dating back to 1953 as showing the courts rejecting the
concept that parents may call their own home instruction program a “private school” in order to avoid the credential

In its letter to Rogers, the school district explained, “While we stand by our position that home-schooling is not a legal exemption from compulsory education laws in California, we have chosen not to use district resources to pursue this matter further, given the lack of clarity in the law regarding what qualifies as a private school and what agency has oversight responsibility for private schools.”

“It was the publicity that did it,” Lindsay Danesi with the California Homeschool Network says. CHN retained Rogers on behalf of the Sorensens and sent a letter to the school board defending the couple’s right to determine what is in the best interest of their son. Like Sandra Sorensen, Danesi expresses concern for the future of home-schooling in California. “We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’re waiting to see how Tucker proceeds.”

Earlier this month, Tucker told the Sacramento Bee that he would be taking the issue
up with state department of education officials at a May 9 meeting, seeking to “reform and clarify” California compulsory education laws.

“The Sorensen case is over,” says Rogers, “But I have a feeling there’s a bigger battle coming for California
home-schoolers down the road.”

Related stories:

District digs in its heels over home educators

District ‘harasses’ home educators

Home educators win in Berkeley

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