A threat by a Utah judge to take away a homeschooling mom’s children if she failed to enroll them in public school, and make sure they were in attendance every day, has been escalated to the level of the state Legislature, according to a homeschooling leader.
“I can tell you there are several legislators working on this, including one on the judicial retention committee,” John Yarrington, president of the Utah Home Education Association, said. “There’s no excuse for this kind of bias and prejudice.”
At issue are the threats issued by Judge Scott Johansen, who serves in the juvenile division of the state’s 7th Judicial District
He said in a court hearing for the homeschooling mom, Denise Mafi, that he would order the removal of her children from her custody if she failed to enroll her children in the public school district and keep them in class every day, unless they had a physician’s note excusing them.
Mafi, who has homeschooled for nine years, told WND that she already had enrolled the children, for fear the judge would carry out his threat.
WND earlier reported the confrontation developed after the school district apparently lost an affidavit Mafi had submitted for the 2006-2007 school year.
Mafi already had submitted her state-mandated affidavit for the 2007-2008 school year for her children, and had received her exemption. However, when she appeared in court with her juvenile son to have the charges dismissed (under a case held in abeyance procedure) stemming from a clash among children, she suddenly was presented with four counts against her for failing to comply with the state’s compulsory education requirement. The counts each carry up to six months in jail.
She thought she was meeting the court’s demands earlier when she enrolled her two youngest children in classes, and put her two older children in an online curriculum connected to the public school. However, she soon learned otherwise.
“Well everything fell apart in court today. I had to enroll my two oldest in public school. … If I didn’t the judge said I would lose custody of my children. He threw out the plea and we go to trial on January 9th. I have NO CHANCE with this judge. He will find me guilty. He already has. So I will probably be spending some time in jail. Please pray for my children,” she noted in an online forum connected to a “Five In A Row” homeschool curriculum she had used when her children were younger.
She said her public defender earlier had reached a plea agreement she thought would be satisfied by her action, an agreement hammered out with the prosecutor. However, the judge rejected everything, she told WND.
“It is a long story but basically it boils down to the school district says I didn’t file my homeschool affidavit last year. I faxed it to the school district office on Oct. 27, 2006. Somehow it was lost. I have my copy,” she said on the forum.
WND contacted the judge’s court, but was told to call the state judiciary’s office, and a spokeswoman confirmed that the situation was being reviewed, but she couldn’t comment on a pending case. The district attorney’s office didn’t return a telephone request for comment.
Yarrington said a lawyer for the UHEA is working on the case, as are lawyers for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
He said court records show the judge told the woman that she was in court with her son “because you homeschool,” even though the case at hand had nothing to do with homeschooling.
And the judge told the woman that homeschooling fails 100 percent of the time and he wasn’t going to allow it.
“This guy’s nuts. He has no clue,” Yarrington said. “He’s [stepped] on so many rights it’s ridiculous.”
The lawyers were awaiting the remaining paperwork in her dispute before taking their next step, Yarrington said.
He said the judge would have to be “insane” to try to get away with such actions. But he’s not entirely surprised, because there have been “a quite a few of these situations,” in Utah in recent years.
“We’re constantly in a push and shove with districts, and sometimes with the state school board,” he said, even though a recent state law limits the state and district involvement in homeschoolers’ lives if they file the required affidavit annually.
He also said the group constantly advises parents to send the affidavits in by registered mail or another service that provides a written confirmation of delivery.
That apparently is what Mafi failed to do.
“Unfortunately, people get in a hurry, and they don’t know about this ‘Gotcha,'” used by school districts, he said.
No numbers are compiled on such situations by homeschool groups, often because homeschool parents frequently seek their own legal advice and get their situations resolved without informing the association, Yarrington said.
But he said he knows of “numbers” of such situations.
“Several districts have gotten cranked up and decided to show how tough they are,” he said.
He said he was aware of one recent case in which a mother was charged with violating state law regarding educational neglect and truancy even though she had a doctor’s note regarding her son’s absences, a health situation that prompted her to move to homeschooling.
“This fine principal actually called the doctor. That’s way outside the bounds,” Yarrington, who represents about 7,500 homeschooling families in Utah, said. “The principal gave the doctor the kid’s name, and said, ‘Is there any reason this kid can’t come back to school?’
“The doctor, without the case in front of him, said, ‘It’s probably okay,'” he said.
Cracking down on homeschooling is “pretty obviously” a goal of the state, he said, although state officials disagreed.
Scott Peterson, of the state Department of Education, said there are more than 8,000 homeschooled students in the state, many of them who choose to continue to participate in various classes or activities at their local school districts.
But he admitted comments such as Johansen’s have no place in education.
Asked if he thought the judge was out of line, he replied, “If that is what he said, it would be, yes.”
Homeschool officials said local school districts get about $7,500 per student in tax payments, but the state said that figure was closer to $2,500, although there were additional funds that also were involved.
As WND has reported, such threats and actions are becoming more common in Germany, but that nation still makes homeschooling illegal under a law launched when Hitler expressed a desire to control the minds of youth.
A recent court ruling there, in fact, said not only is homeschooling a basis for child endangerment charges, but a local government was remiss in allowing a mother to take her two children to another country where homeschooling is legal.
The recent decision from the Federal High Court in Karlsruhe, Germany’s highest court, was reported by the German edition of Agence France-Presse as well as Netwerk Bildungsfreiheit, an advocacy organization for Germans who wish to homeschool.
Netwerk Bildungsfreiheit says the ruling is strikingly similar to a case from 1936, when the courts ruled that those who wish to homeschool wouldn’t be tolerated.
WND has reported previously how German officials targeted an American family of Baptist missionaries for deportation because they belong to a group that refuses “to give their children over to the state school system.”
A teenager, Melissa Busekros, also returned to her family months after German authorities took her from her home and forcibly detained her in a psychiatric facility for being homeschooled.
And WND has reported on other families facing fines, frozen bank accounts and court-ordered state custody of their children for resisting Germany’s mandatory public school requirements, which by government admission are assigned to counter “the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views.”
In the case involving Melissa, a German appeals court ultimately ordered legal custody of the teenager, who was taken from her home by a police squad and detained in a psychiatric hospital for being homeschooled, be returned to her family because she no longer is in danger.
The lower court’s ruling had ordered police officers to take Melissa – then 15 – from her home, if necessary by force, and place her in a mental institution for a variety of evaluations. She was kept in custody from early February until April, when she turned 16 and under German law was subject to different laws.
At that point she simply walked away from the foster home where she had been required to stay and returned home.
Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, has commented on the issue on a blog, noting the government “has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views and in integrating minorities into the population as a whole.”
Drautz said homeschool students’ test results may be as good as for those in school, but “school teaches not only knowledge but also social conduct, encourages dialogue among people of different beliefs and cultures, and helps students to become responsible citizens.”
The German government’s defense of its “social” teachings and mandatory public school attendance was clarified during an earlier dispute on which WND reported, when a German family wrote to officials objecting to police officers picking their child up at home and delivering him to a public school.
“The minister of education does not share your attitudes toward so-called homeschooling,” said a government letter in response. “… You complain about the forced school escort of primary school children by the responsible local police officers. … In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement.”
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