A Utah woman who was ordered by a juvenile court judge to enroll her children in public school or lose custody of them has abandoned her home, furniture and other possessions to escape the order.
Denise Mafi, a nine-year veteran of homeschooling, has confirmed to WND she and her children packed up their essentials – clothes and homeschool materials – and fled Utah over the weekend, spending more than 50 hours on a bus trip to an undisclosed part of the country.
There she has obtained an empty home and is spending the Christmas break trying to find beds for her children and herself. After the New Year she will involve the children in a local homeschooling process.
“We’re shampooing carpets right now. We have no furniture. We have no beds,” she said. “But my kids are not going to public school. They are not going where Jesus isn’t welcome.”
Her home, furniture and other possessions left behind in Utah? “I’m not going back unless the judge removes the threat of arrest,” she said. “I’ll fight for the cause but I’m not going to be a martyr.”
The case erupted for Mafi because of an apparent paperwork glitch that could be the fault of her local school district. Now Utah home school officials say they have asked the state Legislature to review actions by the judge, whose office has declined comment to WND.
The confrontation developed after Mafi, still married but separated from her husband, already had begun her homeschooling plan for the 2007-2008 year, for which she had received a district exemption as required in Utah. She was told she was being accused of four counts of failing to abide by the state’s compulsory education law, with a penalty of up to six months in jail on each count, because the district alleged she had not submitted a required affidavit for the long-completed 2006-2007 school year.
Counseled by a public defender, she thought she was meeting the court’s demands earlier when she enrolled her two youngest children in classes in Utah 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.
At issue are the threats issued by Judge Scott Johansen, who serves in the juvenile division of the state’s 7th Judicial District. Johansen threw out the agreement Mafi thought would resolve the charges.
Mafi has reported, and her recollection of events has been confirmed by attorneys, that Johansen told her homeschooling fails 100 percent of the time and he would not allow it.
“I can tell you there are several legislators working on this, including one on the judicial retention committee,” said John Yarrington, president of the Utah Home Education Association. “There’s no excuse for this kind of bias and prejudice.”
Mafi, who has her own copy of the required affidavit, said she faxed it to the school district office Oct. 27, 2006. But the district alleged it didn’t arrive, and Mafi failed to keep a fax confirmation she received at the time.
WND contacted the judge’s court, but was told to call the state judiciary’s office. A spokeswoman confirmed 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.
Tom Smith, however, who identified himself as a friend of the judge, wrote to WND in his defense.
“I and another local Republican official wrote to encourage Gov. Bangerter to appoint Scott Johansen, who was a Democrat county attorney at the time, as a juvenile judge. Scott did not like the partisan politics at the time, and many of his views today tend to be more conservative,” he said. “I believe he has served our area very well in his capacity of juvenile judge.”
Smith cited an occasion when he was teaching a number of years ago, when “some in our school wanted to change the method of teaching to a more liberal way; a method that had not done well in other schools. Judge Johansen took a stand against it with those of us who opposed the change. The result was that several of us teachers were not required to make the change.”
Yarrington said a lawyer for the UHEA is working on the case, and lawyers for the Home School Legal Defense Association are reviewing the situation.
Mafi said she is hoping she will not be required to return to Utah for the scheduled Jan. 9 trial, and it was unclear immediately how the fact her children no longer remained in Utah would affect the charges already filed.
She has explained that her opposition to public schools comes from what she sees as an anti-Christian atmosphere. Mafi said she and her husband had decided homeschooling would be their choice even before the children reached school age.
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.
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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