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A homeschooling mom who fled her Carbon County, Utah, home because of a judge’s threat to take away her children if they were not enrolled in the local public school district is preparing to answer the counts that accuse her of failing to submit last year’s homeschool paperwork.
Officials with the Home School Legal Defense Association have confirmed they will work on the case involving homeschooling mom Denise Mafi.
“The Home School Legal Defense Association, in association with prominent Utah attorney, Frank Mylar, has agreed to represent homeschooling mom, Denise Mafi, in her upcoming truancy prosecution in Utah’s Carbon County Juvenile Court,” the organization said.
“HSLDA senior Counsel James R. Mason stated that the attorneys are reviewing the facts and are preparing a vigorous defense to the charges,” the group said.
As WND reported earlier, Mafi, who at that time had had counsel from a public defender, abandoned her home, furniture and other possessions to leave Utah and seek refuge in another state, where she plans to get her four children involved in a homeschooling program after the Christmas holiday.
At that time she told WND she would not return to Utah to retrieve her furniture and other items unless the threat of her arrest was removed. But she also confirmed she planned to be back in the state for a trial scheduled on Jan. 9.
Mafi told WND she and her children had packed up their essentials – clothes and homeschool materials – and spent 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. “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 plight prompted dozens of WND readers to request a way to make a donation to her, and HSLDA’s own foundation, while not immediately set up to transfer donations to one specific individual, does recognize that homeschoolers may have urgent needs, and does respond to those needs.
The case erupted for Mafi because of an apparent paperwork glitch that could be the fault of her local school district.
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. Then 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. He threw out the agreement Mafi thought would resolve the charges, and then warned her about losing her children if they were not enrolled in the public school district, or if they missed class without a doctor’s note.
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. Court officials told WND the comments didn’t happen as Mafi reported, but have been unable to provide a transcript to confirm either version.
Mafi, who has her own copy of the required 2006-2007 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.
Utah home school officials say they already have asked the state Legislature to review actions by the judge, whose office has declined comment to WND.
“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.”
Tom Smith, 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.”
Mafi 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.
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