A fight in Nebraska over whether the state can dictate not only the number of hours for homeschooling students to be in class each year, but on which days, has been elevated to the state Supreme Court.
The state has accused a homeschooling family, identified as Eric and Gail Thacker and their children, of truancy because, under circumstances related to their job situation and a possible move, they decided to run their school year from November through June, rather than from August through June, according to officials with the Home School Legal Defense Association, which is representing the family.
That’s even though under Nebraska law, homeschools operate as exempt private schools and are only required to provide 1,032 hours of elementary education to children between July 1 and the following June 30.
To the family’s understanding, first-time exempt homeschools could be established at any start date.
It was shortly after their move to Nebraska that the situation developed, when the Thacker family was considering a move to another state. Due to their uncertain living situation, the parents opted to begin their homeschooling year in November. In compliance with Nebraska law, the Thackers filed their notice with the Nebraska Department of Education at the end of September, with a calendar mapping out their curriculum, which included a November start date to the academic year.
The notice also indicated how the parents would provide more than 1,300 hours of instruction to their children over the course of the 2011-2012 school year.
However, before the NDE was able to acknowledge receipt of the exempt-homeschool notice, the family received a court summons because their children had not attended the local public school beginning in mid-August, HSLDA reported.
The state accepted the homeschool-exempt status and acknowledged that their school was in compliance with the law, but nevertheless, the parents were charged with truancy for every day that the public school had been in session until the state’s acknowledgement of the parental plan in October.
HSLDA attorneys found two glaring issues with the state’s case: How could the Thackers be charged with absences from a public school that their children were never enrolled in? Secondly, the state requires every kind of school to provide 1,032 hour of instruction sometime during the school year, but does not dictate the start or end date for those schools.
Prosecutors argued the children were “presumed to be enrolled” in public school unless their parents take them out. The county court agreed with the state and found the Thackers guilty of violating the laws, a Class III misdemeanor.
Then HSLDA appealed to the district court, which threw out the conviction, “noting that the Nebraska law has no deadline for commencing an exempt school for the first time. The ruling also said that the Thackers’ exempt homeschool had ample time to complete the 1,032 hours of instruction before the end of the school year – in accordance with the calendar they had provided…”
However, the state refused to accept that determination, and appealed.
The Supreme Court of Nebraska then stepped in, skipping intermediate courts and took on the case itself.
Attorneys say charges against the Thackers cannot be reinstated but the Supreme Court of Nebraska could set a precedent with whatever decision results.
“This case demonstrates that we need to be ever-vigilant in defending homeschooling freedom,” the HSLDA said.