In its defense of an Ohio mother convicted over homeschooling, the Home School Legal Defense Association is charging a state “bureaucracy gone awry” is responsible for the hell she suffered.
Last September a common pleas judge in Warren County, Ohio, imposed a guilty verdict on Valerie Bradley for being “criminally reckless” in her son’s education, according to Jim Mason, vice president of litigation for the world’s premiere homeschooling advocates.
She was convicted even as a state official praised her for her success, evidenced by her son’s high academic achievement.
But the fight really is over the state’s “red tape,” HSLDA contends, as state officials penalized the mother for missing a non-existent deadline.
Mason explains: “We intend to show that the real harm in this case is being done by state officials who are misapplying the law and punishing a parent who only wants what is best for her child.”
He said HSLDA “is asking for the chance to demonstrate how state officials bungled Mrs. Bradley’s case in three fundamental areas: homeschool law, the procedure for dealing with truancy and the determination of when a parent is reckless.”
Mason said the initial problem was that prosecutors faulted Bradley for failing to submit a student assessment by Aug. 1.
But he said that “deadline” is “completely arbitrary.”
“The homeschool statute mentions no date by which such assessments must be completed. And public schools did not even begin classes until late August,” he said.
Regarding “truancy,” he said prosecution “is reserved for recalcitrant parents who repeatedly refuse to address the educational needs of their children.”
“This certainly was not the case with Mrs. Bradley. When she learned that officials were investigating why her son was not attending public school, Mrs. Bradley acted immediately. She sent her notice of intent on September 28, scheduled an assessment for her son, and telephoned local school officials to update them on her progress. She obtained a letter of excuse by October 21. In other words, Mrs. Bradley acted precisely as the legislature intended parents should act when questioned about truancy: promptly and decisively. That should have been the end of the matter.”
And regarding the “reckless” accusation?
“There is no evidence,” he said.
The case developed after David and Valerie Bradley began homeschooling their son in January 2015. He had a “different learning style, which made it difficult for him to focus in the classroom,” they decided.
The parents told school officials and got an excuse for the rest of that year. But then, in the summer, they received a form letter requesting a notice of intent and an assessment by Aug. 1.
“A short time later, Mrs. Bradley spoke with a school employee who told her, correctly, that there is no deadline for the student assessment. By late October, the Bradleys had filed their notice of intent but were still arranging to have their son tested to meet the assessment requirement. It was then that the state filed a criminal complaint against Mrs. Bradley, alleging that the delay in filing her homeschool paperwork had contributed to the delinquency of her child,” Mason said.
The charge carries the potential of a jail term.
“Mrs. Bradley was especially shocked by what these sort of charges imply – that she had harmed her son by neglecting his education,” Mason reported. “As she testified in court, her son’s home education was ‘the best thing that ever happened to him.’ She said he was ‘doing better than when he was in public school,’ and that his academic performance was ‘exceptional.'”
Test results supported her claim, revealing he was at the 97th percentile, and “even the magistrate who convicted Mrs. Bradley applauded her for ‘being so successful.'”
In the appeal, HSLDA said it intends “to show that the real harm in this case is being done by state officials who are misapplying the law and punishing a parent who only wants what is best for her child.”
WND reported in 2016 several cases in Ohio in which authorities pressed charges against homeschooling parents, mainly because they forgot to file paperwork or some other infraction.
In another case, a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor was dismissed against a family that was not identified. In 2014, their first year to homeschool, the family worked under the supervision of a private school. When they decided to move to an independent status for 2015-2016, they were unaware a notice of intent was required.
So the local district counted the children as “absent.”
After a month, a truant officer visited the family, letting them know for the first time of the problem. He gave them an ultimatum: Prove you are homeschooling or appear in court.
“The next day, the homeschooling mother brought proof of her homeschool to the officer. But despite what the officer had told the family, the school district filed criminal charges against the family that same day, accusing them of ‘contributing to the delinquency of a minor’ – a crime that is punishable in Ohio with up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail,” HSLDA said.
HSLDA then raised the question of whether the prosecutor would be able to prove that the family “recklessly” contributed to truancy.
“‘Recklessly’ means that she acted with ‘heedless indifference to the consequences’ and ‘disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk’ to her children,” HSLDA said. “That is a hard legal standard to meet, especially when the only allegation is that someone failed to file a piece of paper.”
HSLDA was in the process of requesting that the judge dismiss the case when the prosecutor submitted the same request, which then was granted.
Another case also was dismissed eventually.
Peter K. Kamakawiwoole Jr., a staff attorney for HSLDA, told WND at the time he had seen such cases before.
“I wish I could say that this incident is an isolated occurrence, but unfortunately cases like this tend to recur every few years in Ohio: Families submit a document late, and rather than the school district following up with the family after a few absences are accrued, the district waits until many absences are accrued,” he said. “When these families finally were contacted by school officials, they provided the missing paperwork, and the school filed criminal charges against them.”