Surveilling homeschoolers, the 2nd try …

By WND Staff

For the second time in just months, an attempt to assemble information such as names and addresses on all homeschool students in one Mississippi judicial district and provide those details to judges has been defeated.

The latest attempt came in the form of a legislative proposal that would have added to each school attendance officer’s obligations the responsibility to “(c)ollect and maintain information concerning each compulsory-school-age child who is being educated in a legitimate home instruction program.”

Such information would be provided “to the youth court judge or the chancellor of a court of competent jurisdiction for the purpose of exempting such children from the truancy laws.”

The proposal also would have given authorities vast decision-making power over students who are in homeschooling programs.

“For the purposes of this subsection, a legitimate nonpublic school or legitimate home instruction program shall be those not operated or instituted for the purpose of avoiding or circumventing the compulsory attendance law,” the proposal said. “At the point that a compulsory-school-age child is no longer receiving instruction in a legitimate home instruction program, as excepted by paragraph (c) this subsection, the parent, guardian or custodian shall cause the child to be enrolled in and attend a public school or legitimate nonpublic school, or be held in violation of this section.”

The Home School Legal Defense Association, which has asked constituents to contact Mississippi lawmakers about the proposal, announced today that no more calls were needed at this point, because it was told the plan, House Bill 464, would not advance either in the House Education Committee or the House Judiciary B Committee.

“While we believe that this bill is dead for all practical purposes, it is important that all homeschoolers in Mississippi know about it,” the organization said in its announcement.

“Should the unexpected happen and this bill rear its ugly head again, we will let you know.”

It was not even a year earlier when the first attempt to collect such information was made. The attempt was from a judge, Joe Dale Walker, who simply ordered school officials to give him the information.

HSLDA noted that the judge and the member of the legislature, Rep. Bob Evans, who proposed the latest plan, could have links.

“Perhaps it is no mere coincidence that Rep. Evans and Judge Walker share the same hometown – Monticello,” the organization reported.

Walker’s earlier attempt to get the information was stymied when the Mississippi Supreme Court canceled Walker’s’ order.

In a six-line statement at the time, a copy of which was obtained by WND, Presiding Justice Jess H. Dickinson wrote, “It is therefore ordered that the Petition for Writ of Prohibition is hereby granted. The order of the Chancery Court, entered on March 24, 2011, is hereby vacated.”

No explanations or details were included, and a spokeswoman for the state court system told WND that it was a “confidential” case about which no information would be released.

But HSLDA’s director of litigation, James R. Mason, issued an extensive report on how the case developed and the potential dangers.

Walker’s order, which never was publicly explained, said: “This day this cause came on for hearing on the court’s own motion to provide the court with a list of the names and addresses of all students in any homeschooling program within the Thirteenth District … and the court after considering the same finds … [t]hat it is necessary to provide the court with a list of names and addresses [of all homeschoolers in the district].”

HSDLA appealed to the state Supreme Court and reported the judge’s explanation that he “was just trying to enforce the compulsory attendance laws.”

“He didn’t explain how having the names of all of the families who were lawfully homeschooling would help him to do that, and we can think of no logical connection,” the report said. “The state Supreme Court couldn’t, either.”

“We never learned exactly why the judge wanted the names and addresses of the homeschoolers in his district … But the case of the missing case was not really about names and addresses. The judge had temporarily lost sight of his right role in the American political system. Judges don’t pass laws, they don’t prosecute the offenders, and they surely don’t commence the cases over which they preside. The order had attempted to consolidate the legislative, executive, and judicial powers in one man.”

Walker reportedly had threatened school officials when they pointed out such information under federal law was confidential and they couldn’t hand it over.

The reports of the threats from Walker, of the state’s 13th Chancery district court, came from one of the attendance officers involved in the case in which Walker demanded the student data.

“He threatened us,” said the official, who later was served with an order the judge wrote and signed for himself.

Here is the judge’s original order:

Walker had called a meeting with the school attendance officers and told them to provide the homeschooled students’ names and addresses. The officers hesitated, as under federal law such information is confidential. The judge said he had researched the issue, and it was safe for them to give him the information, according to an attendance officer who spoke with WND.

However, the state education department told them not to provide the information, and the judge, upset with the results, threatened that he would go write his own court order and then they would have to comply, the attendance officer said.

“The judge wanted information. We tried to explain we didn’t think we could give it to him,” said the officer, whose identity is being withheld by WND. “He wanted it. He threatened us, said if he gave us a court order and we did not fulfill, we would be in contempt and would be arrested.”

A blogger in the region, however, detailed how it appeared that Walker was trying to determine “which families are legitimately homeschooling and which are using the homeschool statute to circumvent compulsory attendance laws.”

A WND source who is familiar with the details of the dispute confirmed that appeared to be accurate.

Blogger Natalie West Winningham said the judge apparently wanted to prosecute the parents of juveniles who show up in his youth court and who “appear not to be receiving legitimate homeschool instruction as well as to flush out other ‘fake homeschoolers.'”

“Perhaps Judge Walker either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that interviewing, profiling, visiting or otherwise needlessly interfering with homeschool families for the sole purpose of comparing them against an arbitrary, legally non-existent and unenforceable standard with the intent of potentially charging the ‘failing’ parents with a crime is not legal,” she wrote.

“Clearly, the judge is not concerned only with the youths who appear in his court. Otherwise, why would the court order seek to secure ALL of the names and addresses of homeschoolers.”

Further, she questioned what use would be made of the information.

“If I were a vigilante judge who got my hands on a database of homeschoolers’ names and addresses, perhaps I would cross-reference it with past criminal records, DHS cases, driving records, credit histories, tax information, etc. And if I thought I could get away with it, maybe I’d send someone to your home to interview you and hope that you don’t know your legal rights.

“I’m not saying that Judge Walker would do those things. But there are many possibilities and none of them is pleasant,” she wrote at the time.

HSLDA has warned the order could provide a “chilling” effect on not only homeschoolers but any group whose members’ names may at some point be demanded by a judge.

The organization also called the newest legislative proposal alarming.

Under the provisions of the plan by Evans, “the judge could simply review the information from the attendance officer and decide that a child’s home instruction program was insufficient, using whatever standard the judge wanted to apply.”

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