In a dispute with state school officials, the Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled that a homeschooling family is free to set its own school calender, as long as it meets the requirement for class hours.
As WND reported, school officials demanded that Eric and Gail Thacker and their children be charged with truancy, because the family started its homeschool year in November.
However, in its opinion, the state Supreme Court agreed “that the Thackers could complete the required instructional hours in the school year.”
The family was represented by the Home School Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA.
HSLDA Senior Counsel James R. Mason III said the ruling affirmed the principle that parents are in charge of their children’s education.
“The court rejected the prosecutor’s argument that children are presumed to be enrolled in the public school until their homeschool paperwork is completed,” he said. “We’re thankful that the justices gave this case such thoughtful consideration in reaffirming the rights of homeschooling parents.”
The family’s scheduled was out of sync because of a move, a scheduled second move and other circumstances.
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.
Shortly after their move to Nebraska, the Thacker family was considering a move to another state, but the plan changed. 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 showed 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, which began in mid-August, HSLDA reported.
The state accepted the homeschool-exempt status and acknowledged that the family 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 problems 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 hours of instruction sometime during the school year, but does not dictate the start or end date.
Prosecutors had 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.
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 the ruling and appealed.
The high court said, “We conclude that [statute] 79-201 did not criminalize the Thackers’ failure to enroll their children in a legally recognized school pending the state’s recognition of their homeschool.
“The state … argues that until a parent obtains the state’s recognition of a private homeschool, the child must be attending some legally recognized school during the public school calendar year. And it argues …the state’s recognition of a private homeschool is not effective until the department receives a parent’s notarized statement of intent,” the justices wrote.
“The Thackers contend [the law] only required them to have their children attend their exempt homeschool every day that it was in session and to complete the minimum hours of instruction required by law. They argue that Nebraska’s statutes do not preclude them from starting a homeschool after the public school calendar year begins or compel them to enroll their children in a public school until their homeschool begins operation.
“We agree with the Thackers,” the justices said.
“Under the law as written, we do not agree that a child must be attending a recognized exempt school each day of the public school calendar year.”