Homeschooling mom wards off state’s attempts to seize children
A mother homeschooling her children with learning disabilities is victorious after a year-long battle against the state of Colorado, which sought to remove her children from her home and send them to public school.
In the fall of 2011, a social services worker showed up at the door of Josslyn Kittinger (real name withheld to protect privacy) to investigate her ability to properly educate her special needs children. The uninvited visit was attributed to an anonymous tip from a neighbor complaining that Kittinger was unfit to instruct her children and that they would receive a better education through public school.
And the reason for the unwarranted intrusion that would last for months on end?
Prosecutors, Kittinger's neighbors and the social services investigator all persistently argued that the mother had no right to homeschool her own children because their learning disabilities required state instruction.
But is this a right that can be questioned or taken away? Not according to Home School Legal Defense Association staff attorney Michael P. Donnelly, Esq., who also serves as its director of international relations.
"Many families homeschool their children who have learning disabilities because they find that the children's needs are better met in a one-on-one homeschool setting -- research shows that this is true," Donnelly contends. "It is intolerable that someone would question a family's right to homeschool simply because their children have a learning disability."
However, this contention shared with Ms. Kittinger did not deter further unwanted state involvement for long.
License for home invasion?
Even though the investigating social worker left after the initial visitation -- when Kittinger followed Donnelly's recommendation on the phone and cordially requested the state agent to leave -- a return visit would soon follow.
A few days after the initial visitation -- going on nothing more than a neighbor's comment and a drive-by in front of the Kittinger's house -- the social worker made an unfounded and fallacious determination that the family was preparing to escape to another state. Reporting the unsubstantiated findings to a local court, the investigator pursued and attained a court order, granting legal authority to remove the children from the Kittenger home and take them into state custody in order to send them to public school.
But instead of proceeding to carry out the verbal order, the social worker allowed Ms. Kittinger to retain custody of her children for the time being, on the condition she prove that she was legally homeschooling her children and was never intending on fleeing the state of Colorado. Following the protocol that ensues the issuance of a court order, a lawsuit was filed against the homeschooling mother, with a state prosecutor alleging that she was guilty of educational neglect of her children.
Moving forward in the suit after attaining legal representation from HSLDA local counsel James Rouse, Ms. Kittinger was able to have the social worker's court order nullified in the initial court hearing -- after showing that according to Colorado state law, she was homeschooling legally with an independent school. This is one of the two ways children can be homeschooled in the Centennial State; the other requires legal guardians to file notifications directly with school districts on an annual basis.
The early victory, however, did not convince the state prosecutor to drop the case, which protracted to three hearings in the fall of 2011, and then a five-day trial, in which Donnelly defended Ms. Kittinger in December and the following March.
After an expert witness, Steven Duvall, Ph.D., provided evidence that Ms. Kittinger was providing a satisfactory level of education for her children under state law on the trial's first day, and just hours before the second trial date in March, the social worker dismissed the lawsuit. From his numerous visitations to the Kittinger home, he concluded that there was no proof of educational neglect, and he proceeded to persuade his prosecutor to concede the argument against the family and settle the case.
A proper defense
Even though this case came to a positive conclusion in regards to parents' rights to educate their children, many parents, when standing alone, are unable to counter challenges brought on by the state when it vies for the control of children's instruction.
"This victory is important for all homeschooling parents, because it strengthens the idea that all children have the right to be homeschooled and the need for HSLDA," Donnelly asserts. "How would this single mother have defended herself?
It is contended that the odds are against homeschoolers when government officials go after them to compel attendance in public schools, as Donnelly is skeptical that Ms. Kittinger would have fared well if left to her own devices without a powerful legal counsel geared to wage an all-out war against state interference.
"The resources needed for this were far beyond her own means, and most court-appointed defenders simply do not have the experience or sympathy to aggressively defend a mom homeschooling in this situation," concluded Donnelly, who along with his wife, homeschools their seven children. "I consider it a privilege to have been allowed to defend this mom who was doing what I believe was indeed best for her children."