Two school districts in Ohio have filed criminal charges against the parents of two homeschooling families who face fines and even jail time just for missing the deadline to file paperwork.
The criminal charge is called "contributing to the delinquency of a minor," a first-degree misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of up to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in the county jail. Each day that a child is "truant" can be considered a separate offence, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which is representing the two families.
According to HSLDA, the two families were new to homeschooling in Ohio.
One family filed a notice of intent when they began homeschooling last year. However, they did not know they had to file another notice for the current school year.
The other family filed their annual notice of intent but did not submit an educational assessment with their notice because they had not yet completed it, and because they had been told by their school district that there was no deadline for submitting the assessment.
Even when the families continued to educate their kids, the school districts decided to treat their children as "truant."
The association also said the schools waited to contact the families until the children had accumulated more than a month of absences instead of addressing the issue when the school started marking them absent.
"As soon as both families realised their errors, they took action to comply with their districts' demands. After filing the paperwork, both families received a letter from their superintendent verifying that their homeschool programme is in compliance with state law for the 2015-2016 schoolyear. Then they brought criminal charges against the parents," HSLDA stated.
HSLDA attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole Jr. told WND that "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."
"When these families finally were contacted by school officials, they provided the missing paperwork, and the school filed criminal charges against them," he said.
He said the charge of "contributing to the delinquency of a minor," is usually for parents who abuse the system like "aiding or abetting their child in the commission of a crime or a serious offense (obtaining a firearm, for example)."
Kamakawiwoole said the statute on chronic truancy "is clearly intended to deal with situations where parents are unwilling to correct persistent – and in some cases, dangerous – misbehaviour by their children."
"Unfortunately, that statute is being applied here to parents who had no idea that there was an issue – and at worst committed a clerical error – and more importantly, the children have literally done nothing wrong," he added.
He said, "The children were attending the school they thought they were enrolled in, they were obeying their parents who expected them to do their school work, and they were doing their lessons daily. These are simply not the sort of families that the Ohio Legislature intended to be subject to these sorts of criminal penalties."
The attorney said there are potential stakes for families when schools choose to sue them.
"The tragedy is that these prosecutions are entirely avoidable. Ohio's compulsory attendance statute has specific provisions which are supposed to apply when a school district believes that a child is truant," he said.