Handcuffed for Homeschooling? Paperwork Dispute Gets Ugly

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by Jennifer Lade, Activist Post:

A school system in Massachusetts is proving to be malicious, incompetent, or maybe both.

Of course, we suspected that already. But the latest example comes from a lawsuit from a woman who pulled her 8-year-old son from Worcester Public Schools to homeschool him last January.

Josilyn Goodall is suing the Worcester School Committee, Superintendent Maureen Binienda, and the state Department of Children and Families after police entered her home, handcuffed her, and arrested her over what amounted to a paperwork dispute.

According to the lawsuit, Goodall is seeking unspecified compensatory damages for the violation of her Constitutional rights and for the “mental pain and suffering” inflicted upon her and her son.

The lawsuit details Goodall’s multiple attempts to contact the Superintendent after filing paperwork in January saying she was going to homeschool her son. She said she never got a response to any of her phone calls or emails.

In Massachusetts, parents who wish to homeschool their children must submit an education plan to the superintendent of the local school system for approval. However, according to Care and Protection of Charles (1987), the court case upon which homeschool legal precedent was established, the burden of proof is on the school to show that the homeschool program is insufficient.

The lawsuit further alleges that the Worcester School Committee’s homeschool policy is unlawful, in that it requires students to continue attending public school until the education plan is approved. Charles allows for homeschooling to begin as soon as the plan has been submitted.

To most rational people, Charles makes sense. If parents are to have any right to educate their children at home, they must be able to begin homeschooling before receiving approval from the schools. Otherwise, a school could conveniently hold hostage the education plan and never approve it, essentially forcing the child to stay in the public school.

But instead of following the state law or even their own policy, Worcester school administrators ignored Goodall’s education plan and her attempts to contact them, continued marking her son absent, and never reached out to Goodall to discuss their concerns.

It would be hard to tell if the school was being passive-aggressive or just plain incompetent, unable to send or receive emails and phone calls. Except that they had no problem contacting the Department of Children and Families to report Goodall for “educational neglect.”

DCF officials apparently took the school’s word for it, never asking for attendance records for Goodall’s son before showing up at her door on March 30. In addition, a DCF investigator believed the superintendent’s secretary, who told her there was a new law that required homeschooled students to continue attending school until their education plan was approved.

Yes, a state department took legal advice from a superintendent’s secretary.

Then, police escalated the situation, to the surprise of absolutely no one. The lawsuit states that officers pounded on Goodall’s door and threatened to forcibly open it. When Goodall was intimidated into letting them in, an officer laid hands on Goodall, handcuffed her, ordered her into a chair and yelled in her face — while her son watched and cried.

Additional officers arrived and started searching the home, while the DCF investigator questioned the son. Goodall was arrested and brought to the police station and was booked, though no charges were filed. She paid bail and finally made it back home after a 7-hour ordeal.

The legal battle continued with DCF filing a complaint of educational neglect that was eventually dropped by the court. Goodall submitted another education plan to the Superintendent on April 10.

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