Americans have traditionally understood that parents, not the state, have been delegated the responsibility to raise their children. But government officials in the Big Apple state are not afraid of running roughshod over parental rights, especially when it comes to a parent’s decisions about their children’s education.
Last week, the story of Kiarre Harris gained national attention. Harris, a single mother, felt her two children weren’t experiencing success in the Buffalo Public Schools they attended. Like many parents concerned about their children’s education, she decided to exercise her right to homeschool.
Harris filed paperwork to unenroll her children from public school, complying with the notoriously burdensome rules governing homeschooling families in New York. Working with a homeschool coordinator, Harris successfully completed the process on December 7, 2016.
A week after obtaining confirmation that she had successfully withdrawn her kids from public school, Harris received a phone call from a Child Protective Services representative, demanding to know why her children had been absent from school. She informed the CPS official that her children were now being homeschooled and offered to furnish copies of the paperwork that had been filed with the school district.
Harris thought the issue had been resolved – that is, until one month later, when CPS officials and police came to her home with a court order to remove her children, accusing her of “educational neglect.” When she refused to comply, police arrested her for obstruction. She was jailed and has been unable to see her children, who are now in foster care, for weeks.
Harris blames Buffalo Public Schools for not properly processing the paperwork unenrolling her children.
Buffalo Public Schools denies Harris’ claim. The district alleges that Harris had an encounter with CPS before making the decision to homeschool her kids. Their statement also implies that Harris did not have full custody of her kids, which is a requirement for parents making the decision to homeschool, but Harris contends that she does in fact have full legal custody.
“As we learn more, we realize [what has happened to Harris and her children] is happening a lot more than we realized,” said Samuel L. Radford, president of the District Parents Coordinating Council.
Unfortunately, Radford’s analysis seems to be right. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, New York has earned a reputation for “their systematic mistreatment of homeschooling families.”
HSLDA is a non-profit advocacy organization that provides homeschooling families with legal services. It is suing New York City on behalf of Tanya Acevedo, a homeschooling mom. Like Harris, Acevedo was accused of “educational neglect” and was subjected to an invasive CPS investigation after New York City failed to properly process her paperwork withdrawing her son from his public school.
Jim Mason, HSLDA’s Vice President of Litigation, worked with Tanya as she battled CPS and New York City to exercise her right to homeschool her child. He published the following statement on December 5, 2016:
“After Tanya [Acevedo’s] situation was resolved, I asked other NYC homeschooling families for their stories. What I found appalled me.
“Family after family have found themselves in legal limbo because [New York City’s Central Office of Homeschooling] simply cannot or will not follow the timelines in the regulation. More than one homeschooling family told me they had been turned over to CPS because of the office’s delayed handling of the homeschooling paperwork.
“The injustice against homeschooling families in New York City can no longer be tolerated. On December 5, HSLDA filed a civil rights lawsuit against New York City public schools over their systematic mistreatment of homeschooling families. We are asking for money damages and for a court to order the New York City bureaucracy to simply follow New York’s homeschooling regulation.”
Harris and Acevedo’s regrettable experiences shed light on the difficulties homeschooling families face. Despite the Supreme Court’s recognition that parents have a fundamental right to “establish a home and bring up children” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 1923), some elitist bureaucrats feel they can make better decisions than parents about what is best for children .
The family is society’s first and most important institution, and the parent-child relationship is sacrosanct. Parents are ultimately responsible for the education and well-being of their children. As long as parents comply with reasonable expectations, government shouldn’t interfere with this sacred relationship unless the child’s health or safety is at risk.
At present, Harris’ kids are still in foster care. New York officials should wise up, realize they aren’t the parents, and stop violating the rights of those who are.
This article was originally written for Family Policy Institute of Washington.