After recently withdrawing her son from public school because of safety and education concerns, a New York City mom went through all the required procedures to homeschool her son, but soon found Child Protective Services (CPS) coming after her.
As a brand-new homeschooling mom, Tanya Acevedo feared that her parental rights would be swept away from her when CPS arrived at her door and entered her house. Excusing herself momentarily, the apprehensive mom called an attorney at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) for legal advice.
“Hello? … Child Protective Services is in my living room,” Acevedo said in a shaken voice when an HSLDA attorney answered the phone. “What should I do?”
Before CPS showed up at her door and prior to seeking legal advice, the concerned mother received counsel and support from her pastor and his wife – both of whom had homeschooled their own children for years.
Even though she had followed veteran homeschoolers’ advice, filled out all the appropriate paperwork and strictly followed all of the school district’s protocol to teach from home, CPS still had a problem.
“[Y]ou can imagine Tanya’s shock when a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator came to her apartment because of a report of ‘educational neglect,’” HSLDA Vice President of Litigation Jim Mason insisted. “Stunned, Tanya immediately called her pastor and asked him to come over. When he arrived, they called me on HSLDA’s after-hours hotline.”
It turned out that the son’s former school had an issue with his attendance – even though his mother had already unenrolled him.
“[The investigator] says that my son’s school reported me for too many absences,” the distraught mother told Mason. “But I withdrew him over a month ago to homeschool.”
Mason explained that the process homeschoolers had to go through to educate their own was rather archaic.
“Even in our Internet Age, rather than making homeschooling paperwork available online or mailing it to the home, NYC requires parents to trudge down to the Central Office of Home Schooling on Seventh Avenue to pick it up,” the legal expert pointed out.
He then asked Acevedo if she sent the superintendent her notice of intent when she recently withdrew her son from public school to homeschool him.
“Certified mail,” the mother assured. “And I sent a copy to the school, also certified.”
Despite having already met the requirements to homeschool, CPS asked for more paperwork because absences had been recorded at the school her son no longer attended.
“Since she was in the middle of moving to another apartment, Tanya didn’t have her papers immediately available to show the investigator, but she said she could have them by the next day,” Mason recounted. “The investigator confirmed that there were no safety concerns; the only issue was that the school had been marking Tanya’s son absent for over a month.”
Subsequently, Acevedo had the CPS investigator speak with HSLDA’s Mason on the phone. The government agent went on to go over her perceived obligations and notified her that she must interview the child alone and inspect the apartment.
Mason expressed to the CPS worker that such action was not necessary since everything had already been taken care of.
“I think we can clear this all up tomorrow by having Tanya provide you with her proof that she is lawfully homeschooling,” the Christian attorney offered.
Mason was finally able to delay the unwarranted snooping.
“After explaining to me the urgent need to look inside Tanya’s refrigerator – because that’s what they always do when a child has been absent from school – the investigator thought it might be okay to wait until the next day,” the homeschool advocate informed. “She called her supervisor, confirmed that refrigerator-snooping could be postponed, and left after sternly instructing Tanya to produce documents and child the next day at her office.”
When HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt looked into the situation, he found that New York City’s treatment of homeschool families was abysmal when compared to other areas of the Empire State.
“First, rather than letting homeschooling families deal with their own school districts (as set out in the regulations), New York City has consolidated all of the administrative functions relating to homeschooling for all the school districts in all five boroughs in one central office on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan,” Mason detailed. “Second, it underfunds and undermans that office, which routinely leads to delays, lost paperwork, and a high level of underperformance and dissatisfaction. Finally, NYC’s central homeschooling office controls the attendance database for all schools in the entire city inasmuch as the data relates to homeschooling.”
Falling in line with the string of mismanagement, school officials could not rectify the simple situation on their own.
“So even though Tanya notified both the central office and the school before she began homeschooling, the school could not flip the switch in the attendance database to turn off her son’s ‘absences,” the legal adviser continued. “And the central office, always woefully behind, had not gotten around to it yet. Even though the school knew that Tanya had filed a notice of intent to homeschool, it reported her to CPS for ‘educational neglect’ because its policy required it to do so after so many ‘absences’ had accrued. After many phone calls, another visit from the CPS investigator, considerable inconvenience, and much unnecessary anxiety for Tanya and her son, Tj persuaded the case worker to close the investigation.”
Typical of the inefficiency of many government-run agencies, the school wasted everyone’s time and resources.
“All of this could have been avoided if the New York City bureaucracy would have followed its own rules,” Mason insisted. “And that’s to say nothing of the complete waste of the investigator’s time, which could have been much better spent helping children truly in need.”
Once Mason resolved Acevedo's situation with the school, he asked other homeschooling families in the Big Apple about their experiences and was "appalled" at what he discovered.
“Family after family have found themselves in legal limbo because the central office simply cannot or will not follow the timelines in the regulation,” he discovered. ”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.”
As a result of his finding, the homeschool attorney is suing the Big Apple.
“The injustice against homeschooling families in New York City can no longer be tolerated,” Mason asserted. “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.”