Bulletin #33†††††††††† †Juvenile Courts†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †08/02/04
Did you know? You may be denied your Constitutional rights in Juvenile Court.
The Constitution does not apply in Juvenile Court, or so it would appear. How many have given their lives to protect the Constitution and the freedoms it protects. Was it all for naught? It will be for naught if each and every one of us tolerates its destruction. It is not destruction brought on in one gigantic deathblow. It is destruction by incrementalism. We see the destruction on the federal level each day in the distortions and twisted interpretations made by the media, extremists, and judicial interpretation run amok.
Most of the time, the misinterpretation, ignorance, and disregard for Constitutional principles occur regarding issues that donít touch us directly in our everyday lives. Sometimes, unfortunately, it does touch our everyday lives. Nowhere does it touch us more closely than when we become involved with the Juvenile Court system. Thatís when it affects us most dearly, when it affects our children. It can upset lives, uproot families and cause financial hardship from which it may take years to recover.
Individually we may think that our family will never become involved in the Juvenile Court system. But it is far more easy to become involved in that system than you would think, particularly for parents who homeschool their children.
Why? Because if the powers that be (those government officials "in charge" of "ensuring" that children are educated) think for a moment that you are not "obeying the law" or "educating properly" there can be great consequences. Those powers that be will likely file a complaint of educational neglect against you, whether it is a simple misunderstanding or whether they just have an axe to grind with you. Where does that complaint get filed? Chances are, in most states, it eventually gets filed in Juvenile Court.
The complaint could be filed as a "truancy" issue. It could be filed as a "neglect" issue. It also could be filed as a "family with service needs" issue. All eventually are litigated in Juvenile Court.
Assuming the complaint involves a failure of some kind regarding homeschooling, the following is typical of the procedure once a complaint is filed with the court. The parent is "investigated", typically by your stateís equivalent of the Department of Children and Families. Upon a finding of "substantiation", DCF files a "petition" with the Juvenile Court. The parent is then brought before a judge at a "hearing" where the judge reads the parent his "rights" Ė among other things, the familiar statement that the parent has the right to remain silent, that anything the parent says can and will be used against him. Then the parent enters a "plea"- admitting or denying the allegation or charge(s) filed against him. Then the case gets scheduled for a "case status conference." Thatís a meeting held involving a probation officer, prosecutor, or assistant attorney general, the court clerk and possibly, but not always, the parent. The issues are discussed, and agreements to resolve the issue may or may not be made. Parties may also file motions. Motions typically include psychological evaluations, medical evaluations, and educational evaluations. While you may object to having evaluations done, typically, the court will order them anyway.
Hereís the part about the Constitution. Even though the judge tells you at the beginning of the case that you have the right to remain silent, you may still be compelled to answer all the questions asked during a court ordered evaluation. How are you compelled? Because the prosecutor may file a motion requesting the court to compel you to answer, or the court may, on its own, order you to answer, even if you object. Then what about your right to remain silent Ė apparently it doesnít really exist. What if you stand your ground, even if only on principle, and refuse to answer certain questions anyway? In that case, the prosecutor and the court may consider that you have something to hide and assume you are guilty. What about the Constitution and the presumption of innocence? Apparently, it doesnít exist in Juvenile Court. In fact, sometimes, if you donít answer questions posed by DCF workers or evaluators, they may consider you to be in a "higher risk" category for potentially abusing or neglecting your child simply because you did not answer the questions. You may also be bumped up to that higher risk category for being uncooperative and hostile.
If there is no Constitution in Juvenile Court, and the statutes and rules donít apply in Juvenile Court, then this is of course tyranny and there are ways to deal with this. First and foremost is for you to understand your rights and continue to fight for them. You need to work with your state support groups and have meetings with legislators, State Departments of Education and DCF officials. In those meetings you must make it clear that you will not tolerate spurious and fallacious charges of truancy and neglect, and that you will work to impeach judges and expose collusionary tactics of these state and municipal officials. We must not allow our families to be held hostage and be destroyed because of false allegations of neglect and abuse which are designed to coerce us into compliance with school administrators.
Many problems can be solved without calling in DCF investigators and turning to the courts, and sometimes all it takes is sitting down with people and getting them to clarify policies and educating them about homeschooling issues. Those agencies and judicial arms of government must be made to recognize instances when school administrators are merely using the power of other state agencies (such as DCF) to coerce families into complying with guidelines that are not law, or otherwise gain power and control over homeschooling families. Legislators must also be made aware of these abuses of power, especially when schools use valuable tax monies to bring unnecessary litigation before a judge. You can believe that if legislators see tax money being wasted on unnecessary litigation based on claims of educational neglect and truancy when none exits, they will be pretty unhappy with the school administration for that action.
We must all work to make sure that policies of state agencies reflect accurately what the law says. Usually your state will have agency policy manuals listed online or in the public library. Check to see what operational definitions they use for educational neglect, and truancy. Compare it to your state laws and see if they accurately reflect what the law says. Do the policies refer to the correct state statutes? If they don't, then it may be time for a meeting with agency heads to clarify misinterpretations. Bad policies can be disastrous to a family who is merely trying to home-educate, if allegations are made against them for neglect and truancy or other issues. Once they get to juvenile court things can even go from bad to worse, and if good policies can keep one family out of juvenile court then that will be very positive thing for the homeschooling community.
Attorney Deborah Stevenson - Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense. Ė
Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD Ė firstname.lastname@example.org