A Visit from the “Authorities”
In rare cases, a home educating parent may receive a visit from the Division of Family Services (DFS) or a Juvenile Officer as the result of a hot line call. These calls are usually anonymous and unfounded but may originate with neighbors or even relatives who don’t yet have the same understanding or perspective which you have for the education of your children. While a visit from DFS or a Juvenile Officer (the “Authorities”) is never something to look forward to, you can handle yourself calmly and confidently if you are prepared for this possibility.
Following is the proper procedure:
The “authority” comes to the door. After stepping outside, or speaking through the locked screen door, you determine who they are, ask to see proper identification, make note of it on a pad (secured before any discussion starts), inquire as to the purpose of the visit, review any official paperwork (charges, ID’s, warrants, subpoenas, etc.), excuse yourself to go inside and call your lawyer (HSLDA if you are a member). If they have no warrant, ask them to vacate your property (an exception to the requirement for a warrant is when someone inside may be in imminent danger). Note that DFS procedures indicate that if the only “charge” is “educational neglect,” and you indicate you are “home schooling,” the worker is to leave immediately and file a report. If it is apparent the social worker or other properly-identified authority is going to force their way into your home even though you have asked them to leave, never use physical force to try to keep them out. Simply step away from the door. If you are inside, stay there; if your are outside, do not go inside at this point (they may follow you in as you open the door) and do NOT open the door for them. If you have any doubt that this person is who and what they say they are, excuse yourself and call the governmental agency they say they represent to find out for sure. One common ploy is for the “authority” to state, “I can get a warrant and will come back. Then it will not go so well.” Possible replies could be, “Oh, then come right in” or “Come back when you have the warrant, my lawyer will want to review it.” The second reply is usually the better choice. You see, if you relinquish your rights, the “authorities” could start to think everyone should.
Once you have allowed the “authority” access, they have a great deal of latitude, and you have very little. The courts will take due notice that you “allowed” them access. Your Fourth Amendment rights are now gone, not to be recovered for this incident.
Your best defense is to know and exercise your rights, and the laws that protect you (the US Constitution, RSMo 167.031, et al.) Please notify FHE (and HSLDA, if you are a member) of any contacts. Tracking such abuses is a valuable tool as we continue to fight for your rights to educate your children. “The fear of man bringeth the snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25 KJV In short, review the following steps:
1. Know and understand your rights. Keep a copy of the Missouri statutes on home schooling handy for reference.
2. Don’t panic . . . remain calm.
· Be firm . . . but be polite.
· Be open and friendly. . .but cautious.
3.Remember, the Prosecuting Attorney is the only person with legitimate authority to investigate educational neglect. Therefore:
· Do not allow anyone into your home. Step outside to converse.
· Do not allow anyone to talk to your children.
· Do not show your records, curriculum or children’s work to anyone.
· Tape record all phone messages and conversations and let the caseworker know you are recording.
· Mention that the worker may wish to review the DFS Manual regarding investigations, procedure # A-4, pages 12-15.
· Remember, RSMo. 211.031.4 directs Juvenile Officers (JO) to refer all suspected violations of 167.031 in regards to home schooling to the prosecuting attorney. As of August 2004, JO’s came under the same restrictions as DFS when dealing with home educating families.
4.Keep your “Log” up-to-date and separate from your other records. DO NOT surrender your originals, but when appropriate, provide photocopies to the proper authorities.
5.If your efforts do not satisfy the person’s questions or charges, feel free to contact your FHE Regional Director, support group leader, or another experienced home educator for additional support and/or counsel.
6. If you feel you may be a likely candidate for a visit (such as open disapproval by neighbors or family), FHE strongly recommends you further protect yourself by joining Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). See section on HSLDA in this book* for more information.
Special Note: DFS regulations now require that social workers “lay eyes” on all children present at the site of an investigation. This means they need to physically SEE them, but does not automatically extend into a physical examination or an interview. Allowing the worker to view the children through a window or doorway should fulfill this regulatory item.
*Reprinted with permission from the Families For Home Education publication, First Things First.