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Take Note: Father knows best?

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Charles Hayden thought he was being a good parent when he decided to take two hours out of every day to tutor his son in an effort to help him pass his classes.

Instead, he wound up in court last month.

Mr. Hayden found out 11 weeks before the end of school that his 7th-grade son, Chris, was failing five subjects.

The New Stanton, Pa., resident called his son's guidance counselor and met with his teachers. They decided that Mr. Hayden should work with Chris, one on one, for two hours a day. "The problem," the father said, "was finding the extra two hours."

The solution he came up with was to take his son out of his last-period class--study hall--and take him home by car, which saved a half-hour over his usual bus ride home.

Officials at Harrold Middle School told Mr. Hayden that the arrangement violated the state's compulsory-attendance laws. But by that time, Mr. Hayden said, "we knew it was working."

Mr. Hayden continued to take Chris out of school, and the school counted his absences until they accumulated to three full days. Then they filed charges.

C. Richard Nichols, the superintendent of the Hempfield school district near Pittsburgh, said that officials first encouraged Mr. Hayden to tutor Chris after school, then offered him a private room on school grounds for the sessions. But Mr. Hayden said that he wanted his son to have some free time and that the latter option would be distracting.

On June 28, a state judge ruled in favor of the district but suspended a possible $22 fine.

The Institute for Justice, a Washington-based public-interest group that advocates greater parental control over education, has taken an interest in the case, calling the district's position "misguided." As of last week, the group had not decided whether it would appeal the decision.

Chris Hayden, meanwhile, is moving on to the 8th grade, having just missed the honor roll.

--Laura Miller

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