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Woman in Md. Home-School Case Acquitted

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A state judge in Maryland last week acquitted a woman who teaches her child at home of criminal charges filed against her for refusing to comply with home-schooling regulations.

Some observers said the decision to acquit Cheryl Anne Battles casts doubt on the strength of the state rules governing how districts can monitor home-schooled children in Maryland.

Annapolis District Judge James Dryden ruled that Ms. Battles had complied with the state's compulsory-attendance laws, which require parents to enroll their children in public schools or otherwise provide "regular, thorough instruction."

Brian Ray, the president of the National Home-Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore., testified that Ms. Battles' 7-year-old daughter, Emily McCann, performs at least at her expected grade level.

No Criminal Act

Anne Arundel County prosecutors had charged Ms. Battles with violating compulsory-attendance laws after she refused to follow state board of education bylaws regulating home schooling.

Those bylaws require home-schooling parents to either regularly provide portfolios of their children's work to the local school district or to consent to being monitored by officials at a private school or church authorized by the state to do so.

Although Ms. Battles refused to do either, Judge Dryden said violating the bylaws was not a crime.

"He said the home-school bylaws are valid and binding on the people of Maryland but violating them is not a criminal act," said David Gordon, a staff lawyer at the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Purcellville, Va., group that represented Ms. Battles.

Prosecutors pursued misdemeanor criminal charges after officials of the 72,000-student county school system tried unsuccessfully to have Ms. Battles follow the procedures spelled out in the bylaws.

"She felt that doing so would be going into a partnership with the school district in the education of her child that was offensive to her religious beliefs," Mr. Gordon said. Ms. Battles is a Christian.

District officials estimate that about 1,000 of the county's children are taught at home.

School personnel first made contact with Ms. Battles in 1994 after learning that she had a school-age child at home. When Ms. Battles refused to comply with the regulations, the district handed the case to prosecutors. Ms. Battles faced up to a $500 fine and as many as 10 days in jail, though prosecutors said they wouldn't have sought either if she were found guilty.

Broad Implications

While settling the case for Ms. Battles, the acquittal could encourage state lawmakers to revise the laws governing home schooling, said Andrew Jezic, the assistant state's attorney who argued the case. "I can't say for sure, but the general sense among lawyers paying attention to this case is that it has to go into the statute," he said. If that happens, the result could be a home-schooling law that's more restrictive than the state's current code, he said.

But some Maryland home-school advocates say the state regulations worked as intended because Ms. Battles still was forced to demonstrate, in court, that she was providing regular and thorough instruction.

"Maryland is one of the top five states in the country in terms of being unobtrusive," said Gary Cox, a founder of the Frederick-based Maryland Association of Christian Home Educators. "All she had to do to comply was to say, 'I'm teaching my child at home, and my church is supervising it,' and she never would have gone to court."

Ms. Battles could not be reached for comment last week.

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