Since 1992, home schooling has been legal in all 50 states. Imagine my utter disbelief when I was introduced to a family in Tennessee that was being denied that right. It was as if I had stepped into a time warp. Pioneer home-school families across the U.S. were subjected to jail, the removal of their children from their homes, threats and intimidation during the fight to legalize home schooling. It was hard to imagine that this scenario could be occurring anywhere in the United States. Yet, in Coffee County, Tennessee, this appears to be what is happening. Parents are being denied their right to home school.
I was introduced to the Taylor family when they attempted to enroll their daughter in an umbrella school. This is a legal home-school option in Tennessee, known as a Category IV school, that parents can choose. This option is considered a non-public school option. When the umbrella school the family had enrolled their daughter in attempted to retrieve the student’s records from the Coffee County school system, they refused to provide them. They claimed the child was truant and would be counted absent until she returned to public school. The school system then notified the Taylor family that the alleged truancy issue stemmed from the previous school year, and they would need to appear in court with their daughter.
The mother, Amber Taylor, immediately gathered her daughter’s doctor’s notes for the absences in question to present to the court in preparation for her court date. She was contacted by the attendance supervisor, Keith Cornelius, who left a message stating that Judge Ewell would not approve home schooling. There is no law that states that if a child has been cited for truancy a parent cannot remove their child from public school and enroll them in a Category IV school.
In 2023, Senate Bill 417 was introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly, which stated
“a parent or guardian of a student who has accumulated five (5) or more days of unexcused absences during the school year and who is subject to tier three of the LEA’s progressive truancy plan in § 49-6-3009 shall not withdraw the student from school unless . . . (iii) The student enrolls in a nonpublic school.”
However, even if this law were in effect, Mrs. Taylor’s daughter would be exempt, since her daughter had been legally enrolled in a Category IV, non-public school.
During the initial court preceding Mr. Taylor attempted to present a folder with the doctor’s notes to Judge Gerald Ewell and he was told to “shut up” and asked if he wanted to “sit in the box.” Mrs. Taylor attempted to explain to Judge Ewell that her daughter was enrolled in a legal Category IV school, however, the judge was heard in a leaked recording threatening to send her daughter away if she didn’t return to public school the next day and stating that “home school was no school.” That recording, Tennessee Judge: Home School Is No School, is available on Rumble on The Patriot Punk Network.
Mrs. Taylor told the judge that she would be hiring an attorney and was given another court date with the instructions to return her daughter to public school. The Taylors did not comply, since their daughter was legally enrolled in a Category IV school and retained legal counsel.
It is important to note that the Coffee County School system has a progressive truancy plan that is supposed to be implemented. According to Mrs. Taylor, the truancy plan was not followed. She received no written citation from the school. The citation had been given to her daughter the prior school year; however, Mrs. Taylor was not issued a copy. When Mrs. Taylor and her daughter appeared for their initial court date, she requested a copy from the court and discovered that the citation had another child’s name and a detailed description of why the minor listed on the paper was being cited. The Social Security number on the citation also did not belong to Mrs. Taylor’s daughter. The truancy plan is a three-tiered plan with detailed instructions regarding actions that are required to be taken at each level. According to Mrs. Taylor, the school did not implement the steps listed in the three-tiered plan.
Mrs. Taylor, her daughter, and their attorney appeared in court for their final court date on Sept. 5, 2023. After having spoken with officials, Mrs. Taylor’s attorney presented her with two options he had been presented with. One option was for her daughter to plead guilty to truancy and they would allow her to remain enrolled in the Category IV school, but this option would require her to be placed on six months’ supervised probation and submit to random drug testing. The Category IV school would be required to report attendance to the probation officer. The other option would be for her to allow the judge to hear the case, and he would likely order her daughter back to public school. If she failed to comply, she would be arrested for contempt of court. There was no good option for this family to choose. They chose for their daughter to plead guilty in order to prevent her from being forced back into the public school system or worse, from allowing DCS to potentially remove their daughter from their home if they didn’t agree to the condition of public school.
In Coffee County, Tennessee, children cited for truancy are classified as unruly. Interestingly, according to the State of Tennessee Office of Attorney General, “no child found to be an unruly child may be placed on probation under the supervision of the department, unless such child is found to also be a delinquent child or is found to have committed a violation of a valid court order as provided for in the Appendix to the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Procedure.”
Amber Taylor’s daughter was found to be neither delinquent nor to have committed a violation of a valid court order, yet her daughter is on supervised probation.
Free YOUR Children was present for a peaceful protest at the Coffee County Juvenile Justice Center when the Taylors appeared for their final court date. We were approached by numerous families that had also been denied their right to home-school. Is Coffee County allowed to create its own laws? Who is advocating for these families? Why are so many children being placed on probation for truancy?
Did you know that schools receive funding based off of attendance and assessments? Attendance is big business. Is Coffee County refusing to allow parents the right to home-school their children in order to hold them hostage in an attempt to be able to collect the money based on attendance?
The Taylor family now has to endure a large legal bill, and their daughter is on supervised probation, all because they wanted to exercise their right to home-school their daughter. If you would like to donate to the Taylors to offset their expenses, you can do so at Amber Taylor’s GiveSendGo page: “Supporting the right to homeschool my daughter.”
Coffee County schools are not adequately educating children. The Coffee County School District has an average math proficiency score of 22% and a reading proficiency score of 27%.
No wonder parents are choosing to remove their children from this school system. The burning question is, why is the juvenile court system being allowed to deny parents’ their right to home-educate their children? Who is holding these public servants accountable? Which law are they supposedly enforcing that gives them the right to deny parents the right to home-school their children? I have been contacted by numerous families in Coffee County who have been told they do not have the legal right to home-school their children. Parents need to know and understand their parental rights.
Home school is school, Judge Ewell.
If you believe that children do not belong to the state, it is time to take action. Call your elected officials. Ask them why this is happening in Coffee County, Tennessee. This is setting a scary precedent. It is time to take a stand. If you have been denied your right to home-school your child, contact me at [email protected].