In a true story that can only be described as shocking, seven children were taken from a Texas couple by government social workers simply because they were home schooled.
Significantly, there are no allegations of abuse or neglect, the parents’ attorneys say.
The nightmare for Christina and Trevor Tuttbegan in September when a police officer found that one of their children, a four year old, had wandered away from home. The officer contacted the Texas Department of Family and Child Protective Services (CPS), which sent a social worker to investigate.
“Nobody in their right mind would want to stay home all day with so many children,” the social worker reportedly said about Christina Tutt. The casework, though, also allegedly said, “There is no problem here” – that is, no concerns about the kids’ safety. The unidentified caseworker ordered Christina to undergo a psychological examination and enroll in parenting classes, according to the Texas Home School Coalition, which is representing the parents.
The Tutts are highly experienced parents who have been caring for troubled children for years. Some of their children are biological, others adopted. The parents were even featured speakers at Lake Pointe Church’s Adoption and Foster Care Conference. The Tutts had already completed parenting classes from Safe Families, an organization for foster parents.
Children Ordered Removed in Secret Hearing
Even though she had allegedly received documentation of the Tutts’ credentials, the social worker and CPS petitioned a judge to have the kids removed. On Nov. 14, 2013, Dallas County District Judge Graciela Olvera ordered the children removed from the home. Olvera’s order was made in an ex parte or secret hearing of which the Tutts were not aware. Neither the Tutts nor their lawyer had a chance to contest the order.
So, on Nov. 21, three police cars pulled up outside the Tutts’ home to take the children, not “allowing their mother to put shoes on them and refusing to put them in their car seats,” according to the Texas Home School Coalition. The children were placed in foster care.
The Tutts were able to attend hearings on Dec. 4 and Dec. 16. During those hearings Olvera gave the Tutts the choice of putting the children in public school or losing them, the Texas Home School Coalition reported.
At the hearings CPS attorneys reportedly criticized the Tutts for not using the “state-certified home schooling curriculum.” The Coalition, though, noted that there is no “state certified home schooling curriculum” in Texas. Judge Olvera reportedly demanded to see documentation that the Tutt children had completed state-mandated tests, but there are no state-mandated tests for home school students in Texas.
The government-appointed guardian ad litem attorney said she opposed the children being home schooled and feared they were behind academically.
In January, the Tutts appeared before a different judge, who, according to a Facebook support page “found no abuse or neglect and agreed the children should not have been removed.” Four of the children were returned. Of the three who weren’t returned, two were pending adoptions and the third was the oldest child and from a previous marriage. He is with his father.
Here’s what a Facebook page for the Tutts stated:
The judge agreed the children should not have been removed, and returned 4 of them. She ordered public schooling WHILE the children are evaluated by an educational expert. At that point the judge will decide what happens next.
Removal May Have Been Illegal
The Coalition and the Tutts believe that the actions of Judge Olvera and the CPS may have been illegal. The Coalition noted that education is not grounds for removal of children from a home under Texas state law.
There is also some evidence that CPS violated its own policies. Here is what a CPS memo stated about home schooling:
Whether parents choose to home school their children or send their child to another private or public school is not relevant to the CPS investigation. When CPS staff investigates a family for abuse/neglect, the investigation must focus on the occurrence, or risk, of abuse/neglect and not on the child’s educational setting.
Texas Home School Families Living in Fear
Not surprisingly, many home school families in Texas are now living in fear of the CPS, the police and the courts.
“Since all it takes is an anonymous phone call to have a family under investigation by CPS and if, with no evidence of abuse or neglect,” Texas Home School Coalition President Tim Lambert told The Washington Times, “a judge or CPS can remove children simply by alleging that the children are behind academically, then many families could be at risk.”
Lambert said he wanted to take the issue public in part to hold the judge accountable.
“There are some judges who do not respect the fundamental right of fit parents to direct the care, control, and upbringing of their children and instead believe that they have the right to make any decision that they believe is in ‘the best interest of the children,’” he wrote on the organization’s Facebook page. “Along with that low view of parental rights, these judges very often are not willing to require CPS to follow the restraints of the Texas Family Code, which includes protections for parents. These judges are most willing to give CPS caseworkers and attorneys whatever they ask for, in spite of what the law requires. In other words, they are overlooking the requirements of Texas statute for what CPS says is in ‘the best interest of the child.’
“The moral to that story is this: The best way to deal with judges who perpetrate these kinds of injustices is to expose them to the public and then defeat them at the ballot box. That is our plan.”
Learn more about the case and sign a petition here.