People v. Bennett

Citation501 N.W.2d 106,442 Mich. 316,61 USLW 2758,83 Ed. Law Rep. 752
Decision Date10 November 1992
Docket NumberNo. 4A,Docket No. 91480,4A
Parties, 61 USLW 2758, 83 Ed. Law Rep. 752 PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. John and Sandra BENNETT, Defendants-Appellants. (After Remand). Calendar,
CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
501 N.W.2d 106

442 Mich. 316, 61 USLW 2758, 83 Ed.

Law Rep. 752

PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee,


John and Sandra BENNETT, Defendants-Appellants. (After Remand).

Docket No. 91480.

Calendar No. 4A, Nov. Term, 1992.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Argued Nov. 10, 1992.

Decided May 25, 1993.

John D. O'Hair, Pros. Atty., County of Wayne, Timothy A. Baughman, Chief of Research, Training and Appeals, Olga Agnello, Asst. Pros. Atty., Detroit, for plaintiff-appellee in No. 91480.

Christopher J. Klicka, Michael P. Farris, Home School Legal Defense Assn., Paeonian Springs, VA, David A. Kallman, Kallman & Cropsey, Lansing, for defendants-appellants in Nos. 91479 and 91480.

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Thomas L. Casey, Sol. Gen., Counsel of Record, Paul J. Zimmer, Asst. Atty. Gen., for amicus Michigan State Bd. of Educ. in Nos. 91479 and 91480.

Mark Brewer, Cooperating Atty. for Proposed amicus curiae ACLU Fund of Michigan, Detroit, Paul Denenfeld, Legal Director, ACLU Fund of Michigan, Detroit, for amicus curiae brief of ACLU Fund of Michigan in support of reversal on the First Amendment Issue in DeJonge in Nos. 91479 and 91480.

BRICKLEY, Justice.

The issue before us is whether, in a challenge not involving religious convictions, a teacher certification requirement for home schools violates a parent's right to direct a child's education under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Bennetts, in challenging the requirements, are claiming that their Fourteenth Amendment right to direct the education of their children should be classified as a "fundamental right," thus making it impervious to the minimal scrutiny due process test. The state contends that the Court of Appeals properly applied the minimal scrutiny test and that the requirement was constitutionally justifiable. The defendants also claim that Michigan's compulsory education law, as applied, violated their statutory and due process rights because they were prosecuted without an administrative hearing to determine whether they were in compliance with the private and parochial schools act.

For the reasons that follow, we hold that a parent's Fourteenth Amendment right to direct a child's education is not one of those rights described by the United States Supreme Court as fundamental, and, thus, the strict scrutiny test is unwarranted. We further hold that the defendants were entitled under the statute, as administrators of a private home school, to the hearing provided by the private and parochial schools act before they could be prosecuted as parents who failed to send their children to school in violation of the compulsory education laws. As a result, we vacate the defendants' convictions and order the state superintendent to conduct a hearing to determine if the defendants' home school satisfies Michigan law.


John and Sandra Bennett and their four children, Scott, Erika, Jason, and Krista, live in Wayne County. In 1986, the defendants were charged with four counts of failing to send their children to school during the 1985-86 school year. 1 After a trial before the 35th District Court, the defendants were found guilty and fined $50 for each count. The Wayne Circuit Court affirmed the defendants' convictions. Although the defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals, their application was denied. Subsequently, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, we remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration as on leave granted. 2 After considering the merits of the case, the Court of Appeals affirmed the defendants' convictions. On a motion for rehearing, the Court of Appeals clarified part of its rationale, but again affirmed the convictions. 179 Mich.App. 225, 449 N.W.2d 899 (1989). Once again the defendants moved for leave to appeal to this Court, and again this Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals, this time for reconsideration in light of Dep't. of Social Services v. Emmanuel Baptist Church, 434 Mich. 380, 455 N.W.2d 1 (1990). Again, the Court of Appeals affirmed the defendants' convictions. 188 Mich.App. 447, 470 N.W.2d 433 (1991).

The crux of the defendants' convictions concerns their decision to withdraw their four children from public school. Dissatisfaction with the public school system was their stated reason for their action, not any religious belief. 3 Defendants believed that they could provide their children a better education than the local public school, even though neither defendant is a certified teacher.

Defendants enrolled their children in the home based education program (HBEP) sponsored by Clonlara, Inc., of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The HBEP provides parents with a home instruction program, and allows parents to utilize the services of certified teachers and classrooms on the Ann Arbor campus. Defendants maintained that their children were often brought to the Ann Arbor campus and were instructed by certified teachers for a total of four to six hours per month. 4 Even more frequent contact between the children and the Clonlara teachers was maintained through the use of conference telephone calls from the defendants' home.

Defendants stated that they held classes for their children approximately five hours per day, five days per week, for the entire school year and made monthly attendance reports to Clonlara. The children studied math, English, spelling, reading, writing, science, social studies, history, and art. At the beginning of the school year, defendants submitted proposals for four individualized curricula to the superintendent of the Plymouth-Canton School District, the district in which the children had been attending school. 5 At the end of the school year, standardized achievement test results indicated that three of the four children were either at or above their grade level. 6

Despite their attempts to teach their children at home, defendants were convicted of failing to send their children to school in violation of Michigan's compulsory education laws. The trial court found that the children were not being properly taught at home because the parents were not in compliance with Department of Education guidelines for educating children in the home. 7 Specifically, the court found that 1) defendants failed to utilize the services of a certified teacher for at least a substantial portion of the school day, 2) there was no proof of use of a curriculum that was comparable to that used in the public school, 3) there was no evidence that the children were instructed for at least 180 days and 900 hours, 8 and 4) there were no attendance records offered to substantiate the claims of the hours and days the children received instruction.

The trial court paid particular attention to the defendants' claim that their children received instruction from certified teachers. Defendants asserted that two women, Pearl Wander and Julie Kuhar, provided instruction to the children. The court found, however, that the instruction provided by these women did not satisfy the state's requirements. Ms. Wander, for example, while certified to teach, was never shown to have actually visited the Bennett home. Instead, Ms. Wander had contact with the children through the occasional use of a speaker phone and the family's occasional visits to the Clonlara campus for a total of four to six hours per month. This contact, the court found, was not sufficient to meet the state's requirements. Rather, the court concluded, Ms. Wander's role with respect to the children was that of a supervisor, not a teacher. 9 With regard to Ms. Kuhar, the court noted that she was not in fact certified to teach at the time of her contact with the Bennett children. 10

The fact that defendants were not substantially utilizing the services of a certified teacher and were not themselves certified to teach was sufficient for the trial court to find them guilty of failing to send their children to school. As a result, the trial court 1) required defendants to contact the local public school and arrange to have their children tested for the purposes of academic achievement and grade placement, 2) required defendants to immediately arrange for their children to be taught by certified teachers, and 3) fined each of the defendants $50.

On appeal in the Court of Appeals, defendants raised five issues for review, two of which are now before this Court. 11 The Court of Appeals first addressed the defendants' contention that the teacher certification requirement violated the Fourteenth Amendment right of parents to direct their children's education. It recognized the existence of the right and that the right was protected under the personal substantive due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, it found that where the requirement was rationally related to some legitimate state purpose, the law would be upheld. The Court was satisfied that the state's purpose was legitimate.

The Court of Appeals then addressed the defendants' contention that the compulsory attendance law violated their Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights. The right to notice and a hearing, defendants contended, was also required by the private and parochial school act, because their children could not be forced to attend a public or other approved private school until after a hearing established that defendants' "home school" did not comply with the act. 12 The Court rejected the defendants' argument, however, on the ground that defendants had no school to close. Recognizing that "school" was not defined in the private and parochial schools act, the Court stated that the Legislature could not have envisioned the type of home-based...

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1 books & journal articles
  • Educational issues and judicial oversight.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 71 No. 4, September 2008
    • September 22, 2008
    ...Michigan cases is of substantial interest. See Clonlara, Inc. v. State Bd. of Educ., 501 N.W.2d 88, 91 (Mich. 1993); People v. Bennett, 501 N.W.2d 106, 107-08 (Mich. 1993); People v. DeJonge, 501 N.W.2d 127, 129 (Mich. (270) See In re R.G., 632 So. 2d 953, 953-54 (Miss. 1994). (271) Mirand ......

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