Navy or home school, the rules are the rules


July 28, 1996|By Brian Sullam

ALTHOUGH SHE is a middle-aged mother, Cheryl Ann Battles is likely to become a poster child for the home schoolers of America.

She has been charged with violating Maryland's compulsory education law. For 14 months, she has refused to enroll her child in school or to fill out the Anne Arundel County Department of Education's "assurance of consent." That is required of all Maryland residents who teach their children at home.

The violation is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 10 ** days in jail.

District Court Judge James W. Dryden will decide her fate after reviewing briefs from the prosecutor and Battles' attorney.

What is most notable about this case is that thousands of other Maryland parents who teach their children at home have no trouble complying with the law.

Battles joins the ranks of people in this country who believe they have special status that exempts them from obeying certain laws or allows them to engage in unacceptable behavior.

The militia movement is one obvious -- if extreme -- example of people who believe in selective compliance with the law. Many of its ilk refuse to pay taxes, register or insure their cars or repay loans. Some members don't acknowledge the authority of local, state or federal courts.

Closer to home are the U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen who believe, because they are candidates to become SEALs, members of the Navy's elite commando unit, they have the right to take advantage of female midshipmen. In The Sun's recent story on Scott Ward, a midshipmen accused of sexual misconduct, several of his friends expressed an astounding degree of arrogance when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex.

SEALs and sex

"We are going to be SEALs," one of Mr. Ward's friends exclaimed to a reporter. "You drink, and they're asking you to be incredibly sensitive to the mood of someone you've already slept with." Aside from the fact that these young SEAL-wannabes have yet to come close to jeopardizing their lives for their country, they display a disturbing belief that the normal rules of behavior don't apply to them.

In a similar way, Battles believes that because she is a deeply religious person, she doesn't have to accede to the laws applying to home-school families.

Her attorney, David Gordon of the Home School Legal Defense Association, claims that the county's curriculum violates her "basic Christian" beliefs. Furthermore, he said, the school board should not have any say over what she teaches her child. In reality, school system officials are not as interested in the content of Battles' lessons as they are in having her fill out a simple application. They just want verification that the child is receiving some type of instruction.

The county's paperwork is rather innocuous. It asks some perfunctory facts such as the name and address of the parent and the child to be instructed, the child's birth date, the grade level and the school the child would attend if he or she were enrolled in the public system.

The only other question involves curriculum. The parent can designate that he or she will use approved instruction materials from school or church groups, or the parent can submit a portfolio of work twice a year.

Despite repeated efforts by school officials and prosecutors to resolve this case without going to court, Battles and her attorney, who wants nothing more than a controversy, decided to dig in their heels.

Battles has repeatedly refused to meet with school officials. She claims to be "offended" by the "philosophies of secular humanism, atheism, evolutionary theories and homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle" that supposedly are taught in county schools and approved by local educators.

Free to think the worst

Battles is free to believe all sorts of terrible things about public schools. But she fails to show why that is sufficient cause to ignore the requirement that she register as a home-schooler. She is stretching logic to suggest that filling out a form might have a harmful effect on her child.

The same illogical conclusion is employed by the misguided naval midshipmen who think they can assault women because they might find themselves in dangerous combat. Navy aviators, some of whom were in combat and imprisoned in North Vietnam, thought the same thing. The result was the Tailhook scandal.

Under our system of laws, no one who is a devout Christian or a courageous commando, aviator or submariner gets special status or a license to obey only the laws they choose. If that were the case, we would have anarchy rather than the relatively orderly society we enjoy. Unless something is deemed inherently defective about the state's compulsory education law, it would appear that Battles will be convicted of violating it and will be punished.

Rather than being elevated to martyr status, she should be seen as a misguided person who is seeking to exempt herself from the rules that the rest of us follow.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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