Mother Says She Was Arrested for Homeschooling Her Children
Single mother Kiarre Harris said she pulled her children out of public school last December, after fulfilling the requirements of New York State law. But in mid-January, she was arrested without hearing charges or being read her rights.
"Basically, I'm charged with neglect because my children are not attending a school that they're not enrolled in," Harris said in a Facebook video she posted on January 18. She mentioned an upcoming appearance in criminal court, where "I'm being charged as a criminal for contempt of the court for obstructing an order to have my children illegally kidnapped from me."
It's no wonder that Harris described the New York State authorities as "terrorists."
After her story was reported Monday by ABC News' local affiliate 7 Eyewitness News, Buffalo Common Councilman Ulysees O. Wingo Sr. said on Tuesday it was "utterly unacceptable" that Harris was arrested for "educational neglect" due to her decision to homeschool her children. "Someone, somewhere messed up, and that someone needs to face the music," Wingo said at a Buffalo Common Council meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Harris claimed to have filed the necessary documents to homeschool her children in early December. New York State law requires a "Letter of Intent" within 14 days of the start of a child's education at home, as well as an Individualized Home Instruction Plan [IHIP], along with attendance records, quarterly reports, and annual assessments.
Harris provided the necessary documents to 7 Eyewitness News — dated December 7, 2016 (her Facebook video said December 5) — and the news station said the district acknowledged receiving her paperwork.
"I spoke directly to the homeschool coordinator and she told me from this point on my children were officially un-enrolled from school," Harris told 7 Eyewitness News. A week later, however, she said Child Protective Services called, asking why her kids weren't in school. "I told them that my kids were homeschool now and that I could furnish the documents if they need to see them."
In the Facebook video, Harris told the harrowing story of her arrest. "Long story short, I'm driving — this was last week, Friday January 13," she explained. Driving past her house, she saw police cars. She checked to make sure she had "everything legal and in order, not breaking any laws. I've never been arrested in my life. I'm 30 years old, never been arrested."
But the cops recognized her vehicle, and they followed her. After a while, she pulled over, and the unthinkable happened.
"They come to my vehicle, they snatch me out of my car," Harris recalled. "They illegally impound my vehicle — because my registration was good, my insurance was valid. They refuse to tell me my charges. They refuse to read me my rights, they arrested me and they handed me this paper, this court summons. They demanded to know where my children were because they wanted to remove the children from my custody. ... They're kidnapping my children, basically."
The court summons read like a dystopian novel, the single mother explained. It explained that they were charging Harris with neglecting her children, but provided false statement after false statement. In a heated moment, the mother called it "this fictitious-a** document."
First, the summons said that Harris had "failed or refused to ensure that the children attend school on a regular basis." It then added that "both children have not attended school since approximately November 16." Here, Harris interjected, "That's very approximate ... like I said, this happened in December."
The document also alleged that Harris "has failed or refused to cooperate with school officials," and that she "has engaged in a pattern of switching children from school to school." Here, the mother noted that even if that were the case (which it was not), "that's not indicative of neglect. Changing a child's school is not neglectful by any means."
Perhaps the most Orwellian part of the summons charged that Harris "recently posted a comment on social media ridiculing the school system and people who attend school or graduate from school."
"First and foremost, I'm a high school graduate and a college graduate," the single mother explained. She also explained what she actually posted on social media:
What I posted was that the school teaches people to be "smart idiots." People who cannot think outside of the box. They can think and form a textbook of what they've been taught but they cannot think for themselves, cannot think outside the box, which is very true, because we're trained to be workers.
Here is the social media post seemingly in question:
Schools create people who are "smart idiots". These people can repeat facts and definitions all day but they cannot think for themselves and create for themselves.
Naturally, Harris was outraged at the mention of social media posts in a court document. "How is anything I post on social media being put in a court document, unless I'm directly threatening to hurt someone? ... Furthermore, why am I being stalked on social media?!"
The document also claimed that Harris had "recently moved from place to place." In the Facebook video, the mother argued that while she lived in her last residence for seven months, she lived in the house before that for three years, and the one before that for over six years.
"I moved three times within the past nine years — apparently I moved from house to house, which is apparently illegal in New York State," Harris flippantly declared. "It's illegal to have any type of problem with your children's school, and it's illegal to post on social media any type of criticism for the school system. ... Again, these people are trying to kidnap my children."
Upon hearing the story, the councilman, Ulysees Wingo, said, "This does not pass the smell test. This looks bad."
"Did anyone from the school reach out to the mother? We don't know. It's very important for us to look at the details and get all of the details," the councilman added.
Harris' story is indeed harrowing, and Wingo is right to call for more investigation into the matter. Homeschooling is legal across the United States, and it is utterly unacceptable for a mother to be arrested for choosing that option, especially if, as 7 Eyewitness News reported, she was following state law.
Here is Harris' Facebook video. Warning: it has profanity and is disturbing.