When a Montgomery County couple was charged by police in January with not educating their four children for seven years, the accusations drew national attention and ignited a debate on home schooling.
The charges are in the process of being dropped, though, and the children’s mother, mortified by the experience, has broken the family’s silence on the matter, telling The Daily Gazette that investigators were unwilling to review the years’ worth of educational records she maintained from her work with her children.
The investigator and prosecutor involved in the case did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
After Margie and Richard Cressys’ arrest was reported in early January, the case caught the imagination of the home-schooling community and to a lesser extent the general public, largely divided along two lines of thought: Police were overacting and practically persecuting people who have full rights to home-school their children, or a family living in a rural community was simply ignoring their children’s education.
As it turns out, the Cressys have a room in their home dedicated solely to education. They use a Christian-based curriculum developed by a company with more than 30 years of experience.
And Margie Cressy said Tuesday that investigators never looked at any of it. “I have every test they have ever taken,” she said. “I have files upon files of my children’s work. I have a portfolio for every child.”
The criminal case began to unravel shortly after two different court systems got involved — the Glen Town Court, which received criminal complaints, and the Montgomery County Family Court, which received actions alleging educational neglect lodged by the county’s Department of Social Services.
The two courts received the separate actions in the same case almost simultaneously.
In Town Court, the two parents were each charged with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor that can carry a one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000.
That case, up until recently, was on the court calendar, unresolved and bound for trial.
The Family Court case, however, was settled in February, according to Family Court spokeswoman Rebecca Slezak, who spoke with The Daily Gazette late last month. A settlement was reached Feb. 10 after it was established that the parents were educating the children, and Montgomery County Family Court Judge Philip V. Cortese adjourned the case in contemplation of dismissal.
Meanwhile, Glen Town Justice Thomas Murray confirmed Tuesday that he’s transferred the case in his court to the Montgomery County Family Court based on a legal provision that the Cressys’ attorney, William Lorman, said permits judges to transfer cases to Family Court.
Murray said handling the case in a criminal court would end with acquittal or a conviction and fine, but either way there would be no oversight in the future to ensure that the children were being educated, so he agreed to move the case to Family Court — where it is expected to be dismissed.
“It’s done. No more court for us,” said Margie Cressy.
On Monday, Montgomery County District Attorney James “Jed” Conboy said he had opposed moving the case because he wanted to learn whether or not the children were, indeed, getting some education. He would not have that opportunity in Family Court, as his office does not handle cases there.
Assistant District Attorney John Clo, who was prosecuting the case in Town Court, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Hue and cry
The case made national news and drew an outcry from home-school organizations after the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department accused the couple of not providing education for their four children aged 8 to 14.
The case started when it was learned that the family hadn’t registered as home-schooling with the Fonda-Fultonville school district for seven years.
Cressy admits she didn’t file paperwork with the school district when the family moved from Fulton County.
The family received the support of the national Home School Legal Defense Association, which hired Lorman to defend them. Lorman said Tuesday that education cases like the Cressys’ are almost always brought to Family Court.
Cressy on Tuesday said that all investigators had to do to learn if the kids were studying was look at the files she’d presented during their investigation or enter the small room in their home that’s dedicated solely to education.
“The investigator came with a very obvious prejudice,” she said.
Investigator Bill Gilston, who handles child-related investigations at the Sheriff’s Department, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Cressy said she offered to show investigators their schooling room and handed them files, which they never opened or reviewed. She said she recalls one of the investigators questioning why the family was bothering to home-school their children and suggesting that the kids would wind up “on welfare” and be unable to function socially.
“They never took a statement from us,” she said.
Cressy said she suggested early on that the children be tested by the Fonda-Fultonville superintendent, but that suggestion was never followed up on.
Cressy said the January incident was her first run-in with the law.
She said she and her husband were invited down to the Sheriff’s Department in January for a meeting, which she assumed was so that prosecutors could meet with them and discuss the children’s education. But when they arrived, they were told they were being arrested.
“I didn’t even know what they wanted. They took us down and took mug shots and got our fingerprints. All of that’s on record now, you see; I’ve never had any of that done,” Cressy said.
Cressy said she’s been using the Alpha Omega Publications home-schooling curriculum. The Iowa-based company has been developing Christian home-schooling products for more than 30 years, according to its website.
“It takes the kids through everything: math, language arts, science and history, it’s all there,” she said.
She said two of her children score above average on tests, the other two at an average level.
“I love my children; they are my life. I don’t do this to harm them; we do this because we believe we can give them a very good education and we enjoy having our children at home,” she said.
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Categories: Schenectady County