Montgomery County Family Court Judge Philip V. Cortese dismissed criminal charges against Richard and Margie Cressy on Wednesday, putting an official end to allegations the couple neglected the education of their four children.
But after about five months of turmoil that began with strangers pulling into their driveway, Margie Cressy said things will never be the same for the family.
“We’ll never look at a car pulling up to the house the same way again … the children are very much on guard, unfortunately,” she said.
The Cressys garnered the support of the Home School Legal Defense Association after the county Sheriff’s Department brought them down to the county lockup for booking and charged them with four criminal counts each of endangering the welfare of a child.
The investigation followed an anonymous tip by a neighbor who told authorities the children, ages 8 to 14, were seen outside during the day and not going to school.
After contacting the Fonda-Fultonville School District, authorities learned the Cressys never filed a form with the district as required of home-schooling parents.
An educational neglect charge was lodged at the same time in Family Court. By then, the family had filed proper paperwork at the district, received approval for their curriculum and the case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.
A criminal proceeding related to the child endangerment charges was taking place as well until Glen Town Justice Thomas J. Murray transferred the criminal case to Family Court.
Cortese on Wednesday reviewed the case and asked attorneys to confirm there were no changes in circumstances, comparing the criminal case to the Family Court case, and all agreed.
Attorney William Mycek, who was representing the county’s Social Services Department, sought to extend the six-month period in which the case, adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, would hang in limbo.
When a case is adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, defendants face the risk of having the charges brought up again if they break the law within the specified period.
But the Cressys’ attorney, William Lorman, wasn’t having any of that. “There’s no question that this case has been resolved,” Lorman told Cortese, citing the case history in Family Court, where the same circumstances were already addressed.
Lorman asked that Cortese leave the six-month period, which expires Aug. 10, as is and asked that the criminal charges be dropped altogether.
Cortese agreed and, during his summary of the case, asked if “everybody agrees parents have the right to educate their own children.”
All said yes.
Cortese asked how the children were doing. Great, Margie Cressy replied, adding that two score average and two score above average on tests.
She said she wasn’t inclined to broadcast the children’s grades in public after they take their evaluation tests, as all New York students do, this month. She said parents of children in public and private schools don’t display their kids’ scores.
After their day in court, Margie and Richard Cressy said many of their friends have suggested they sue for wrongful prosecution.
But Richard Cressy said he doesn’t believe spending more time in court and spending money on an attorney would accomplish anything.
Aside from affecting the family’s life, the case interrupted work on the family farm and Richard Cressy’s full-time job as a diesel mechanic.
“It didn’t make school easier, either,” he said.
Both parents beamed with pride as they spoke of their four boys who, according to court papers, are named Jacob, John, Levi and Jesse.
All of the boys are involved in 4-H. Two of them have done so well in their public speaking projects that they’ve advanced from local to conference-level finals, the parents said.
Besides working at his full-time job, Richard Cressy, with the help of the family, operates a farm of more than 100 acres.
They raise their own food, sometimes trading beef for fish, and the boys are growing to be skilled farmers.
Despite the difficulty in getting white Pekin ducks to sit still long enough to hatch eggs, one of the Cressy boys successfully did so, his mother said.
Margie Cressy said when equipment breaks down on the farm, she brings one of her sons to the parts store — he knows what to get — she pays for it and he does the work.
The boys are all involved in raising cattle, sheep, replacement heifers for dairy farms and other farm animals, and they are accustomed to horseback riding.
Richard Cressy said about a year ago he was out for more than a month with a medical issue at a time when he should have been gathering hay out in the fields.
When he got home, the barn was full of hay — the boys had taken care of it.
Richard Cressy said the boys’ capabilities on the farm mimic their ability to learn — it’s the children who go on the Internet to check the weather. They all have Facebook pages.
The fact that they’re home-schooled and live in the country doesn’t mean they’re uneducated or unable to socialize either, Richard Cressy said.
“They’re not sitting around tending to the still,” he quipped.
Margie Cressy said authorities had their chance to review volumes of paperwork, books and assessment tests they store in a room dedicated to education at their home, but didn’t want to.
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Bill Gilston on Wednesday said the letter of the law requires parents to fill out a simple form and get approval from the school district.
Even if he did look at the books and scores, he said, making sure those are adequate is the job of the school superintendent.
“I don’t think any three of us there are qualified to say those are good books. It’s the superintendent, he is the one with the education and right to decide those books are right or not right,” Gilston said.
He said the process that’s spelled out in education law is there for that very reason. “It’s to make sure the children are going to have a chance in life and show they were properly educated,” Gilston said.
The lack of that paperwork, he said, indicated to him that the parents were simply ignoring the law.
The Cressys said when they began home-schooling as residents in the Gloversville school district, they filled out the proper paperwork the first year and never heard anything again.
“We figured we were in the system,” Richard Cressy said.