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Home-schooling mother files federal discrimination charges against Buffalo Schools

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Kiarre Harris of Buffalo is making a federal case out of home-schooling her two children.

Harris said she delivered paperwork for home-schooling her 8-year-old and 11-year-old, but the Buffalo School Board apparently did not tell the children's school. When the children stopped coming to class, Buffalo Police and Child Protective Services soon after appeared at Harris' home and took away the children.

Harris was charged her with educational neglect and interfering with the process. Five of the seven allegations in the case relate to neglect, but two other charges Harris claims were from "years ago". 

"Unrelated to this circumstance at all and my children were never in eminent danger. CPS did not follow proper procedure. They were suppose to check and see if the children were in eminent danger and that is the only basis children should be removed from the home," declared Harris. 

Harris's children are still in county custody, attending school in another district. She is accusing CPS and the city school district of racial discrimination against her. Harris has filed civil rights complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education with help from the District Parent Coordinating Council.   

Council President Sam Radford said this is the first time he has heard of a kids being taken away from a family because of missing school in a district where around a quarter of students are chronically or severely absent, starting in kindergarten. Radford said Harris had the right to home-school.

"Even that question appears to say they had the right to do what they did," said Radford. "At the end of the day, it wouldn't matter if she did. At the end of the day, when it's all done, did she have the right to home-school her kids? Simple answer? Yes. At the end of the day, why was CPS called if she had the right to home-school her kids?"

The school district said it has "no comment" on the federal filings made by Harris Wednesday. However, earlier this month, the district issued a statement claiming an investigation indicates CPS was called prior to Harris filing her paperwork for the home school request. 

"In response to allegations that the Buffalo Public Schools improperly processed home schooling paperwork for a parent, the District asserts that those claims are inaccurate," said the district statement. "After investigation, it is clear that Child Protective Services was contacted prior to the district receiving a Letter of Intent from the parent to home school her children. The District remains committed to providing necessary supports to parents and children."

A district also noted that Harris "did not attend" a scheduled meeting Tuesday with the district.

Harris said the entire process is very slow and is not fair.

"Thirty-five days in without seeing my children. The only contact that I have had with them for over a month has been by telephone," she says. "I had City Court this morning and I'm almost positive that the criminal charges will be gone away because there's no legal basis for me being arrested and having any criminal charges pressed against me. At this point, I just want my children back."

Harris said a supervised visit with her children was abruptly ended when she started reading a newspaper story about the case to them.

Buffalo has a very small percentage of its students who are home-schooled, around 339 families and the district is considering changing its system of supervising home-schoolers.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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