Statement to the Bennington Family Court
and Presiding Judge
Thursday, February 13, 2003
I, Patricia L. O'Dell, wife of Raymond O'Dell and mother of Andrew Veach (age 15), Samantha Tompkins (age 14), Angela Cameron (age 11), and Elizabeth Veach (age 8), stand before you today accused of 'educational neglect' towards my four children. A charge of 'educational neglect' that neither the Social Rehabilitative Services nor the Department of Education can define or have yet to show me a copy of the written law.
As a citizen of the state of Vermont and as a United States citizen I am constitutionally guaranteed my right to speak freely and confront my accusers and thus I shall before this court passes a moral judgment on me.
First of all, I wish to bring to your attention the many false accusations, half-truths and innuendoes that have brought forth this terrible injustice to me and my family.
Based on a false report dated September 12, 2002 by Colleen Cummings, a so-called SRS Investigator, we are presented as neglectful, irresponsible, despicable parents and outlaws. Right away Cummings declares that I was residing with my family at the Ladd Brook Motor Inn in Pownal, Vermont. Since when is it against the law to rent a motel room while visiting my ill mother in her hometown of Bennington, Vermont?
In her report Cummings declares that 'SRS has a long history of involvement with Patricia and her children.' This is true. When I was fifteen years of age I became pregnant. I remember SRS sticking their nose into my business by trying to bribe me by taking me to places like McDonalds and trying to convince me to murder my unborn child by having an abortion. I do not murder my unborn children. I love each and every one of my children and I make sacrifices to raise them.
Cummings then goes on to talk about SRS investigating me and my family during 2002 including my supposed 'lack of shelter.' My children and I have not lacked shelter since our home in West Haven, Vermont, burned to the ground a few days after Christmas in the year 2000. We no longer have a physical home but we have never lacked shelter. We chose to live in motels, shelters, with friends and relatives or have camped out during the warmer weather.
After our house fire we sold that property in the summer of 2001 through a real estate agent named Denise Byers. Ms. Byers works for Coldwell Bankers located at 182 Woodstock Avenue in Rutland, Vermont. We then purchased outright a new one acre lot in South Newfane, Vermont. We also purchased outright a used mobile home to place onto our property. The new lot had a dilapidated mobile home and a wooden structure that needed removal before we could place the new mobile home onto the property. The new property had been left empty for several years and had been vandalized. We were falsely accused by local police of creating this environment.
During warmer weather we camped on our own property while we worked to remove these structures. When colder weather arrived we moved into a shelter in North Bennington but continued to make daily visits to our property to care for our animals and work on the lot. Since when is it against the law to work toward rebuilding our home and lives?
To further their harassment Newfane town officials and police removed our animals from our property and accused us of abandoning and neglecting them. We demanded they return them to us but they did not listen to our requests. They insisted we sign the animals over to them but we refused since we were not guilty of any charges. We were never charged, fined or penalized but the town never returned our animals either. We suspect since the town is a ski town the officials were not happy to see us move into their territory.
Cummings claims I have 'a history of immediately relocating when SRS or the school system becomes involved.' She states this as though it were fact, not an assumption. How does Cummings know what my reasons are for relocating from time to time? I have never discussed my reasons with Cummings for relocating. I seldom discuss my reasons with anyone except my family. We move when it suits our needs.
Cummings states 'Patricia continually refused to allow her children to be enrolled in school.' If Cummings is referring to public school where my children are entitled to a Free And Public Education (FAPE) she is correct. This is for several reasons. It is clearly documented that three of my children were being denied a proper education in the public schools and they were in imminent danger while they attended these schools.
Beginning in 1998 I withdrew my three oldest children from public school and enrolled them in the Vermont Department of Education's Home Study program. I continued to enroll my children in the state's Home Study program in 1999, in 2000 and in 2001. I gradually weaned my children from the special education program as well since I am entitled to do under federal law.
This, however, did not please the local school officials because my enrollment in a home study program depleted their school budget of the funds that would have followed my children into their school. They complained but knew they were powerless to do anything about it since I was well within my legal and constitutional rights.
When our home burned down the local school principal decided to pursue us claiming that since we no longer had a home we couldn't possibly be homeschoolers.
In the summer of 2001 we continued to be hounded by school officials. That summer the state required me to assess all four of my children and pay for that assessment out-of-pocket. The state is required to pay for such an assessment but refused to do so. The state also required me to provide them with information and documentation of proof that went far beyond the requirements and scope of the law. I eventually agreed to their mandates and signed an agreement under duress.
When August came I once again enrolled my children in the state's home study program. According to regulations the state must call a hearing within 45 days of receiving my enrollment. A hearing was called for November 20, 2001, more than two months after my enrollment.
On November 20, 2001 I attended a bogus Home Study Hearing conducted by members of the Vermont Department of Education where I was duly harassed, intimidated and made fun of by members of the opposition. Several members informed me that my homeschooling standards were 'too high' for my children. I turned over documentation to these people showing them my required minimum course of study which went way beyond the requirements and a parental report showing how my children have made academic progress since leaving the public school system.
On November 28, 2001 I presented Bruce Bjornlund, the DOE Hearing Officer, with a 15 page Final Brief disclosing how the public schools failed to follow the laws and failed to provide my children with an adequate education.
On December 1, 2001 I received through an advocate a copy of the Hearing Officer's undated and unsigned wordy report and findings from DOE lawyer Barbara Crippen that said I 'failed to meet the requirements of 16 V.S.A. Sections 166b (a) (3-4), (d) and (i) and is unable to provide the children with a minimum course of study, her home study enrollments for Andrew Veach, Samantha Tompkins, Angela Cameron and Elizabeth Veach are disallowed for this year and for the following school year. Pursuant to 16 V.S.A. Section 166b (h) this order shall take effect immediately and a copy of this order shall be forwarded to the superintendent of Mrs. OâDellâs school district of residence.'
On or around December 5, 2001 I then received through an advocate yet another copy of the Hearing Officer's report and findings that was signed and dated this time. That report was less wordy but was still word-for-word verbatim in most places and it came to the same conclusion. I and several others are under the impression the report and findings were those of DOE lawyer Barbara Crippen and not those of the so-called fair and impartial Hearing Officer. We highly suspect the Hearing Officer simply signed his name to Crippen's report after condensing the original wording of that report. This report and this procedure is highly suspect in my mind and in the mind's of those who attended this hearing on my behalf.
I continued to homeschool my children inspite of the DOE's bogus and suspect report and findings. It is my understanding that I am well within my constitutional rights to homeschool my children since the U.S. Supreme Court made several ruling in the 1920âs upholding a parent's right to see to the upbringing and education of their children. Those rulings include such cases as Pierce v. Society of Sisters where the court says 'The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public school teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state, those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.'
The U.S. Supreme Court also upholds my right to homeschool with their decisions in the Meyer v. Nebraska and the Farrington v. Tokushige cases. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld my right to give my children a Christian education in the 1970's with their ruling in the Yoder v. Wisconsin case.
Cummings' allegation that I am 'legally required to enroll' my children in school is a bold face lie. According to Vermont Statutes and the compulsory attendance law: Title 16: Chapter 25: Attendance And Discipline 16 V.S.A. / 1121: Attendance by children of school age required:
A person having the control of a child between the ages of six and 16 years shall cause the child to attend a public school, an approved or recognized independent school or A home study program for the full number of days for which that school is held, unless the child: etc., etc..
Where the compulsory attendance law reads: 'A home study program' I understand that to mean A home study program, not the state's home study program, not an approved home study program, not Oak Meadow's home study program, not a correspondence home study program or any other specific home study program. A home study program can and does include MY home study program with my own chosen Bible-based curriculum and Christian materials. Until this law actually requires me through specific wording and instruction to enroll my children in the Department of Education's home study program I will continue to pursue the homeschooling of my children through a program designed by me and executed by me. A program steeped in religious teachings and concepts relative to our Christian and Native American background and understanding.
Cummings states that on January 9, 2002 I sent a letter to the North Bennington Graded School advising that I would not be enrolling my children in that school and that I would be looking into Christian schools and moving to the Brattleboro area. We had planned to complete the installment of our home on the South Newfane property but were delayed due to weather and financing as well as the continued harassment and persecution by school and SRS officials. No matter what I did it didn't seem to please Cummings and others who were making it 'their' business to intervene in my life. I saw no reason for this intervention other than to make my life as miserable as possible and to assure that I failed in trying to provide for my family. SRS seemed determined to prevent us from homeschooling and from establishing our home.
In January of 2002 while we were housed at the North Bennington homeless shelter I continued to homeschool my children. We made use of the small library in the home from time to time. We continued to do 'hands-on' lessons for the children whenever we shopped at stores, ate in restaurants or traveled with the children. At no time did our homeschooling ever cease and at no time did I ever discontinue to homeschool my children.
We continued to use the educational materials that were provided to us through the efforts of several other supporters including state representative Neil Randall and others in a support group. Sometime in the summer and fall of 2001 we acquired book bags filled with homeschooling materials and supplies from the state representative previously mentioned. Others in our support group provided us with books, paper, writing materials, drawing materials, workbooks and encouragement. At no time did we discontinue to homeschool even while traveling from place to place.
To this day we have an account at A Teacher's Closet in Rutland, Vermont where we can purchase educational materials and supplies. This account was established for us by a support group that includes state senator Hull Maynard on the Senate Education Committee, state representative Carl Haas and several others. We purchased over $180 worth of supplies for our 2002 school year there so far. The owner of this store is Patty Ryan who can verify this and can be reached at 802-773-1377.
When my four children were given their homeschooling materials after being taken into SRS custody on September 13, 2002 they were discouraged and prevented from using them. SRS has effectively stopped the on-going education of my children.
Cummings complains that I 'did not follow through on recommendations' from members of the local school and shelter staff. I found their recommendations unreasonable, invasive and down right prejudice of our choice to homeschool. They obviously had no understanding of what homeschooling is and how it is accomplished. The environment in the shelter eventually became a hostile one towards my family and our choices.
Once again SRS was contacted in order to get us to conform to the schools' wishes and unreasonable demands. This became a huge distraction for our homeschooling efforts and placed the children in imminent danger of being forced into the hostile environment that public schools provide. This was something we had walked away from back in 1998 when I withdrew my children from public schooling in the first place.
At this time I decided my family might be safer at another location and with the liberty to travel freely we decided to move 'down south' as Cummings states. I saw no need to give her or anyone a forwarding address nor am I required by law to do so. Cummings also states that 'SRS substantiated Educational Neglect' of my four children by me. Just how did she manage to do this? Is she so familiar with homeschooling she can make that judgment? Is she such an educational expert that she can determine such a thing?
Cummings declares that on April 2, 2002 the Brattleboro SRS accepted an investigation on us since we had returned from down south to continue work on our property, land that we own outright and pay taxes on.
Cummings then goes on to say that on June 27, 2002 the Bennington Police advised them we were 'camping on the backside of Lake Paran in Shaftsbury, Vermont and harassing others at the lake.' What Cummings describes as 'harassing' was my husband's attempt to warn a certain individual to stay away from me and our 13 year old daughter. His warning to this individual was a result of the man's sexual advances and his other sexually motivated actions towards the women in our family. Just how thoroughly did Cummings investigate this accusation from the Bennington Police who have a habit of harassing me and my family members for no apparent reason.
Cummings claims our so-called 'campsite' at Paran Lake was 'littered with garbage, children's clothing' and among other things too vulgar to go into detail about. We were not actually camping there. We were swimming and bullheading (fishing). Since when is it against the law for children to be messy and unkempt while fishing in the summer time? Since when is it against the law for children to hang or scatter their wet clothing to dry in the sun? All children are exposed to 'unsanitary conditions' when they go fishing in the outdoors. Are both the state and SRS now in the business of controlling the bowel movements of children? If this is a crime then no one should be allowed to go fishing with children.
Cummings then claims that on June 28, 2002 SRS visited the so-called 'campsite' where we had been and found us gone. Of course we left the sight. We were there to swim and fish. The Bennington Police once again insisted on needlessly harassing us and preventing us from enjoying our freedoms and liberties. Cummings also points out that we 'could not be located.' What was her point in reporting this? Was this to show that once again we 'relocated' as we are free to do? Since when is it against the law to move freely from place to place in this country? Did she honestly expect us to leave her a forwarding address?
Cummings reports that on September 10, 2002 the Bennington SRS received a so-called report from Carroll Shores, my son's biological father who lives in Tennessee. It was Tennessee where we had eventually relocated to after leaving Vermont in January. Being a warmer climate we considered making Tennessee a more permanent move. Unfortunately it was not to be. Andrew did however spend some time living with his father and stepmother in Tennessee.
After some time Andrew was removed from Shores' home due to the abuse he received at the hands of his stepmother. Andrew also overheard conversations between his father and step-mother scheming to take custody of Andrew in order to gain yet another source of income to the already SSI income they were receiving from the state of Vermont. Andrew's stepmother plotted to keep Andrew there, force him into public schooling and keep the income for herself and her husband in order to make purchases of material goods such as a new car. Andrew was not happy in his father's home and had realized his father had no emotional attachment to him. It was obvious to Andrew that his stepmother had no warm feelings for him either since she physically abused him. Yes, I removed Andrew from his father's home but not for the reasons Cummings insinuates.
Cummings states that I was repeatedly informed of the need to enroll my children in an appropriate school program. My children were enrolled in an appropriate education program--they continued to homeschool, even throughout the summer months while we traveled or camped out. I continued to create a course of study for my children to follow and strive for. Students in the public schools are not required to attend programs in the summer so why does Cummings feel my children should be the exception and be forced to do so? Are we as homeschoolers being held to a higher standard than those in public schools?
Cummings tells a lie when she states I continued 'to fail to enroll the children in school or to provide education to the children.' I resent her accusations since she has not been at my side for the past four years to witness our homeschooling. Cummings states that my children 'have been reported to be significantly delayed both educationally and socially and are in need of specialized educational programs.' This is bogus. My children were academically behind due to their public school experiences. It was I who have had to remediate them in areas of reading and math. The public school failed to teach my son Andrew to read. They didn't teach him phonics and he actually went backwards in his learning at the hands of so-called public school experts. The public school assumed Andrew was retarded, which he is not, and never gave him the examination to determine this but they labeled him anyway. The public school prevented my daughter Angela from learning and excelling also. This is all documented and can be proven.
What is Cummings' idea of social skills? Is it against the law to have questionable table manners? Is it against the law to leave our clothing strewn about when we are outdoors? My children may not have the opportunity to attend formal school dances, dine out in fine restaurants, or attend other elegant functions but this is simply not a priority for us. As Christians we live a humble existence and as Native Americans we live close to the land our fathers left us.
Quite frankly, it is none of Cummings' business or other's what we teach to our children. Once again Cummings complains that 'When Mrs. O'Dell is approached regarding the education of her children, she moves the children from the area.' Of course I'm going to move my children. I have a right to protect my children from those who would seek to harm them and that includes people like Cummings, school officials and police officers. My children do not belong to the state of Vermont. If I see my children are in imminent danger from the likes of Cummings or others I will continue to move them.
Cummings states that on September 11, 2002 SRS telephoned the Ladd Brook Motel to confirm that me and my family were indeed staying there. Is it against the law to stay at a motel with my family? When does staying in a motel to visit relatives establish residency? Cummings overstepped her boundaries and jurisdiction here.
Cummings states that on September 12, 2002 SRS telephoned several public and private schools in the Bennington area to see if I had enrolled my children. Why would I enroll my children in the Bennington schools when we were only visiting the area to see my ill mother? Cummings also states that my husband, Raymond O'Dell, 'has taken no initiative in ensuring that his child receives an education.' This is also a lie. Ray is very attentive to our daughter Elizabeth's education. He is a loving father to all the children even though he is not the biological father of my three oldest children. Cummings would suggest that Ray has no feelings and no sense when it comes to the raising of his child. Cummings insinuates that Ray would intentionally cause his child harm in anyway, including her education. Where is Cummings proof that Ray has taken no initiative to help his child?
Cummings states that 'SRS believes' we are unable to provide for the care and education of our children. A 'belief' is far different from a 'fact'. Cummings and SRS have NOT established any facts that prove my children were NOT being homeschooled or receiving an education.
We have always provided for the care and education of our children. We continued to provide shelter in some form or another during the changing seasons and we continued to homeschool right up to and even after SRS kidnapped our four children. Cummings' repeated 'SRS interventions' were unsuccessful because we were determined to prevent our children from falling into their hands where we knew they would be in imminent danger and now our worst fears have been proven. To this day our four children are being abused and mistreated at the hands of SRS and foster parents. We have documentation to prove this.
Cummings stresses in her bogus report that my children Andrew, Samantha and Angela have different fathers as though this were a crime. She emphasizes the fact that some of these fathers either cannot be found or are incarcerated as though this were my fault and a direct result of my parenting. I cannot account for the behavior of these men. I only know I have tried very hard to put some distance between them and my children in order to protect my children from their past abuses toward both my children and me. Ray has been step-father to my three oldest children for nearly ten years now. For Andrew, Samantha and Angela my husband Ray is the only real and stable father they have known. They have a loving relationship with him and call him 'Dad'.
Cummings states in her report that 'BASED ON THE ABOVE INFORMATION, SRS BELIEVES THAT' my children 'ARE CHILDREN IN NEED OF CARE AND SUPERVISION.' Is the 'care' and 'supervision' she is referring to the same
'care' and 'supervision' the four separate foster homes are now providing for my children? The same foster homes where our children are being abused to the point of rape? The same foster homes where our daughter Elizabeth is receiving bruises and beatings from? The same foster homes who have allowed my 14 year old daughter to be raped? The same foster homes that refuse to take my son who has been coughing up blood to a doctor for medical care? The same foster homes that won't provide my son with blankets when the temperature outside is below freezing? My list of these documented abuses in these homes goes on and on.
SRS took my children from their homeschooling and placed them into failing public schools that are on a list with other failing schools. Do you call this education? Do you call this 'the best interest of the children?'
SRS took my children from me and placed them with strangers who harm them, neglect them and destroy their dignity. Do you call this care and supervision? Do you call this 'the best interest of the children?'
If I have truly neglected the education of my children then why was my 14 year old daughter placed at grade level when she was forced to re-enter public school? She left public school in the 5th grade. She was placed in the 9th grade upon re-entry. That means she skipped four grades. She has even excelled in math. If I did not homeschool her these past four years then how do you explain this?
Now my daughter Samantha lingers in a hostile environment where she continues to be sexually harassed by several boys on a daily basis. I have her letters expressing her fears and I have the letters from the boys who are making sexual advances on my 14 year old Christian homeschooled daughter. SRS has placed her in imminent danger and as a result she has been sexually harassed and raped.
If my 8 year old daughter was not receiving an education at home then how do you explain her entry into public schooling at grade level? Elizabeth gets 100âs on spelling tests. She excels at swimming and skiing. How is this possible if we have not taught her at home all these years?
Now SRS has placed Elizabeth in a hostile environment where she is dragged around by teenage boys and she has bruises left on her. She is in a foster home with four teenage boys, a single mother who works full-time and has a boyfriend who is allowed to be near my little girl. Do you call this care and supervision? Do you call this the best interest of a child? Before all this Elizabeth had never been separated from me and Ray.
SRS and state police chased Elizabeth through the woods on September 13, 2002 and hunted her down like an animal. They took her before they acquired a search warrant to come on to my mother's property. If the state police have complained for years they lack funding, personnel and resources then why do they have time and enough people to chase down very young homeschooling children?
Or country is at war with another country and with terrorists yet SRS, state police and public school officials have time and money to chase homeschooling children. I think they can find better things to do such as chase criminals and terrorists, not poor people who homeschool their children. To me and my family SRS is a bigger threat to our safety and well-being than any terrorists.
Unfortunately, the public school has reinstituted the gradual undoing of the homeschooling of my son and my 11 year old daughter. The public schools are famous for this. They will classify a child as learning disabled and then proceed to do everything in their power to prevent that child from learning in order to maintain their jobs as special educators. My son Andrew and daughter Angela struggle in this environment at the same time they live in fear and torment in the foster homes that have them. Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness have no meaning to me, my husband, and my children as long as SRS holds us all captive.
We have been denied our liberties and due process at every turn. We have been coerced, threatened and manipulated by members of SRS, the Department of Education, by members of the police force and by public school officials. Our constitutional rights under the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th and 14th amendments have been violated, undermined or terminated by over zealous do-gooders or by those intent on harming us.
If we committed a crime then charge us. Give us our due process and let us proceed in an open court of law to establish our guilt since we are innocent until proven guilty. Stop playing these games with our lives and stop tormenting us. We, as Vermont and United States citizens are entitled to that much.
I humbly ask the court here today to return my children to me and to make SRS cease their selective persecution of me and my family. They have discriminated against me long enough and this must stop here and now. I am at the mercy of this court to bring to an end the torture of my children and the denial of my constitutional and God-given right to raise my children. I beg the court to let us all go from this bondage so that we may continue to educate our children and to heal our family from the pain and suffering we have received at the hands of SRS, the Bennington Police and the public schools.
SRS has only worked to harm me and my family and to make fun of us. Instead of helping us as others do SRS enjoys hurting us. SRS works to keep us from establishing our home. Others, more generous and less judgmental, work to help us with our property and problems. SRS works to prevent my children from getting a better education than what public schools provide. Others, more understanding and supportive work to help us achieve our homeschooling goals by providing assistance and materials. SRS works to undermine our efforts to support ourselves. Others work hard to connect us to programs and agencies that help us to be get back on our feet.
Our case-worker Athena Boulger has made it very clear she has no intentions of helping me and my family. She has expressed to me that her only reason for existence is to prevent us from reuniting and to make our lives as miserable as she can unless I give into her coercion, unreasonable demands and her whims. She has deliberately withheld pertinent information in my case that could help me and has established rules that are down-right dangerous to the health and well-being of my children.
I humbly ask this court to NOT pass moral judgment on me and my family and to please let us go in peace.
Patricia L. O'Dell 2/13/03