DALLAS – Four of seven children who were forcibly removed from their home in Texas have now been returned to their parents after the Christian couple spent two months battling the government in court over their right to homeschool.
Trevor and Christina Tutt of Dallas have several years of experience helping at-risk children through both CPS foster care and the ministry Safe Families. In addition to five biological children (three of whom are now grown and living outside their home), the Tutts have three adopted children and are in the process of adopting another child.
“We very much want God to bring our new children, the children that He wants to be in our family, so we are open to whatever children He sends,” Mrs. Tutt told Examiner.com in late 2011. “Because of our experience with our children, we are specially equipped to handle children with special needs. In fact, we look for children with those special needs because there are so many children out there languishing in foster care because people don’t want to adopt a child who has extra challenges. It isn’t for everyone, but it is definitely for us!”
Mr. and Mrs. Tutts’ commitment to their children—both educationally, with their homeschooling, and spiritually, with their Christian faith—is known throughout their community. Not only have they been spotlighted in outlets such as KIWI Magazine, but they were also featured speakers during Lake Pointe Church’s 2012 Adoption and Foster Care Conference.
However, in September, a local police officer contacted CPS officials after finding that a child temporarily in the Tutts’ care—a four-year-old with autism—had wandered a short distance away from their home. Even though Mr. Tutt was nearby, searching for the child, the police officer’s report led to a CPS investigation.
According to a recent article from the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC), a CPS caseworker investigated the Tutt family’s home and concluded by saying, “There is no problem here.” However, the caseworker also remarked,“Nobody in their right mind would want to stay home all day with so many children!” and ordered Mrs. Tutt to enroll in parenting classes and take a psychological examination.
Despite the fact that Mrs. Tutt showed CPS workers numerous parenting class certificates and paperwork certifying her mental health, a local judge ordered the Tutts’ seven children to be removed from the home. In November, armed constables seized the children and kept them under government custody for nearly two months.
Tim Lambert, president of THSC, asserts in the article that the seizure was unlawful, since—as described in Chapter 262 of Texas Family Code—“removal from the home requires immediate threat of harm to children.”
According to reports, government officials were allegedly displeased with the family’s homeschooling. THSC advises that the Tutts were informed that their children were not “properly educated” and were being “brainwashed” by their homeschooling parents.
Last month, during a hearing that lasted for eight hours, Mrs. Tutt’s faith and homeschooling liberties were again called into question.
“The hearing quickly devolved into a relentless attack on this family’s religious beliefs, community service, and right to home school their children—with no legal basis at all,” Lambert reports. “CPS attorneys berated Mrs. Tutt for not using a ‘state-certified home school curriculum,’ in spite of the fact that there is no such thing in Texas. The guardian ad litem denigrated her for not submitting documentation of her home schooling to the state on a regular basis, including state-mandated tests. This, of course, is not only not required, but there is no way for someone to do so in Texas.”
Following the hearing, Judge Graciela Olvera ruled that the Tutts’ children should be kept under government foster care and not returned to their parents, based on CPS arguments about the children being homeschooled. Judge Olvera also ruled that both Mr. and Mrs. Tutt should participate in parenting classes, drug and alcohol testing, psychological evaluations, psychiatric evaluations and personal counseling. However, as no evidence of parental abuse or neglect was ever mentioned in the hearing or the original removal affidavit filed with the judge, the family appealed the ruling.
During a second hearing this week, a local judge once again considered the Tutt family’s case. According to an update from friends of the family, the judge admitted that there was no evidence of abuse or neglect found in the Tutts’ home and conceded that the children should not have been removed from their home in the first place. She thus overturned Olvera’s ruling, which was not based on abuse findings, but rather complaints about homeschooling.
As a result, four of the children have now been returned to their parents, but are required to attend public school while officials conduct an educational evaluation. The other three children have not yet been returned home, according to reports. Supporters of the Tutt family describe this latest development as “not a victory or defeat” but rather “a sidestep,” and they confirm that “home schooling was the main issue” with the legal proceedings.
Overall, Lambert described the court procedure as “a massive beatdown of homeschooling” and told Christian News Network that the Tutt family’s situation should be of concern to other homeschooling families.
“This case exemplifies the new attack against parental rights and home schooling in which a family court judge who has a low view of parental rights believes he/she has the authority to decide what is ‘in the best interest’ of the children in question,” he stated. “This is a grave new concern for families who are pursuing home schooling or some other decision for their children that society might find unorthodox.”