Family prepares for court case on home schooling

Court gavel
Posted at 5:16 PM, Oct 07, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-07 15:46:03-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL)-- A Tallahassee family is preparing for court after being arrested for failure to comply with home schooling requirements.

Steve and Kristina Spell have eight kids ranging in ages from six months to 21 years. They have home schooled every one of them for most of their lives.

"I felt like it was something that our family would benefit from," said Kristina, "because we have different ages and different ranges and different styles of learning."

Kristina says they registered with the Leon County school district in 2010 under a non-traditional home school. In February of 2011, a sheriff's deputy knocked on their door and arrested them. They were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and failure to require school attendance.

Kristina says a family member complained to the school district about their children being home schooled, adding that before they were arrested, they had been visited twice by a school district liaison who wanted to ensure they were following district policy.

"I thought that that was it-- that it was settled," Kristina said.

She says they've done nothing wrong, and their legal battle has now become more than just a requirements issue.

"What it's turned into is the basic parental rights of being able to educate your children," she said, "allowing families to develop an educational program that your children can flourish in."

"I think people should have a right to home school," said Kristina's daughter 20-year-old Autumn Spell. "Every child learns differently."

"They're going off of what one person said, and then just going with it," said another of Kristina's daughters, 17-year-old Makenzie Spell.

Prosecuting Attorney Brian Miller says this case is not an attack on homeschooling. He says it is simply a matter of the family, "not maintaining requirements and doing it incorrectly." The Spell's carry misdemeanor charges, which Miller says could mean a maximum sentence of 300 days in jail for Steve and 600 days for Kristina. But he added jail time is usually only associated with felonies, so any kind of prison sentence in this situation is unlikely.

Still, the Spell family says they are innocent.

"We have complied with everything," said Autumn. "We've done everything that's been asked."

After two years of court delays, the Spell's are scheduled to go to trial next month.