United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
JOSILYN GOODALL, Individually and as next friend, as nest friend of A.S., a minor child, Plaintiff,
WORCESTER SCHOOL COMMITTEE MAUREEN BINIENDA, in her official capacity as Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools, LINDA SPEARS, in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, SUZANNE CARDONA, in her individual capacity, ADRIENNA COONAN, in her individual capacity, and JANE DOE, in her individual capacity. Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.
Goodall, individually (“Goodall”) and as next
friend of her minor child, A.S., (“A.S” and
together with Goodall, “Plaintiffs”) have brought
an action against the Worcester School Committee
(“School Committee”), Maureen Binienda, in her
official capacity as Superintendent of Worcester Public
Schools (“Superintendent” and, together with the
School Committee, the “Worcester School
Defendants”), Linda Spears, in her official capacity as
Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children and
Families (“Commissioner”), Suzanne Cardona, in
her individual capacity (“Cardona”), Adrienne
Coonan, in her individual capacity (“Coonan” and,
together with the Commissioner, and Cardona, the “DFC
Defendants”) and Jane Doe, in her individual capacity
(“Doe”) alleging claims under 42 U.S.C.
§1983 for (1) implementation of policies interfering
with a parent’s fundamental right to direct the
education of their children and/or the fundamental rights of
parents and children to family integrity, familial privacy,
and intimate association; and/or (2) illegal search and
seizure. Plaintiffs also seek a declaration and judgment of
rights pursuant to the Massachusetts Declaratory Judgment
Act, Mass.Gen.L. ch. 231A, §1 (“Chapter
231A”) regarding a parent’s right to decide to
withdraw her child from school, and a declaration that such
parent’s conduct does not constitute
“neglect.” Plaintiffs request monetary damages,
and injunctive relief.
Memorandum of Decision and Order addresses
Commonwealth’s Motion To Dismiss Counts 3, 4 and 6 From
the Complaint (Docket No. 8); Defendant Worcester School
Committee and Superintendent Maureen Binienda’s Motion
To Dismiss the First and Fifth Causes of Action From
Plaintiff’s [sic] Complaint (Docket No. 10); and
Plaintiffs’ Motion To Strike Defendant Worcester School
Committee’s Motion To Dismiss and Supporting Exhibits
(Docket No. 15). For the reasons set for the below, the DCF
Defendants’ and Worcester School Defendants’
motions to dismiss are granted, in part, and
denied, in part and Plaintiffs’ motion to
strike, is denied.
of Review Governing Motions to Dismiss
overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim, a complaint must allege sufficient facts
“to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 667,
129 S.Ct. 1949 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 546, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). The
plausibility of a claim is evaluated in a two-step process.
Manning v. Boston Med. Ctr. Corp., 725 F.3d 34, 43
(1st Cir. 2013). First, the court must separate
the complaint’s factual allegations, which must be
accepted as true, from its conclusory legal allegations,
which are not entitled to the presumption of truth. A.G.
ex rel. Maddox v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80
(1st Cir. 2013); Manning, 725 F.3d at 43.
Second, the court must accept the remaining factual
allegations as true and decide if, drawing all reasonable
inferences in the plaintiff’s favor, they are
sufficient to show an entitlement to relief.
Manning, 725 F.3d at 43. The court draws on judicial
experience and common sense in evaluating a complaint, but
may not disregard factual allegations even if it seems that
actual proof of any particular fact is improbable.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 667, 129 S.Ct. 1949;
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955. A motion
to dismiss must focus not on whether the plaintiff will
ultimately prevail, but whether he or she is entitled to
offer evidence to support the claims. Mitchell v. Mass.
Dep’t of Corr., 190 F.Supp.2d 204, 208 (D. Mass.
2002) (quoting Scheur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236,
94 S.Ct. 1683 (1974)).
Motion To Strike
Before making findings of fact, I must address
Plaintiffs’ motion to strike the Worcester School
Defendants’ factual assertions made in support of their
motion to dismiss. In some instances, the Worcester School
Defendants have expanded on Plaintiffs’ factual
assertions while in others, they have controverted them. As
record support, they cite to the declaration of Maura Mahoney
(“Mahoney’), Manager of Social Emotional Learning
for the Child Studies Department of the Worcester Public
Schools and the following exhibits attached thereto: (Ex.
A) a copy of the School Committee’s Homeschool
Policy; (Ex. B) a copy of a January 10, 2018 email
from Goodall to the Superintendent outlining Goodall’s
homeschooling plan for A.S.; (Ex. C) a copy of
A.S’s attendance record for the 2017-2018 school year;
(Ex. D) a copy of Mahoney’s January
16, 2018, response to Goodall’s January 10,
2018 email; (Ex. E) a copy of a DCF report of child
abuse/neglect regarding A.S.; (Ex F) a Failure To
Cause School Attendance Affidavit regarding A.S.; (Ex.
G) a copy of the complaint filed against Goodall in the
Worcester Superior Court by the Worcester Public Schools;
(Ex H) a copy of an official, completed application
to homeschool A.S. for the 2018 academic year filed in April
2018; (Ex. I) a copy of an official, completed
application to homeschool A.S. for the 2018-2019 academic
year; and (Ex. J) a copy of the
Superintendent’s letter notifying Goodall that the
application to homeschool A.S. for the 2018-2019 school year
had been approved. See Declaration of Maura Mahoney,
Defs. Worcester School Comm. And Superintendent Maureen
Binienda’s Mem. Of L. in Supp. Of Mot. To Dism.
(Docket No. 11), at Ex. 1 (“Mahoney
Decl.”). Plaintiffs have filed a motion to strike all
the exhibits on the grounds that they are outside of the
pleading and therefore, cannot be considered unless the Court
converts the motion to one for summary judgment. The motion
to strike is denied, but for the reasons set forth below, I
will not consider specific exhibits or the information
ruling on whether the plaintiff has stated an actionable
claim, the inquiring court must consider only the complaint
and documents annexed to it; the court cannot consider
affidavits and miscellaneous documents proffered by parties,
unless such other materials are fairly incorporated
within the complaint or are susceptible to judicial notice.
Rodi v. S. New England Sch. Of Law, 389 F.3d 5, 12
(1st Cir. 2004). Contrary to Plaintiffs’
assertion, many of the exhibits included by the Worcester
School Defendants contain facts and other information which
was repeatedly referenced in the Complaint and therefore, can
be said to be “fairly incorporated” therein.
These include the following exhibits referenced above:
(Ex. A) a copy of the School Committee’s
Homeschool Policy; (Ex. B) a copy of a January 10,
2018 email from Goodall to the Superintendent outlining
Goodall’s homeschooling plan for A.S., (Ex. E)
a copy of a DCF report of child abuse/neglect regarding A.S.,
(Ex. G) a copy of the complaint filed against
Goodall in the Worcester Superior Court by the Worcester
Public Schools; (Ex. H) a copy of an official,
completed application to homeschool A.S. for the 2018
academic year filed in April 2018; (Ex. I) a copy of
an official, completed application to homeschool A.S. for the
2018-2019 academic year; and (Ex. J) a copy of the
Superintendent’s letter notifying Goodall that the
application to homeschool A.S. for the 2018-2019 school year
had been approved. Moreover, the Court may take judicial
notice of statutes, regulations and formally enacted
government policies and procedures. I will accept the
Worcester School Defendants’ factual assertions based
on such records.
It is a
close call as to whether I should consider the following
exhibits as it is arguable that they have been incorporated
into the Complaint by negative reference: (Ex.
C) a copy of A.S’s attendance record for the
2017-2018 school year, (Ex. D) a copy of
Mahoney’s January 16, 2018, response to
Goodall’s January 11, 2018 email, and (Ex. F)
a Failure To Cause School Attendance Affidavit regarding A.S.
More specifically, in the complaint, Plaintiffs
repeatedly decry the fact that the
Superintendent’s Office never contacted Goodall after
she emailed the Superintendent that she was removing A.S.
from Woodland Academy (“Woodland”) and intended
to homeschool him. Yet the Superintendent and School
Committee have provided a copy of a prompt response sent to
Goodall outlining the procedure she should follow and
informing her that until a plan was approved, if A.S. did not
attend school he would be deemed absent. Moreover,
Goodall makes much of A.S.’s attendance after she
informed the Superintendent that A.S. was to be homeschooled
and states that any prior attendance records should not come
into play. The exhibits proffered by the Worcester School
Defendants establish that A.S. had a dismal attendance record
before Goodall “withdrew” him from Woodland
Academy in 2018 and had stopped attending school more than a
week before Goodall emailed her homeschool notification to
the Superintendent. Moreover, there is evidence cited by the
Worcester School Defendants establishing that Goodall ignored
other attempts to contact her and set up meetings. Despite
the negative references raised by Plaintiffs’
allegations, I have not deemed the information contained in
these exhibits incorporated by reference and have not
considered them in deciding the motions to dismiss.
have chosen not to consider certain exhibits and have not
converted the Worcester School Defendants’ motion into
one for summary judgment, I note that these and other
exhibits call into question the veracity of numerous factual
allegations asserted in support of Plaintiffs’ claims.
Plaintiffs’ attempt to minimize any culpability for
potential misstatements/mischaracterizations by repeatedly
including the words “on information and belief, ”
at the beginning of many of their factual assertions is, at
best, disingenuous, and, at worst, sanctionable. The Court
will reserve considering any possible Rule 11 sanctions until
such time as a more complete record has developed.
Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
School Committee is the legislative and policy-making body
charged with supervision of the Worcester Public School
System with authority under Mass.Gen.L., ch. 71, § 37 to
establish educational goals and policies for the schools in
the district consistent with the requirements of law and
statewide goals and standards established by the
Massachusetts Board of Education. Under Massachusetts law, a
parent may choose between lawful alternative forms of
education by enrolling her child in a public day school,
another day school approved by the school committee, or by
seeing that a child is “otherwise instructed in a
manner approved in advance by the superintendent or the
school committee.” Mass.Gen.L. ch., 76, § 1
(“Chapter 76, §1”).
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (“SJC”)
has held that a parent may choose to submit a proposal to
homeschool her child pursuant to Mass.Gen.L. ch., 76, §
1. Care & Protection of Charles, 399 Mass. 324,
331, 504 N.E.2d 592 (1987). In Charles, the SJC
provides guidelines and procedural requirements for handling
disputes between parents and school committees over the
approval of a homeschool program.
Worcester School Committee’s Homeschool Policy.
School Committee adopted an official written policy for
homeschooling in the City of Worcester (“City”)
starting with the 2017-18 school year. That policy (the
“Homeschool Policy”) provides:
Parents/guardians who choose to educate their children at
home, as allowed under Massachusetts law, can fulfill the
requirements of the compulsory attendance statute by having
their educational programs reviewed and accepted in advance
by the Worcester Public Schools. The notifications to
homeschool (elementary and secondary versions) are available
upon request from the office of the Child Study Department at
(508) 799- 3175. Parents are expected to provide evidence of
their child’s Home Schooling Program once a year.
Students completing high school through Home Schooling
Programs are not eligible for a Worcester Public Schools'
Diploma. A student being educated through Home Schooling may
have access to public school activities of an
extra-curricular nature (e.g. sports, clubs) with the
approval of the superintendent or designee. The district
reserves the right to allow enrolled students to have
precedence or priority over the home schooled student with
regard to placement on sports teams and activities that have
limited enrollment. With approval of the superintendent or
designee, and in consultation with the principal, a home
schooled student may participate in sports teams and
activities that have limited enrollment provided that he or
she does not displace an enrolled student. Home schooled
students applying to participate in district-sponsored sports
must follow the athletic eligibility guidelines ….
School Committee has also adopted a written policy with
regards to nonattendance at school (the “Attendance
Policy”). The Attendance Policy states that
“Parents and guardians are notified by phone on a daily
basis if their child is absent. After five unexcused
absences, the principal (or his/her designee) will notify the
parent(s) or guardian(s) in writing and, when appropriate,
request a meeting to discuss the student’s attendance.
Parents will continue to receive written notification of
their child’s attendance at every fifth absence from
school. Parents and guardians will also receive attendance
information through: (1) Interim and attendance progress
reports (at five weeks into each marking period), and (2)
Report cards (every ten weeks). The secondary report cards
show students’ absences from each class and
students’ total absences from school.” The
Attendance Policy further states that “[w]hen a student
accumulates excessive unexcused absences, the principal (or
his/ her designee) may seek assistance from the Juvenile
Court and/or the Department of Children and Families
(“DCF”) to resolve attendance matters.” The
Attendance Policy was adopted and in force in the City during
the 2017-2018 school year.
School Committee’s Homeschool and Attendance Policies
are customarily applied by the Superintendent. Pursuant to
the Homeschool Policy, a parent who has withdrawn her child
from a public City school and submitted a homeschool plan for
approval must continue to cause her child to attend that
public school until the homeschool plan is approved.
Moreover, pursuant to the Homeschool and Attendance Policies,
a child who has been withdrawn from public school to be
homeschooled by her parent is marked “absent” by
the public school until such time as the public school
receives notice from the School Committee or Superintendent
that the child’s homeschool program has been approved.
When a child who has been withdrawn from public school to be
homeschooled but is marked “absent” from the
public school accumulates excessive unexcused absences, the
City’s public schools file a report of educational
neglect with the DCF.
early January 2018, Goodall decided to homeschool her son,
A.S., who was then enrolled in Woodland, a City public
school. On January 11, 2018, Goodall sent the following
homeschool educational plan to the Superintendent, via email,
for approval by the Superintendent or School Committee
pursuant to Chapter 76, §1:
Plan for [A.S]
I, Josilyn Goodall, the mother of [A.S] will be homeschooling
him, effective immediately for the remainder of the year
2018-2018. This is his second grade year ….
Topics that may or may not be included, but not limited to:
Reading, writing, Geography, mathematics, arithmetic,
history, science, technology, music, art, health, phys. ed.,
religion Resources/materials that may or may not be included,
but not limited to:
Internet, reference books, library, computer games/apps,
calculating/measuring tools, arts and craft supplies, writing
supplies, board games, community resources, GECO I am sure
that in conjunction with his hours from second grade at
Woodland Academy that I will meet 990 hours of instruction as
required by the public school system. I am of competent
ability and good morals to homeschool my child and I also
have an Associates Degree. An annual progress report or dated
work sample will be submitted upon request.
I do not authorize Woodland Academy to disclose confidential
or directory information to any third party organizations
without my prior written consent. This includes but is not
limited to the following directory information that Woodland
Academy has designated as directory information, such as
students name, address, telephone listing, date of birth, and
major fields of study. Please commence authorization as
expeditiously as possible and should there be any reason for
disproval, please redirect me ...