BELVIDIRE, N. J. — A homeschooling family in New Jersey has filed a $60 million dollar lawsuit against the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency for intruding into their home and asking them personal and detailed questions about their lives and their son’s education.
According to reports, the incident occurred this past January as social worker Michelle Marchese arrived at the home of Chris and Nicole Zimmer and sought entry following an anonymous complaint over “improper homeschooling.” At first, Mr. Zimmer refused entry and called the police, but when they were given an ultimatum and told by police that the social worker had a right to investigate, he left Marchese in out of fear that the government would take his son.
“I wouldn’t let her in the house, but then she told me I had ten minutes or else,” he told My9NJ.com.
For the next two hours, Marchese questioned their 15-year-old son Chris on everything from whether the Zimmers fought or did drugs or beat him. Marchese asked the parents for their son’s homeschooling test scores and curriculum, as well as his medical records, and inquired about the guns in the household, seeking to inspect them and see how easy it would be to break into the locked cabinet.
“She took it upon herself to try to pry open the door with her fingers, but it was locked … Then she said, ‘You need to show me the guns; open the safe,’” Mr. Zimmer outlined to NJ.com. “I knew what my rights were, but I was trying to cooperate with her.”
“If they had come with a complaint of neglect and abuse, come in and ask us, but to question us about home schooling [is concerning],” Mrs. Zimmer told reporters. “For us it was a good choice, and I will always advocate for home schooling.”
The social worker then left and the Zimmers never saw her again, but received a letter in the mail asserting that the couple was not cooperative and so the case closed.
“We were unable to complete our assessment as it pertains to a referral made to our agency on 1/07/15, as you were unwilling to cooperate with the CWS referral process,” the letter read. “Therefore, DCP&P will not be providing services to your child and your family at this time. … Thank you for your cooperation during our recent contacts.”
The couple, however, said that they didn’t need the state’s “services,” and as they remained distraught about the matter, they filed a lawsuit against the department and Marchese.
“We want to change it so that they just can’t come pounding on your door and saying, ‘If you don’t let me in, you know who we are; we’re going to take your kid away,’” Mr. Zimmer told the Washington Post. “They need to start telling people what their rights are. If they want to act like cops, they can abide by the law like the police.”
The state replied to the suit asserting that the department “was simply fulfilling its duty by following up” on a complaint and that “a parent’s right to familial integrity ‘does not include a right to remain free from child abuse investigations.’”
The Zimmers countered the argument through their attorney, contending that “there is a constitutional fundamental right to be free from child abuse investigations where there is ‘no reasonable and articulable evidence giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that a child has been abused or is in imminent danger of abuse.’”
The couple states that if they win the lawsuit, they will donate the funds in order to help other families who are being wrongfully harassed by the government.