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Commonwealth v. Frank Roberts

As this decision indicates, Frank Roberts sought to have a private day school approved in Fitchburg. The school committee refused approval of the private day school. Subsequently, it seems, Mr. Roberts taught his daughter, Mary, at home. He was prosecuted for not causing his child to attend school. When his case was heard before the superior court in Worcester, Mr. Roberts was not allowed to introduce evidence that Mary was, in fact, receiving an education. Upon appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court set aside the guilty verdict for Mr. Roberts, saying "the evidence which was excluded should have been admitted."

When this case was heard, the compulsory attendance statute had not yet been changed to include the provision that "otherwise instructed" students must have their manner of education "approved in advance by the superintendent or the school committee." See History of Compulsory Attendance Statutes.

The Roberts decision is quoted in the Charles case: "The great object of these provisions of the statutes has been that all the children shall be educated, not that they shall be educated in any particular way."

Commonwealth v. Frank Roberts
(No number in original)

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
159 Mass. 372; 34 N.E. 402

May 23, 1893, Argued
June 21, 1893, Decided

Report from the superior court, Worcester county; Robert R. Bishop, Judge.

Complaint charging Frank Roberts with neglecting to cause his child, aged 11 years, to attend any public school for a period of 28 weeks during a certain year, as required by chapter 384, Acts 1890. There was a verdict of guilty rendered, and defendant excepts. Exceptions sustained and verdict set aside.

It was proved or admitted that at the time alleged in the complaint the defendant had under his control a daughter, named Mary Roberts, between the ages of 8 and 14 years, and that he neglected to cause her to attend a public day school in said Fitchburg at the time and for the period of time alleged in the complaint, public day schools of said Fitchburg being kept open in said Fitchburg for that period of time during the time alleged in said complaint. The government, upon proof of the above facts, rested, and the defendant offered to show that for a like period of time with the period alleged in the complaint, during the time alleged in the complaint, the said Mary Roberts had been instructed in the branches of learning required by law to be taught in the public schools in a private day school not approved by the school committee of said Fitchburg, application to approve said private day school having been made to said school committee and refused and asked the court to rule that these facts, if proved, brought the case within the exceptions mentioned in the statute. The court declined so to rule, and excluded the evidence.

Counsel: W. S. B. Hopkins & T. F. Gallagher, (F. B. Smith with them,) for the defendant.
F. A. Gaskill, District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Judges: Field, C. J., Allen, Knowlton, Morton, & Lathrop, JJ.

Opinion By: Allen

Opinion:
Allen, J.

The penalty imposed by St. 1890, c. 384, is not incurred "if such child has attended for a like period of time a private day school approved by the school committee of such city or town, or if such child has been otherwise instructed for a like period of time in the branches of learning required by law to be taught in the public schools, or has already acquired the branches of learning required by law to be taught in the public schools." The words, "if such child has been otherwise instructed for a like period of time in the branches of learning required by law to be taught in the public schools," were ?rst enacted in St. 1889, c. 464, by way of substitution for the words, "if such child has been otherwise furnished for a like period of time with the means of education," which words were in the earlier statutes. Pub. Sts. c. 47, § 1. St. 1873, c. 279, § 1. Gen. Sts. c. 41, § 1.

The great object of these provisions of the statutes has been that all the children shall be educated, not that they shall be educated in any particular way. To this end public schools are established, so that all children may be sent to them unless other sufficient means of education are provided for them. If a child has in any manner already acquired the branches of learning required by law to be taught in the public schools, the law does not compel any further instruction. If he has not acquired them, the law requires that he be instructed in them for the speci?ed time each year. Sending a child to a private day school approved by the school committee is enough to comply with the requirement of the law, without further inquiry. The Pub. Sts. c. 47, § 2, prescribe what private day schools may be so approved. But if the person having a child un­der his control, instead of sending him to a public school or to a private day school approved by the school com­mittee, prefers to have him instructed otherwise, it will be incumbent on him to show that the child has been in­structed for the speci?ed period in the required branches of learning, unless the child has already acquired them. This permits instruction in those branches in schools or academies situated in the same city or town, or elsewhere, or instruction by a private tutor or governess, or by the parents themselves, provided it is given in good faith and is sufficient in extent. If the school committee has not approved of a particular school, or has expressly refused to approve of it, then the person having control of a child, if he sends the child to that school, must take the responsibility of being able to prove that he has been sufficiently and properly instructed there. He has no such responsibility if he sends the child to a private day school approved by the school committee.

The evidence which was excluded should have been admitted.

Verdict set aside.

 

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