FONDA - Smiling and holding hands, Richard and Margie Cressy walked away Wednesday from what's been a nearly six-month battle in the courts against criminal charges after they failed to file necessary paperwork for their children's home education.
The Glen couple, whose case garnered national attention and attracted the legal counsel from a national home school advocacy group, Home School Legal Defense Alliance, was charged by Montgomery County sheriff's investigators in January with four counts each of endangering the welfare of a child after failing to submit a notice of intent to home school to the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District in which they lived for about seven years.
The couple has four sons whose ages range from 8 to 14.
The Leader-Herald/ Amanda Whistle
Richard and Margie Cressy stand in front of the Montgomery County Courthouse Wednesday after their charges were dismissed in Family Court.
The verdict didn't come as a surprise to the Cressys or HSLDA Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly who spoke on behalf of the organization this morning.
"I think it shows that we have to be vigilant and maintain awareness of how we're interacting with our local authorities. In this particular case, the authorities took a rather extreme approach that we didn't think was appropriate. It just goes to show that these things can happen," Donnelly said.
"Parents have the right to educate their own children as long as they follow the statutes. We're all in agreement?" Family Court Judge Philip V. Cortese said Wednesday before he dismissed the criminal charges.
The Cressys faced both the criminal charges and educational neglect charges in Family Court. Cortese heard the educational neglect charges on Feb. 10 and issued a six-month adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.
Glen Town Justice Thomas J. Murray Sr. decided earlier in the month to send the criminal charges to Family Court where they were dismissed Wednesday.
If convicted on the misdemeanor counts, the couple could have faced any number of consequences, the harshest being one year in jail and a fine of $1,000.
William Lorman, the couple's Amsterdam-based attorney, asked Cortese to dismiss the charges based on the fact the Cressys were "100 percent compliant" and in good standing with the school district.
Prior to the Cressys' arrest, they had already met with district officials and begun filing necessary paperwork.
The Cressys are required to submit their next annual letter of intent to home school to the district by June 30.
According to state home-school regulations, parents must send the school district in which they live a notice of intent to instruct a child at home. Then they must submit an individualized home instruction plan to the district that includes syllabi and curriculum materials, dates for submission of quarterly reports and names of those who provide instruction.
Investigators said in January that the Cressys never submitted any documentation to Fonda-Fultonville or the Gloversville Enlarged School District in which they lived before.
But Margie Cressy said when the couple first started home schooling in Gloversville almost 10 years ago, they did submit the notice of intent and individualized home instruction plan thinking it was a one-time requirement. They moved to Glen about 7 years ago, and didn't know they had to resubmit paperwork to the school, Cressy said.
"When I sent in the [individualized home instruction plan] in Gloversville, I figured we were in the system," Margie Cressy said. "Now we're going to personally take the paperwork in and get it stamped and dated. We're going to keep everything [on record]."
Cressy said investigators wouldn't listen to her when they came to her home in January. She said she tried to show them files of paperwork and tests proving her sons were educated.
"We have a whole school room with desks and everything," she said. "They didn't even see the room. They didn't even talk to my children."
Montgomery County Undersheriff Jeffery T. Smith said he didn't see the point in discussing the case since the charges were dismissed.
"We uphold whatever the court decided," Smith said. "I don't see any sense in hashing it over anymore."
Though the battle is over, the Cressys said life has changed for them.
Richard Cressy, who also works as a diesel mechanic, said he has had to take time off from work and the children's education was disrupted. Margie Cressy said the family never looks at a car pulling up to the house the same way anymore.
The couple was hard pressed to think of anything good that came out of their ordeal, though they did say people could learn from their situation and parents who choose to home school should become members of organizations like HSLDA. They said if HSLDA hadn't come to their aid, the charges may not have been dropped.
Richard Cressy said it's not likely the couple will take legal action against the county.
The Cressys live on a roughly 100-acre farm where they raise sheep, cows, ducks, horses and other animals.
Margie Cressy spoke proudly of her son Jacob Cressy, 11, and the white pekin ducks he's raising. All the boys are members of the 4-H club and have developed their own specialty on the farm.
The Cressys are scheduled to speak at this year's Loving Education at Home Upstate Conference in Rochester, which takes place June 3, 4 and 5.
Amanda Whistle covers Montgomery County news. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.