The Tutt family case continues after a hearing in Dallas Judge Tena Callahan’s court on January 7. The hearing went from 2 p.m. until 10:45 p.m., with a 10- and a 15-minute break. Let me begin this update with some corrections and point out that the Tutts and their attorney cannot speak with THSC due to litigation being in progress. We are receiving information from multiple people who attended one or both hearings in their entirety, as well as from public documents.
First, CPS and/or the original judge, Judge Graciela Olvera, did not assert that the children should be removed because they were being home schooled. In the December 16 hearing in front of Judge Olvera, a hearing to consider the return of the Tutt children, however, one could be easily confused on that point because so much time was spent by CPS attorneys attacking the family for home schooling and alleging that the children were behind academically, based on assessments by several school districts that were incomplete at that time.
Secondly, the Tutts are not currently foster parents. They were temporary caregivers through Safe Families, a ministry for children in need of short-term placement.
The initial removal order by Judge Olvera was given at an ex parte hearing of which the family was not informed and at which they were not represented. The CPS caseworker, whose affidavit was used as justification to remove the children, testified in the January 7 hearing that she was not present at the ex parte hearing and did not seek the removal of the children but sought only an order to compel Mrs. Tutt to comply with the request for psychological evaluation.
The caseworker testified that she believes Mrs. Tutt thought she was already in compliance, and so the caseworker made no attempt to communicate with Mrs. Tutt that she was not. The affidavit the caseworker filed ended with this statement: “It is my opinion that there is imminent danger and the children are at risk of serious harm if left in the care of their parents.” This is almost direct language from Texas Family Code 262.102 (1) in the emergency order section of the family code. While she testified at both hearings that the home was fine and that there were no grounds for removal, she did include statutory language to justify removal and then did not attend the ex parte hearing. THSC will aggressively seek investigation of this caseworker and disciplinary measures against her and her supervisor.
The guardian ad litem (GAL) representing the children, who had vigorously attacked the family’s home schooling at the first hearing, took a very different approach on the home schooling issue at the January 7 hearing. Perhaps this was a result of the information directed to her and other attorneys in the case by THSC regarding the legal status of home schooling in Texas. One observer noted, “The GAL was much, much softer on her approach to home schooling issues, almost not mentioning it at all, and even asked the CPS worker some questions that were very unbiased.”
Judge Callahan, presiding at the hearing on January 7, appeared to be much more judicious and reasonable and ruled that four of the Tutts’ children would be returned to them, and one would remain with his father (he is a child from a previous marriage), but the two children in the process of private adoption would remain in foster care temporarily. The parents of one of those children chose to exercise their intact parental rights and are working with CPS to reunite their family, which is a wonderful thing. The status of the remaining child is yet to be determined. While Judge Callahan seemed to be much more aware of home schooling’s legal status in Texas, she nevertheless ruled that the Tutt children who were returned to them would remain in public school during the psychological evaluation of the parents and the educational assessment of the children by an educational expert who is familiar with home schooling.
Judge Callahan did not rule out the option of home schooling in the future, but stated that she “wanted to make sure the Tutts’ children were not so far behind their peers academically.” We will continue to follow this closely and take whatever actions available to help this family regain all of their children and return to home schooling.
Judge Callahan also (thankfully) refused a request by CPS’s attorney to have Judge Olvera do the follow-up on the case. She also removed the overly broad orders for drug testing, etc., put in place by Judge Olvera and removed the requirement for parenting classes as well, based on the Tutts’ certificates of completion from parenting classes.
While we are grateful that some of the Tutts’ children have been returned to them, it is astounding that a judge is now saying, in spite of CPS’s acknowledgment that everything is fine, that the children will remain in public school while the parents and children are tested. Please continue to pray for this family. THSC will continue to work on this case and help with the legal costs. If you would like to help in that endeavor, you may make a tax-deductible contribution to the THSC Parental Rights Litigation Fund. In the meantime THSC plans to announce a campaign to seek the removal of Judge Olvera and the filing of judicial ethics complaints against her as well. Look for those actions in the very near future.