On February 28 the Tutts were back in court for a “status” hearing to report to the judge on how things were going regarding the judge’s previous orders. The attorney representing Trevor and Christina Tutt expected a “20-minute hearing,” but like the other hearings in this case, it went far beyond the normal time. The hearing lasted for two and a half hours, though that’s not as bad as the 12-hour hearing in December, in which, instead of hearing evidence on why the children were removed, Judge Olvera allowed the family to be verbally attacked for their faith, ministry to the needy, and home schooling. In a new hearing in January, this time before Judge Callahan, the focus was supposed to be only on the cause for removal, but that 8-hour hearing was another attack on the family. Although Judge Callahan did rule that Judge Olvera’s order to remove the children was not justified, she did not return all of the children and would not allow the Tutt family to continue to home school, but instead forced the children to attend public school.
Observers in the courtroom at last week’s hearing report more of the same. The attorney appointed as Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) for the children reported that the one child in foster care, who is a sibling of two of the Tutts’ adopted children returned to their care, was “doing well in her foster home”; that her foster parents are very helpful to her; and that she suggested the child remain in the foster family’s care. This is the same attorney who previously told the Tutts she saw no problem with them or safety issues in their home but would not recommend the court return any of the children unless they agreed never to home school. Judge Callahan ruled on February 28 that Trevor and Christina could not accompany their two adopted children to visit the child in foster care. She said if those visits between the children go well over the next few weeks, Christina and Trevor may be included in visits with the child. While the GAL was officially dismissed from representing the children who remain at home, she will continue to oversee the visits with the child in foster care. One positive note was that Judge Callahan told CPS to allow weekly visits with the child rather than the monthly schedule they had allowed thus far.
What is the purpose of keeping this child in foster care, especially since this judge has already ruled that the removal was not justified, and in spite of the fact that the court was officially notified that the Tutts were actually in the process of adopting this child?
Christina’s son who was placed with her ex-husband has not seen his mother since he was wrongfully removed from her home in November. In last week’s hearing, Judge Callahan did not address the failure of this child’s father to follow her previous orders to have his son meet with the court-appointed counselor but instead allowed the counseling with the son and mother to take place with a counselor of his choosing.
The remainder of the hearing was about the four children who are at home with the Tutts. The entire hearing was about their education. Neither the D.A. nor the judge asked how the children were doing, adjusting, or dealing with the events of being removed and now returned to the home. Their adjustment and emotional state were not taken into account as they pertain to their school performance. In fact, that issue was only addressed when Christina explained that the youngest child placed in public school had missed so much school because of the trauma. Christina told the court that she had made arrangements for this child to have counseling and therapy for the anxiety and behavior issues triggered by the separation from her parents.
All of the children are, of course, being compared to their public school peers. CPS subpoenaed almost a dozen public school officials to testify. They were questioned as to how the children are doing in school and as to any evaluations that have been done. No educational assessments have been made, as the judge originally ordered only testing done regularly in the classroom. Teachers testified that they didn’t have any other resources to get the children to “grade level.” One teacher said that the math and reading coaches are only used after a child does not show significant improvement within the classroom and special group settings. One child’s teacher did not know that Christina had spoken with the principal about having that child assessed for special needs, although the principal testified that they were considering such tests. Christina also told the court that she and Trevor had enrolled the children in tutoring for math and reading, the areas in which the children are behind.
Parents all over Texas are asking, “How can this happen?” Children are removed from a home for a reason that the judge acknowledges is not justified, but in spite of that the court remains involved in this family’s life, refusing to allow a child to be reunited with her siblings and the parents who are in the process of adopting her. The adopted children, whom everyone acknowledges come from troubled backgrounds, are behind grade level, a fact that CPS would normally acknowledge. But in this situation, because the family teaches the children at home, the children are required to perform the same as their peers from different backgrounds? It is obvious that the Tutt family is being singled out because they home school. There is no doubt that if these children were in a traditional school, their limitations would be acknowledged and the family would be treated differently by this court.
The words of Judge Callahan from the January hearing keep coming into my mind. Based on the pseudo-assessment of the GAL (who, in fact, told the Tutts she didn’t care about the child’s past issues, she only cared about how they performed academically now), the judge said to the Tutts, “If your children were this far behind in a public school, you would be banging on their door. Well we are banging on yours!”
Of course, if the Tutts’ children were in public school and the Tutts were “banging on their door” about it, public school officials would simply point to the children’s backgrounds and limitations and say they were doing the best they could do. I can also assure you of this: CPS would not remove the children from their home, drag school officials into court, demand to know why these children were not performing at the same level as their peers, and refuse to return them to a family until they were performing academically at grade level. We don’t take people’s children from them because they are behind academically! Well, not until now.
Please keep praying for the Tutts, especially for their children, and post comments for them in response to this posting. Sign the petition for the Tutts if you have not done so. Sign up to receive updates on the case as they become available. (Check the box next to “Parental Rights Updates.) We are considering other legal remedies and actions for the Tutts and expect to see those moving forward soon. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the THSC Parental Rights Litigation Fund for the purpose of helping with the Tutts’ legal fees.