Court Case

Oswego County Court House
Once the court returned all six of us to our parents, it seemed the nation focused on the outcome of the Gracey Case trial to be held in November. Parents who taught or hoped to teach their children at home contacted us by phone, in person, or by mail. And mail continued to pour in from all 50 states, from Mexico, Europe and Canada.

Mr. James McKenna from Queens NY had offered to take the case. He visited regularly to talk about his plan of defense and what he needed from us. He knew that Mom would be asked to take the stand. Our former family lawyer, Mr. Mowry, had refused to represent us and had instead sided with the Mexico Public School system. The judge had also assigned a lawyer to us kids. We never saw him or spoke to him because he never approached us for any information on how we felt about the case. He sided with the Mexico Public School and aliened himself with Mr.Mowry. Mr. McKenna debated the benefits of putting one of us one the stand. The principal, Mr. Pierce, continued to deny that the Mexico School system taught sex education. Mr McKenna thought it might be good for one of us to testify to the contrary.

The organization Pony-U also stepped up to assist and support our fight. Before getting involved with our family, while we were still in foster homes, they had gone around the village of Mexico and asked people they met about our family, what kind of people we were, how we acted within the community, etc. Pleased with what they heard, they approached Mr. Pierce at the Mexico High School, known as Mexico Academy and Central School. During their session with Mr. Pierce, they asked him about the school-aged kids, the parents and their status in the town of Mexico. They were pleased that Mr. Pierce identified them as upright, singular citizens. So they asked him if in his opinion the mother could possible teach her own children in her home, since the state of New York allowed it? He replied that in his mind, no mother was ever qualified to teach her own children.

People began to show up on our door step. One gentleman who sold textbooks offered to give us all the textbooks we needed, free. Others sent money, which Mr. McKenna advised be put into a bank account labeled The Gracey Case Defense Fund in the event the case had to be taken to the Supreme Court. Other individuals called to say they identified with our situation and hoped and prayed we would win our case.

Not all our visitors were friendly. We started getting late night prank calls from young girls. Our Posted No Trespassing signs on our orchard and fields were pulled up one night, some of them put into a tepee in the middle of River Road, the others thrown into the river. Some students made a practice of running by our house and ringing our doorbell and running off. One night some students smashed our mailbox and took it to the High School, leaving it in the entrance leaning along the railing of the spiral staircase. The school called us to come pick it up.

Meanwhile, the Mexico Public School sent representatives to "monitor" our methods. They came unannounced, stayed hours, and silently watched without saying a word or showing the slightest interest. Only Mrs. Mattison, head of the Social Studies department at the High  School, showed genuine interest in our work. She checked our textbooks, asked us questions to ascertain our progress, and gave suggestions. She had taught a couple of us in school and knew what kind of students we were. She obviously took the process seriously.

Finally, on Nov 13th, the day of trial came. It was an afternoon trial, closed to the public and the press. Never-the-less, press and public gathered with us in the waiting room of the Court House off the Family Court room in Oswego, New York. All of us went with our parents, including 4 year old Matthew and 2 year old Jimmy. We sat with the Pony-U ladies in the waiting room while Mom and Dad sat in court.

Mrs. Gracey
Mom was up first to testify. Around 3 pm she took the stand. At 4 pm we got up to walk around and stretch our legs. At 5 pm one of the Pony-U ladies declared she was running out to get us some snacks. We promised to open the door for her when she returned because by then the court house doors were locked for the night. Everyone else had gone home. Only the Graceys and the Mexico School representatives remained.

I decided at this point to get a drink at the water fountain at the end of the hall. As I casually walked down the carpeted corridor,  I saw the school vice-principal speaking to a group of men I didn't know. As I passed, I heard him say "The key is to get her to break," He seemed unaware or unconcerned at my presence. "If we can get her to break," he continued,  "then we will show that she is unqualified to teach her children." By 6 pm the trial was still going. My Mom came out from the courtroom for a brief break and for some water. She was visibly exhausted.

"I'm doing awful," she moaned as she took a sip of water. "You're doing great," Mr. McKenna replied in his deep voice, laying his hand on her shoulder. "Just keep up the way you have been all this time." They again disappeared behind the court doors.

By this time we were getting agitated. Mr. McKenna announced during the break that he would not subject one of us to take the stand under such pressures. The underhanded tactics drew the case out many long hours. We did not know what to expect.

It was almost 8 pm before Mom was finally let off the stand. As soon as she walked through the courtroom door, the Pony-U president stood up, approached Mr. McKenna and said, "I want my time on the stand. I want to testify to the judge about my conversation with Mr. Pierce over a month ago." Mr. McKenna agreed.

The following is from memory of the story as told by the President of Pony-U:

(Mr Pierce had first been on the stand and given this testimony)
Mr. Elvin Pierce, District School Principal


Mr. McKenna to Mr. Pierce: How long did you observe Mrs. Gracey and her schoolroom methods before coming to your decision?

Mr. Pierce: We spent two weeks observing the Gracey family and their methods. I went a couple of times, and a number of teachers went up to the home to observe and report on Mrs. Gracey's teaching methods.

Mr. McKenna to Mr. PierceSo, when you made your decision that Mrs. Gracey was not competent to teach her children, you relied on all the evidence given? Or did you make up your mind before that time, before the observation and the reports?

Mr. Pierce: I made the decision only after we had spent two weeks observing her teaching and reviewing the analysis of her style and content from the teacher's reports.

Mr. McKenna: You are sure of this?

Mr. Pierce: Yes, I am positive.

Testimony of the President of Pony-U:

Mr. McKenna to Pony-U President: When did you see Mr. Pierce?

Pony-U: I saw him a month ago, before the children were returned to their parents.

Mr. McKenna: And what did you discuss?

Pony-U: I asked Mr. Pierce about the Gracey family, what kind of citizens they were, what kind of students the children were in school. And I asked him if he thought Mrs. Gracey was competent to teach her children.

Mr. McKenna: What did Mr. Pierce reply?

Pony-U: Mr. Pierced replied that in his opinion, neither she nor any other parent would ever be qualified to teach their children.

We left the court house after 8 pm. We were exhausted and a bit disheartened at the public school tactics.

We went home and waited. The judge had asked for time to consider all the arguments before making his decision. So we continued our schooling, our lives, our hopes.

In December, while working on our school work during the day, we received a phone call from the local media.

"How do you feel?" was the immediate question

"Feel about what?" my  mom answered.

"About the judges decision?" he replied.

"I haven't heard that any decision was handed out," mom replied.

"Well, we were sent documents. You won the case!" he said.

Whether the Pony-U testimony demonstrating the perjury of Mr. Pierce led the court in our favor, or whether it was Mom's testimony and ability to stand up under such intense pressure for over four hours, we may never know. But that day we were jubilant. After months of trial, after having been removed from our parent's custody and returned, after enduring abuse and defamation from local townspeople and students from school, we had won our case.

Since that time, the home schooling movement has made monumental progress, has organized, systematized, and educated a immense number of kids. It has shown remarkable resiliency, become the education of choice by many parents, and has even been accepted by much of the public academic community.

And who would ever have guessed what one simple housewife with 9 children could accomplish so much. She believed in her right to teach her kids at home. She stood up to the State of New York, the Mexico School principals and politics, the established system. And she gave great momentum to the home school movement, pushing it into the limelight and offering parents a workable solution for educating their kids.