Ongoing case - Tony Alamo's church

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Ongoing case - Tony Alamo's church

Postby Marina » Sat Nov 22, 2008 8:32 pm

These cases have been going on for several months.

For more articles, do a news search for "Tony Alamo"

Children in Alamo case still sought

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2008

TEXARKANA — State child protective services caseworkers spent Wednesday finding foster homes for the 20 children seized from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries while a search continued for other children who were missed during a sweep of Alamo properties.

The children, 11 boys and nine girls, were taken into protective custody Tuesday after Arkansas State Police officers and Department of Human Services caseworkers went to Alamo’s compound in Fouke and to more than a dozen Alamo-controlled homes and businesses in the Fort Smith area.

No children were found at those places, but 17 were found after police stopped two vans on Arkansas 245 in Texarkana, headed toward the Texas state line. Three brothers, the youngest of whom appeared to be at least 12, were taken into custody at the Juvenile Court Center in Texarkana, where they had been attending a hearing on the custody status of four girls who were taken from the compound after a raid in September.

The children taken into custody Tuesday were all between the ages of 1 and 17 and included other sibling groups, including a set of six siblings who were in the vans, Human Services Department spokesman Julie Munsell said Wednesday. All the children lived at the Fouke compound, she said.

By Wednesday afternoon, all the children’s parents had been identified, and the children were given health screenings and assessments to determine their mental health and educational needs, Munsell said. The children were then placed into foster homes across the state.

“A lot of people have responded and offered to open their homes,” Munsell said.

After the September raid, the department placed sisters in separate foster homes, saying such separations are usually made when housing siblings together would interfere with their treatment or impede an investigation.

This time, Munsell said, the siblings had “a different dynamic” and are being placed in homes together.

She said the children were “generally pretty healthy” and “have been cooperating with their placement.” “We haven’t had any issues with fleeing or running away or that sort of thing,” Munsell said.

The Human Services Department’s Children and Family Services Division will investigate whether the children have been abused or neglected and will forward their findings to a prosecutor for possible charges, Munsell said.

A hearing was set for Monday before Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson on whether the children should remain in foster care. Johnson could also decide at that hearing whether the parents should be allowed visits. If the children stay in foster homes, further hearings will be scheduled within 30 days.

The Court Appointed Special Advocates program will assign volunteers who will visit each child and make recommendations to the court, said Danita Abernathy, director of the program for southwest Arkansas and northeast Texas. Currently, however, the chapter’s 60 volunteers are all assigned to other cases.

After the children were taken into custody Tuesday, Abernathy issued a plea in the Texarkana Gazette for more people to become volunteers. On Wednesday, she said, “The phone has been ringing all morning” from people wanting to volunteer. She said volunteers must be at least 21, pass a criminal background check and be able to spend five to eight hours a month on a case.

The girls taken during the September raid each have a volunteer but the cases have been time-consuming for the volunteers because the girls are in homes across the state, Abernathy said. “There may be four hours that you’re in a vehicle,” Abernathy said. Munsell said some of the children are being placed in homes away from Miller County for security or because of the availability of appropriate foster homes.

The department had been looking at conditions within the church since the Sept. 20 raid by FBI agents and state police officers who were investigating allegations that children had been physically and sexually abused at the compound. Six girls, ages 10 to 17, were taken into protective custody.

Alamo, the ministry’s 74-yearold leader, was arrested five days later on charges of transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes.

On Monday evening, Sebastian County Circuit Judge Mark Hewett and Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin signed orders finding that probable cause existed to believe other children of church members had been abused or were at risk of abuse or neglect. The orders allowed the Human Services Department to take in any children at the compound and at 14 Alamo-controlled homes, warehouses and other businesses in the Fort Smith area. The orders also named certain children or their families.

Griffin said Wednesday that the order he signed contained four pages of names.

“According to the allegations, there are some habits or practices in the church that create a serious risk of harm to the children,” Griffin said.

The order included some girls who were alleged to have been sexually abused, he said.

Munsell said she didn’t know how many children covered by the order had been missed Tuesday. She said the department is continuing to look for the children and has sent copies of the orders to social service agencies in Oklahoma, where some members of Alamo’s church in Fort Smith live, as well as California and New Jersey, where Alamo also has operations.

George Earl Johnson Jr., a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said his agency has been in touch with Arkansas but hasn’t received a formal request to pick up any children.

“What’s going on in Arkansas is not causing us to do anything special as far as investigating or anything like that,” he said.

Munsell said if the vans had continued into Texas, Arkansas authorities wouldn’t have been able to stop them. Arkansas would have had to send Texas a request to have the children picked up, she said.

A hearing continued Wednesday on whether four of the girls taken in the September raid should remain in foster care, be placed with a relative or return to their parents, possibly with conditions.

In the morning, Griffin heard from two former church members — a teenage girl and a young man — who described experiencing or witnessing abuse. Testimony in the hearing, which is closed to reporters, continued into Wednesday evening.

Both that hearing and one for the two other girls, assigned to Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson, are expected to continue into next week. Under Arkansas Code 9-27-327, such hearings must be held within 60 days of the initial probable cause hearing. That would be Nov. 25 for Hudson’s cases and Nov. 29 for Griffin’s.

Griffin said it’s unclear whether the law requires the hearings to be finished within the 60-day period. The judges hope to have both hearings finished by Thanksgiving, he said.

“That’s my intention,” Griffin said. “If something prevents us from doing that, then we’ll deal with that when we get there.” ... ing-53.php

100-plus Alamo children missing
Officials fear kids taken across state lines
By: Lynn LaRowe - Texarkana Gazette - Published: 11/20/2008

Authorities said dozens of children missing from Tony Alamo ministries in Fouke and Fort Smith, Ark., listed on a court order may be out of the reach of child welfare agencies if they’ve been taken across state lines.

Not a single child was found on Alamo properties in Fort Smith after officials with DHS and members of the Arkansas State Police searched more than a dozen sites Tuesday.

The orders authorizing removal listed many more children than the 20 taken Tuesday. The documents left at the Fouke compound referred to 126 children, some as “unknown” and others as “unk...

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KTAL EXCLUSIVE: Alamo Families Speak
Reported by: Karen Hopkins
Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008 @06:48pm CST

Parents of some of the children taken from Tony Alamo's Fouke Arkansas church are outraged and speaking out only to KTAL.

A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services said Arkansas State Police removed twenty more kids Tuesday. Parents at Tony Alamo's Church caught it on all video and shared it only with KTAL.

Children screamed and cried Tuesday inside a van pulled over outside Texarkana, as State Police took them away from their parents. “They just took them away, hauled them away like cattle,” Parent Carlos Parrish said.

Texarkana Judge Joe Griffin said he ordered to remove the children because of evidence of abuse. “All these perverted, filthy, disgusting accusations that have been made, they’ve had their chance to speak,” Parent Lisa Thorne said. The parents stood together in prayer, asking God to bring back their kids.

“I want my kids back. I miss them so much. I go to their bedroom at night, and they're not there. It's like a cold empty room.” Parent Sophia Thorne-Parrish said. Carlos and Sophia Parrish lost four children Tuesday. The youngest is just a year old.

“How can they pull me over on the side of the road and tell me they're taking my children? That's not right,” Parrish said.

Parent Lisa Thorne turns to the bible for guidance. “I go by the authorized version of King James Bible. I've been teaching my children since they are young enough to understand,” Thorne said. Thorne said she fears what her son will learn outside her control. “ It’s ok to use drugs, condoms, fornication… when we're not taught that.,” Thorne said.

Wednesday, parents watched video of their kids being taken away. “We live in a beautiful home, and we oversee what they eat, where they go and what they wear. If they need medical help, this church provides it for them.

A day after the Department of Human Services took custody of their children, these parents said they are emotionally strained and frustrated. “They didn’t let us give our side of the story on anything. They just took our children away from us,” Parrish said.

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Postby Marina » Thu Dec 18, 2008 9:53 pm

Parents of 5 kids ask their return

Posted on Thursday, December 18, 2008

TEXARKANA - The parents of five boys who have been placed in foster care said Wednesday that they have left the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and will work together to regain custody of their children.

"We're hopeful that we can get our kids back, the sooner the better," Jose Avila said, standing next to his wife, Becky, at the Miller County Courthouse in Texarkana. "We're going to work and do everything we can to get them back, so they can be back with their dad and mom."

The Avilas spoke briefly after attending a hearing on whether their 17-year-old son will remain in foster care until he turns 18 later this month. Testimony in the hearing began Wednesday and will continue today.

Earlier, at the Juvenile Court Center in Texarkana, the Avilas waived their right to an initial hearing on allegations concerning four of their other sons, who range in age from 8 to 14. A hearing on the custody status of those children was set for Jan. 14.

The f ive brothers are among 36 children affiliated with the Alamo ministry who were taken into protective custody amid allegations that children in the ministry have been physically and sexually abused.

Federal and state authorities raided the ministry's compound in Fouke on Sept. 20. Tony Alamo, its 74-year-old leader, was arrested in Arizona five days later on charges that he transported an underage girl across state lines for sexual purposes.

The Avilas' 17-year-old son was among three boys taken into custody Nov. 18 at the Juvenile Court Center, where they had been attending a hearing on the custody status of two of the girls taken in the September raid.

The other four Avila boys were found at a residence in Arkansas on Friday evening. The Arkansas Department of Human Services is continuing to look for 92 or more children whose parents are associated with the ministry.

The Human Services Department contends that the practices of the ministry, which include beatings with a 3-footlong paddle for seemingly minor rule infractions, place children at risk of abuse. According to a report from the Fort Smith Police Department, a former church member named the 17-year-old Avila boy as one of several members that she had seen receive beatings.

Attorney Pamela Fisk of Texarkana, Texas, was appointed to represent Jose Avila shortly after the 17-year-old was taken into custody, and Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson on Wednesday appointed Fisk to represent Becky Avila as well.

The couple separated about eight years ago. Fisk said Tuesday that Jose Avila also left the ministry at that time, but he clarified Wednesday that he continued to attend services at the church in Fort Smith until recently.

Even before the Sept. 20 raid, the couple had begun working toward reconciliation and had been distancing themselves from the church, Fisk said. They still live apart in the Fort Smith area but are looking for a home together, she said.

"They're going to work together to get the children back," Fisk said.

One of the younger Avila children has Down's syndrome, Fisk said. The couple also has a grown son who left the church and is in the military.

While they waited for the court proceedings to start Wednesday, the Avilas, accompanied by their mothers, sat together and chatted amicably.

"It's sad that it happened, but we're getting closer" to regaining custody of the children, Jose Avila, 55, who works at a Trane Inc. plant, said afterward. "We've hardly had a good night's sleep since it happened."

At the hearing, Johnson heard about 20 minutes of testimony, via conference call, from a former Alamo ministry member who said she had been beaten and had witnessed other beatings, Fisk said. Hearings in child welfare proceedings are closed to the public.

The Avilas' 17-year-old son did not attend the hearing because he is living in a foster home elsewhere in the state, and the judge feared that icy roads would make traveling to the hearing treacherous.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Johnson will decide whether to place the boy with his parents or keep him in foster care until he turns 18 on Dec. 28.

When he is 18, the boy could ask for his case to be closed, or he could remain in the foster care system while he attends college or trade school or works toward his high school diploma. In that case, the state would pay for his educational and living expenses until he turns 21, but the judge could impose restrictions on his association with the church.

Attorney Nelson Shaw of Texarkana, Texas, who was appointed to represent the boy, said he will encourage the boy to stay in foster care to receive the state assistance.

"I'd like for him to get as much education as possible," Shaw said.

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Postby Marina » Thu Jan 01, 2009 8:48 pm ... =untracked

Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008
Teen defends evangelist Alamo in leaked Web video
By JON GAMBRELL - Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- State officials on Wednesday asked a judge to take steps to remove from the Internet a leaked video in which a teenage follower of Tony Alamo defends the jailed evangelist and says he would never commit the sex crimes of which he is accused. In a more than two-hour interview, the girl told a child welfare official that Alamo's hands and words toward heaven worked miracles. She said he never touched her and knew of no one who had been molested by him.

"He would never do such thing. That's a sin. He wouldn't be a pastor. He would be dirt," said the girl, who is in protective state custody. "He would be nothing if he did that. He would go to hell."

A video of the September interview, conducted a day after FBI agents and Arkansas State Police raided Alamo's ministry in Fouke, found its way to the Internet late last month.

The state Department of Human Services sent a request Wednesday to a Miller County judge in an effort to get the video removed. State law requires that juvenile court proceedings be kept confidential.

Julie Munsell, a DHS spokeswoman, said it appeared that a family member passed the video along to a Web site called Inquisition Update with Tom Friess. "We're asking that the parties in the case make efforts to remove it from the site and any other videos like it," she said.

A message left at a telephone number registered in Friess' name in Perry, Iowa, was not returned. A man claiming to be Friess in a chat room on his Web site said he was "not going to participate in another mainstream media hatchet job to smear Tony Alamo and the members of his Bible-believing community."

The girl is among 36 children associated with Alamo ministries in Fort Smith and Fouke who have been seized by state officials. A court order lists the names and possible addresses of 126 children who could be at risk of abuse from the church, though officials acknowledge more could be out there.

Alamo, 74, faces charges of violating the Mann Act, a federal law that bans carrying women or girls across state lines for "prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose." He has pleaded not guilty.

At a custody hearing over some of his followers' children, Alamo said he "spiritually" married and divorced multiple women who continued to live with him. He also has said children will have sex after puberty and should be quickly married off to avoid living in sin.

In her interview, the girl repeatedly said she wanted to return home to her parents and the ministry.

She told the welfare official that she believes anyone can marry after reaching puberty. However, she said she hadn't gotten married yet.

"The law says you can't get married until you're 18. So, that's what we do," the girl said, then sighed. "People who want to get married have to wait."

The girl said Alamo had the power to heal the sick.

"Someone with AIDS in the church, he prayed over them, they were healed," the teen said. "For him to get an answer like that from God, you know he's not going to be sinning. I trust him. I believe everything he says."

The girl described a life of service in Alamo's ministry, working in the church offices and heading out to multiple states as part of "tracting crews" to spread literature. The church's messages include claims of "evil one-world government agents claiming to be U.S. agents" and federal agents describing the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, as a "turkey shoot," she said.

She said she and her family attended church every day and twice on Sundays. On Friday nights, girls in the ministry get a respite and gather together for a movie night, watching old Alfred Hitchcock movies, episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" or films about the Bible, she said.

"Sometimes, I think if only everybody lived the way we lived the way we live in our ministry, the world would be perfect," she said. "They wouldn't have any crimes, any crime scenes. Nobody would ever be hurt."

The girl raised her voice once in the interview as she talked about why three of her brothers left the church.

"They left because they wanted to," she said. "Some people think that we're held, but no. They left. We didn't want them to - my family didn't want them to - but they left."

Alamo pays for bus tickets for those wanting to leave the ministries, she said. However, those who leave after hearing the word of God often can't be saved again, she said.

"I wish (her brother) didn't leave, but he chose to leave, he chose to backslide," the girl said. "We could (reach out to them), but why should we? They believe totally differently now."

Alamo remains held without bond, awaiting a February trial on the federal charges.

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Postby Marina » Sat Feb 14, 2009 8:46 pm ... spx?rss=59

Ark. Chief: Parents, Alamo Ministry May Be Hiding Kids

Reported by: Associated Press
Email: [email protected]
Last Update: 1/14 12:32 pm

Tony Alamo LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- The head of the Arkansas Department of Human Services says apparently parents or the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries has been actively hiding children sought by state welfare officials.

Department Director John Selig told The Association Press on Wednesday that the children "seem to have disappeared rather quickly" after Arkansas State Police and FBI agents raided Alamo's Fouke compound in September.

Selig said that while child welfare officials continued to seek word of upward of 100 children, it's been difficult to get solid information about their whereabouts. He said the ministry already buses children and parents among Alamo churches in the United States as a matter of routine.

Child welfare officials have seized 36 children associated with the ministries amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Meanwhile, Alamo, 74, remains jailed on a 10-count federal indictment that accuses him of taking young girls across state lines for sex.


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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 26, 2009 7:48 am ... ld_abuse_2

Alamo ministry sues Ark. for seizing children

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell, Associated Press Writer – Thu Apr 9, 8:24 pm ET

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Tony Alamo Christian Ministries filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Arkansas child welfare officials of persecuting the jailed evangelist's followers as he awaits trial on child sex charges.

The federal lawsuit seeks a restraining order to block the state from seizing children whose parents belong to the church. It also asks the state to stop forcing parents to leave the church in order to regain custody of their children.

Attorney Phillip E. Kuhn filed the suit against Department of Human Services Director John Selig and two other agency officials on behalf of the church and two Alamo followers. He accused state officials of conducting a "systematic, persistent and continuous campaign of harassment and intimidation" against the church over its religious views.

He also said state officials created a "deprogramming" plan to acclimate youngsters to a world outside the church, including letting them watch television and getting vaccinations their parents object to on religious grounds.

"Those parents whose children are in foster care are now faced with the awful choice and predicament of having to choose between their children and their God," Kuhn wrote in the suit. "To some, this choice means that their immortal souls are in grave danger."

The church also accuses state officials of placing seized children in homes as far away from their parents as possible and ordering no discussion about Alamo during visits.

DHS spokeswoman Julie Munsell said Thursday that officials tried to keep children in foster homes close to their parents.

She declined to address some of the allegations in the lawsuit, citing gag orders in the custody cases, but said the department viewed the Alamo ministry as a dangerous place for children given the physical and sexual abuse allegations.

The department "believed these children in the ministry were at risk of abuse and neglect," Munsell said, adding religion did not play a part in its decision.

Since a Sept. 20 raid on Alamo's ministry compound in Fouke, state officials have placed 36 children associated with the church in protective custody. Munsell previously said the children were seized amid allegations of beatings ordered by Alamo, as well as the charges of sexual abuse.

Alamo, 74, remains held without bond pending a May 18 trial on charges that he took young girls across state lines for sex. He continues to dictate devotional messages to his ministry's Web site, including a message Wednesday that counted judges, prosecutors and child welfare officials among "the antichrists" and "the godless."

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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 26, 2009 7:52 am

State Asks To Seal Record In Alamo Suit Against DHS
Posted By: Robert Bell 5 days ago

Lawyers for the state are arguing that filings in a suit by Tony Alamo Christian Ministries against child-welfare officials should be kept confidential because much of the evidence involves records that federal law requires keeping secret.

The state lawyers Monday asked a federal judge to seal the record in the case.

The suit was filed April 10 in U.S. District Court at Texarkana. It accuses state officials of persecuting the evangelist's followers as he awaits trial on child sex charges. Lawyer Phillip E. Kuhn of Lakeland, Fla., filed the suit on behalf of two Alamo followers.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to issue a restraining order blocking the state from seizing children solely because their parents belong to the church. The suit also asks a judge to stop the state from forcing parents to leave the church in order to regain custody of their children.

Today's filing by lawyers for the state asks a federal judge to seal the record in the case. It also seeks a protective order requiring parties to the case to assure the court they will not disclose information from the case to anyone not involved in it.

The state's filing said the two men who filed the suit are defendants in an ongoing dependency-neglect proceeding in Miller County Circuit Court. According to the state filing, substantial portions of the documents and information needed by the defense are found in foster-care records and juvenile court files that contain information protected by law.

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Postby Marina » Thu May 07, 2009 6:29 pm

Alamo follower in N.J. regains custody of son, attorney says

Posted on Thursday, May 7, 2009

An 11-year-old boy who spent five months in foster care will return home to his father, a member of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries who lives in New Jersey, after a judge found no evidence the boy had been abused or neglected, the father's attorney said Wednesday.

The boy was taken into custody by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families' Youth and Family Services Division in January after a report that the boy had been physically abused, said attorney Rosemarie Anderson of Iselin, N.J. Anderson was appointed by the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender to represent the father, Steve Wedel.

The Youth and Family Services Division later determined that the allegations were unfounded, Anderson said. After a hearing in Elizabeth, N.J., on Tuesday, a state Superior Court judge ordered the boy returned to his father within five days, Anderson said.

"I think it took a little longer than it should have, but in the end the right thing was done," Anderson said.

The case was hailed as a victory for the ministry by the advocacy group CPS Watch Legal Team, which has sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services on behalf of the church over the removal of 36 children from their homes on ministry property in Arkansas.

The Arkansas agency says ministry children are endangered by practices that include underage marriages and beatings over disobedience. Tony Alamo, the group's 74-year-old leader, has been incarcerated since Sept. 25 and is awaiting trial on charges that he transported five under- age girls across state lines for sex during the past 15 years.

In November, the state Department of Human Services obtained court orders in Miller and Sebastian counties allowing it to take 128 ministry children into protective custody. It is continuing to search for 98 of them and has sought the cooperation of child-welfare officials in New Jersey and other states.

Wedel's son was not among the children named in the Arkansas court orders.

Cheryl Barnes, the CPS Watch Legal Team's litigation specialist, said the New Jersey ruling shows that not all ministry children are at risk.

"New Jersey has declined to follow suit with Arkansas in removing children on the basis of association with the Tony Alamo ministries," Barnes said. "Instead, they looked at this child [Wedel's son] individually, and they didn't find any abuse in that individual case."

Lauren Kidd, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Children and Family Services, declined to comment, citing privacy laws on child-abuse cases.

Arkansas Human Services Department spokesman Julie Munsell said her agency still believes ministry children are at risk of abuse, but it recognizes that the circumstances in each case are different.

"That's one of the reasons why every child's case is heard," Munsell said. "Every parent in that case will have the opportunity to demonstrate to the court their capacity to be able to parent that child."

She also noted that the goal in each case is to reunite children and parents, provided that conditions are met to ensure the safety of the children.

Wedel, who didn't return a call seeking comment Wednesday, and his wife share a home with fellow member Robert Streit and his wife in Elizabeth. He attends services at a ministry church in nearby New York City.

In Arkansas, judges have required church members to move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry before they can be reunited with their children. Barnes said the Wedels and Streits rent the house where they live from a man who is not a member. She said she doesn't know where Wedel works.

Caseworkers in New Jersey, accompanied by police officers, initially visited the house at 5 a.m. Dec. 5, searching for ministry children who had fled with their parents from Arkansas, according to an affidavit Streit filed in the Arkansas lawsuit. The Wedels were not home at the time, Barnes said.

On Dec. 30, the Youth and Family Services Division received a report that the son had been abused and neglected, according to a letter from the agency to Wedel and provided by Barnes. Barnes said the report alleged that the boy had been beaten by another ministry member last summer.

Youth and Family Services caseworkers took the boy into protective custody on Jan. 3 at Newark Liberty International Airport as he returned home from a visit with his mother, who does not belong to the ministry and lives in Overland Park, Kan., Barnes said. The mother could not be located for comment Wednesday.

The boy denied that he had been abused, Barnes said, and the agency determined the claim was unfounded. At the conclusion of Tuesday's hearing, Superior Court Judge Jo-Anne Spatola ordered the boy to be returned to his father within five days, Barnes said.

As a condition of the boy returning home, Spatola required that the boy be enrolled in school, rather than taught at home, and that Wedel submit to monitoring for three months. Wedel will follow those conditions but plans to appeal because he thinks they are unnecessary, Barnes said.

"The son has been homeschooled his whole life," Barnes said. "He tested above grade level."

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