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Home school lawsuit case settled out of court

Saturday, May 10, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM


GLEN -- A lawsuit stemming from a Montgomery County home school arrest that garnered national media attention was recently settled outside the courtroom.

Officials on both sides declined to disclose the terms.

On Dec. 21, 2012, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of Margie Cressy against the county, Sheriff Michael Amato and former investigator William Gilston, claiming her constitutional rights were violated.

Cressy was charged in 2009 with child endangerment when police said she failed to register her home-schooled children with the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District.

The charges against Cressy and her husband, Richard, were dropped in May 2010 after a judge determined the couple filed the proper paperwork with the F-FCSD.

Cressy sued on allegations that Gilston, who retired in 2011, threatened to "make an example" of the family during the course of his investigation, made a "series of negative and insulting comments to Mrs. Cressy about parents who home-school their children," and refused to meet with the woman's four children when offered the chance to interview them.

Cressy's suit sought a jury trial and an unspecified amount of damages. Court documents say the case was dismissed April 23 because a settlement was reached at mandatory mediation.

Cressy's attorney Elmer Robert Keach III confirmed his client and the defendants came to a mutual agreement, but would not disclose the terms of the settlement.

"I can tell you the parties reached a mutual agreement to resolve the case," Keach said Monday. "That's all I can be quoted on, and that's all I can say."

Murry Brower is the attorney for the county, Amato and Gilston. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Amato said he was informed by the county's insurance company last week that an agreement was reached, but was not allowed to discuss the details of the agreement.

The insurance company told Amato the other party was not allowed to discuss the terms of the settlement, either.

Amato said he was not a part of the mediation process, and has neither reviewed the final paperwork nor spoken with Murry about the settlement.

However, Amato said he was unhappy about the turnout.

"When you settle, it always gives the air that we did something wrong." Amato said. "I don't believe our staff did anything wrong."

Montgomery County's Attorney Douglas Landon said he acted as a liaison between Murry and the county, but was not involved in case.

Landon said during a mediation program, both parties agree to present their case to a mediator in an attempt to see if a settlement can be reached.

Landon said a settlement could also prohibit both parties from discussing the terms outside the mediation, but he was not sure if that was the case without viewing the paperwork first.

"It's a definite possibility," Landon said.

The complaint notes that the Cressy family "is deeply religious," stating that Margie Cressy chose to home-school her children on those grounds. Court documents indicate that the materials she used to educate her children came from Alpha Omega Publications, an Iowa-based Christian publishing company listed in the recommendations of the state Department of Education for parents who choose to home school.

According to court documents, Cressy informed Gilston that she "erroneously believed" she met the filing requirements when she filed a home instruction plan with the state several years earlier. Cressy claims in her lawsuit she did not realize she had to resubmit any paperwork after that.

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.

At the time of her arrest, Margie Cressy said the family first started home schooling their children more than a decade ago when they lived in the Gloversville Enlarged School District. When they moved to the F-FCSD three years later, she said she didn't realize she had to resubmit the necessary paperwork.

After her initial meeting with Gilston, the family met with then-Fonda-Fultonville Superintendent James Hoffman, who conducted an assessment of their children. The family's home-school plan was approved after the family's' application and Hoffman's review of their education plan, according to court documents.

Cressy claims despite approval from the school district, Gilston went ahead and arrested the woman and her husband Dec. 30, 2009, charging each of them with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The charges were dropped by a county family court judge on May 27, 2010.

Amato was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as court documents claim Gilston acted with the approval of the sheriff. Court documents also claim the sheriff made false statements about the couple in a letter published in an area newspaper following the arrest.

Cressy claimed her constitutional rights were violated under the terms of the fourth amendment, which protects people from malicious prosecution or from being arrested without probable cause, and the 14th amendment, part of which says citizens are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law.


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