The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 19, 2009

Education Dept. exploring status of Amish students

NICKTOWN — Efforts are being made by the state Department of Education to determine the status of the school-age children belonging to families of the Swartzentruber Amish sect of Cambria County, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The children, believed to be a dozen or fewer, have apparently not been in school since March, when the Barr Township school was padlocked because of inadequate outhouses. Indications are they also are not receiving homeschooling.

“We’re currently looking into the situation,” said Leah Harris of the education department. “It’s a unique situation for sure.”

Leaders of the ultraconservative Amish sect have made no apparent attempts to gain access to books and other educational materials in the closed school, court officials and Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar said Monday.

Classes at the school ended seven months ago when the building and two outhouses were padlocked on orders of a county judge after sect leaders refused to meet state and county outhouse standards.

The children have not been enrolled in local public schools, according to officials of districts in the area, and the children also are not being educated in a less restrictive Amish community setting or in private homes, said Ebensburg attorney David Beyer, who represents the Amish.

The lack of schooling is a primary concern for the Amish leaders, Beyer said last week following a meeting in the chambers of Cambria County Judge Norman Krumenacker.

Sect leaders asked Krumenacker to reconsider his earlier order to padlock the school and two private homes.

The judge refused, but gave sect leaders permission to put a portable toilet at the school on a temporary basis. That step apparently has not been taken.

He also said he would allow leaders access to the school to get materials needed for homeschooling.

State law provides some leniency for Amish-registered schools, allowing children to “withdraw” at the end of eighth grade rather than at 17, the age to drop out of public schools.

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