The Home School Legal Defense Association has been busy since December with new contacts in the usual problem states, and more in other states. Here is a brief update of HSLDA action around the nation.
In Maryland, each school district sets different standards for homeschooling. Some school districts require basic information on the homeschool’s curriculum, objectives, and the qualifications of the parents. Other school districts demand that the families fill out extensive forms delineating in detail their equipment, objectives, testing procedures, and how the learning will be measured.
One HSLDA family who has supplied basic information to their school district was recently told to provide instruction to their 2nd-grade child in ethnic and cultural minorities and family life and human development. In addition, they were told to describe their educational philosophy. HSLDA’s position is that such state control over the parent’s method of instruction and content of curriculum constitutes, in effect, an unconstitutional and excessive entanglement of the state with religion.
Another HSLDA family in Maryland was threatened with prosecution because they would not ask for the school superintendent’s approval of their homeschool. The family, however, volunteered information on their homeschool to the school district, which included information showing that the father had taught in public schools and colleges for over 15 years. Last month, the superintendent finally withdrew the threat of prosecution, but the family is still being harassed.
Fortunately, a homeschool bill has been proposed and if passed, will provide much needed relief to homeschoolers in Maryland. On February 19, HSLDA Executive Director Chris Klicka and Dr. Raymond Moore testified in favor of the bill before the constitution and administrative law committee. The homeschool bill is patterned after Florida’s homeschool law.
Michigan is HSLDA’s worst state, in many respects. Michigan law essentially allows homeschooling only by certified teachers. This law may be modified by the Michigan Supreme Court, which has before it the Sheridan Road Baptist case. In that case, the church school is challenging the state’s teacher certification requirements. If the church school wins, the certified teacher requirement might also be struck down for homeschooling. The decision should come down in March or April.
Two Michigan HSLDA cases are being handled by attorney David Kallman. In the first case, Kallman asked the trial court to dismiss charges against the DeJonges, whose case has dragged on for many months. The judge denied this motion. He is presently appealing that ruling.
Kallman is also representing the Haines family, who use a certified teacher, as required by Michigan law. The Haines have been charged with violating the compulsory attendance law because their certified teacher does not provide 700 hours of instruction annually.
Other HSLDA members throughout Michigan are being contacted by the authorities. Two HSLDA families in Charlevoix were recently contacted by authorities. One family was visited by a truant officer who was set on pressing charges because they were not certified. Both parents, however, had college degrees.
In order to avert legal action, HSLDA hired attorney Peter Vallenga to intervene on the family’s behalf.
Another HSLDA family has a mother who was a certified teacher with 14 years’ teaching experience. The state board of education is questioning the validity of her certificate because she has been teaching at home and not at the public schools.
Other HSLDA families in LaSalle, Muskegon, Hamilton, Warren, and Constantine have been contacted recently. Many of these families do not have a certified teacher. The HSLDA staff is presently negotiating with the school districts.
Ohio continues to grow worse for homeschoolers with each passing month, with four HSLDA families now in court, including one before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ohio law allows superintendents to set standards for homeschooling. As a result, arbitrary and widely varying guidelines set by superintendents have denied many parents the right to teach their children at home.
The Svoboda family in Cuyahoga County was denied the right to homeschool even though the superintendent would not even grant them a hearing. The Svobodas both have college degrees and extensive training in higher education. HSLDA is appealing the Svobodas’ case to the Ohio Court of Appeals, because the trial judge dismissed an earlier appeal over a technical issue involving the $35 appeals bond. (Svoboda v. Andrisek, Nos. 51234 and 51385, Eighth District Court of Appeals, Ohio)
The Cline family in Jefferson County was also denied the right to teach their four children because they only have high school diplomas. Recently, the children were tested and found to be two to three grades ahead of their age groups. Their attorney, hired by HSLDA to defend the family, is prepared to go before the juvenile court, but he feels there is a possibility that the superintendent will withdraw his denial.
In Akron, an HSLDA family, the Johnsons, were denied “approval” by the superintendent to run their homeschool. HSLDA’s executive director, Chris Klicka, immediately called the school district and discovered that the denial was based on the family’s late response to the school district’s last letter. Klicka was able to convince the superintendent to withdraw his denial of the Johnsons&rquo; homeschool, thereby averting certain legal action in the local juvenile court.
Meanwhile, the Schmidt case is being appealed to the Ohio State Supreme Court. The court of appeals, who ruled against the Schmidts in December, refused to consider HSLDA’s four major arguments: 1) Ohio’s compulsory attendance statute is void for vagueness as applied to homeschoolers, 2) the Schmidts’ religious beliefs were violated by the compulsory attendance law’s requirement for state approval, 3) the Schmidts’ right to due process was violated with the loss of the transcript of the trial court, 4) nor did they consider HSLDA’s proof that the Schmidts were in fact in compliance with Ohio’s law by being enrolled in a non-chartered Christian school which was authorized by the state board of education to approve homeschools.
The court of appeals states that they ruled against the family because they did not follow the Ohio procedure and seek the approval of the superintendent. HSLDA will reassert their arguments on behalf of the Schmidts if the Ohio Supreme Court decides to hear the case.
Superintendents in Texas continue to threaten homeschoolers with prosecution, even though the Leeper case (Leeper et al. v Arlington Independent School District et al., No. 1788761-85, 17th Judicial District of Tareant County, TX) will commence in April to determine the legality of homeschooling under current Texas law.
The state education department, known as the Texas Education Association, is urging school districts to prosecute homeschoolers, in spite of Texas’ vague law and the impending Leeper case. Since January, nine school districts have contacted HSLDA families. HSLDA’s staff has convinced all of these school districts to postpone action pending the outcome of the Leeper case.
Some homeschooling families in Texas who are not members of HSLDA are not faring as well. The Howell family, from Gilmore, Texas, was fined $12,700 in December according to The Paris News. They were convicted of thwarting the state’s compulsory attendance law. A six-member jury set their fine at $100 per day for each school day the children did not attend.
John Cole, president of the TFT and the American Federation of Teachers, said his organization is seeking to intervene on behalf of Texas public school districts in the Leeper case. A brief prepared by the TFT contends, “If, as a result of this case, anyone can teach children in a home school, that will have the natural and inevitable effect of devaluing teaching as a profession. If anyone can teach, teaching will, indeed, no longer be a profession.”
Meanwhile, attorney Shelby Sharpe is preparing for the Leeper case, which will be heard at the end of April. This case is challenging the Texas compulsory attendance law as being unconstitutionally void for vagueness.
The Snyder case was recently reviewed for possible acceptance by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is a homeschool case from Virginia supporting the right of homeschool parents to assert the statutory religious exemption. The Court did not make a decision whether to reject or accept the case. It will be reviewed again later this term. If the U.S. Supreme Court does vote to hear the case, it will be the first homeschool case before the Court. HSLDA plans to file an amicus brief if the High Court accepts the case.
Mike Farris (president of HSLDA), acting for his own family in Fairfax County, and the Tiffany family in Loudoun County, were both able to reach a settlement with their respective school districts. Both the Farris family and the Tiffanys asserted that their religious beliefs would be violated if their children were subjected to state testing. Both school districts, however, granted these HSLDA families the right to choose their own tests and submit, on an information basis only, the results of the testing to the school district at the end of the school year.