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Equal Rights for Homeschoolers: An Interview with HSLDA Attorneys

November 30–December 4, 2015   |   Vol. 125, Week 6

The freedom to homeschool has grown enormously in the past decades. So why are homeschoolers in some states facing more discrimination today? This week on Homeschool Heartbeat, HSLDA’s attorneys talk about this new discrimination—and what we can do about it.

“We have to continually be vigilant in protecting our freedom, because the freedom to homeschool continues through the freedom to be accepted as having been responsibly educated.”—Mike Farris

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The freedom to homeschool has grown enormously in the past few decades. So why are homeschoolers in some states facing more discrimination today? This week on Homeschool Heartbeat, HSLDA’s attorneys talk about this new discrimination—and what we can do about it.

Mike Farris: When I first started defending homeschool freedom in the 1980s, and I would travel on an airplane and people would ask what I do, and I told them I’m a lawyer for homeschoolers, the question was, “How is that legal?”

Now, today, it is dramatically different. People now ask, “Why do homeschoolers need a lawyer?” And so the basic legality of homeschooling has been widely accepted by the public.

But despite that basic acceptance there’s still a lot of discrimination that goes on against homeschoolers. There’s discrimination sometimes in college applications—that’s growing more and more rare, but it does happen even today. There’s discrimination in jobs. There’s discrimination in certain kinds of vo–tech schools. It was a real irony—a few miles from Princeton University, where homeschoolers are widely accepted, a beauty college wouldn’t let homeschoolers enroll in the hair–cutting course because they weren’t qualified and well–educated enough to be able to cut hair.

And there have been other kinds of instances where homeschoolers had a difficult time enrolling in the military, and [in] many other areas concerning the transition from childhood to adulthood, [there] is still quite a bit of discrimination that we have to get to the bottom of. And we have to work and continually be vigilant in protecting our freedom, because the freedom to homeschool continues through the freedom to be accepted as having been responsibly educated when it comes to making those life transitions.

This week we’re going to talk about several examples of discrimination with lawyers from HSLDA.

Mike: My guest today is HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff. It’s great to have you on the program, Scott.

Scott Woodruff: My pleasure, Mike.

Mike: Scott, you serve as HSLDA’s lawyer for a number of East Coast and Midwestern states. What kind of discrimination against homeschoolers have you encountered?

Scott: Mike, we recently had a problem in Wisconsin. There’s a program there where private schools can receive a state subsidy for educating students, but of course the state then imposes requirements. One of those requirements was that the teachers’ aides have a high school diploma.

But the department of education interpreted that to mean that a homeschool family could not issue a diploma that would qualify a person to then be the student aide.

Mike: So, Scott, how did that get resolved?

Scott: We realized that the problem was the way the law was written, and so we drafted a statute, found a sponsor, went through the legislature, and, after a lot of work, the governor signed the law. And as of today, Wisconsin state law recognizes that homeschool families can issue high school diplomas to their kids.

Mike: Scott, fixing the discrimination issue for that program sets a good precedent for other issues in Wisconsin. Well done.

Mike: Darren Jones, who is one of HSLDA’s lawyers, is our guest today. Darren was the very first homeschool graduate we hired as a lawyer here at HSLDA. Welcome, Darren!

Darren Jones: Thank you, Mike!

Mike: As HSLDA’s contact lawyer for Texas, have you encountered any cases of discrimination against homeschoolers in the Lone Star State?

Darren: Yes, we have. For example, just in this last year, we’ve represented members against a sheriff’s department that wouldn’t recognize a homeschool diploma. There was an emergency medical services certification that required state accreditation of homeschool programs, which don’t even exist under Texas law. There were two homeschool seniors who had their child support cut off when they turned 18, because the child support division refused to believe that they were still in school. And another one: the Texas Workforce Commission has a grant program, and they required homeschoolers applying for it to show that they had reported to the public school—which is not required in Texas.

Mike: Darren, since you repeatedly noted that the law doesn’t permit these kind of demands, why do they think they can get away with this nonsense?

Darren: Well, as you say, Texas law is actually really good on this issue. A lot of our job is just reminding them what the law is. For example, they actually have a statute that that forbids state colleges from discriminating against homeschool diplomas, and we still have to write letters to those colleges.

Mike: You would think the government officials could read. But, alas. Thanks so much for your work, Darren.

Mike: I’m joined today by Tj Schmidt. Tj is one of the staff attorneys here at HSLDA, and also one of our staff attorneys who himself was homeschooled. Right?

Tj Schmidt: That’s right.

Mike: Tj, what kind of discrimination against homeschoolers have you seen in your time here at HSLDA?

Tj: Well, Mike, we still see the staple discrimination cases, the ones where homeschool graduates have trouble getting into college. Not too long ago, I helped a young woman who had applied for and won a fashion design scholarship to art school. When they found out she was a homeschool graduate, the school had second thoughts, and were considering revoking her scholarship. We were able to get involved and demonstrate that she was educated at home in accordance with her state’s homeschool laws. She was then accepted into the school with her scholarship that she had won.

Tj: Right now I’m working with a homeschool graduate who’s being told by the beauty school that they cannot admit her even though she has a letter of substantial equivalency from her school district. The state agency has told the beauty school that they cannot admit her even though the New York state education department has said that this letter is sufficient.

And then finally, we’re trying to help a young man in Oregon who has applied for his respiratory therapist license from the Oregon Health Licensing Agency. Even though this young man has graduated from a homeschool program, and has completed all the necessary training and examination requirements for the license, he’s been denied. They’re questioning his diploma, even though he has two associate degrees from local community colleges.

Mike: Tj, we’re going to breathe easier when that respiratory therapy case is resolved. Thanks for your hard work.

Mike: We conclude this week’s programs with HSLDA attorney and Director of Global Outreach Mike Donnelly. Mike, it’s great to have you back.

Mike Donnelly: Great to be back, Mike.

Mike F: Mike, have you encountered any cases of discrimination against homeschool graduates in your states?

Mike D: Mike, we’re seeing an increase in the amount of discrimination in the states that I’m responsible for. For example, West Virginia and Ohio, in particular—where we’ve had graduates who have been fired from jobs because they only have a homeschool diploma, who have not been hired because the authority in the company were requiring the candidate to have a public–issued diploma; where homeschool parents are being prevented from homeschooling because they have a homeschool–issued diploma.

Discrimination is definitely on the rise. It’s definitely an issue that we are dealing with here at HSLDA. And it’s very concerning.

Mike F: What can we do to fight against it?

Mike D: Well, Mike, we need people to join with us and participate in the grassroots activities we’re doing in states. For example, in West Virginia and Ohio last year we passed laws that required authorities to recognize homeschool diplomas and to prohibit discrimination by state actors against homeschool graduates. So we need the support of folks on the ground—paying attention to what’s going on, signing up for legislative e–lerts, and joining HSLDA.

Mike F: Mike, thanks so much. That’s great advice. Here at HSLDA it’s our privilege to stand up to discrimination and defend the freedom of homeschoolers everywhere. I’m Mike Farris.

Scott WoodruffScott Woodruff

Scott Woodruff, a follower of Christ since his conversion in 1971, earned his juris doctor degree from the University of Virginia in 1980. After working for John Ashcroft, and subsequently a major regional insurance company, Scott came to work for HSLDA in 1998.

He is a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, and licensed in Virginia and Missouri. He has assisted thousands of home educating families in dealings with social workers, police officers, truant officers, principals, superintendents, and prosecuting attorneys. He has represented HSLDA members in court, and appeared before many state legislatures to fight against repressive homeschool legislation. Scott is a frequent speaker at homeschool conferences and on radio programs across the country.

Scott currently handles legal issues for HSLDA members in Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Idaho, Maine, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas. He also has extensive previous experience dealing with members’ legal issues in Oklahoma, Indiana, Colorado, New Hampshire, Vermont, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

Scott and his wife, Jane, homeschooled all three of their children.

Darren JonesDarren Jones

Darren Jones received his J.D. from Oak Brook College of Law, an apprenticeship–based law school in Fresno, California. While enrolled in school, he first worked for Christian Solidarity International, a Christian human rights organization assisting persecuted Christians around the world. He later came to work for HSLDA as a legal assistant to Dewitt Black, where he worked with members who were experiencing legal difficulty in their homeschooling. As a litigation attorney, Darren assists Jim Mason in preparing cases and defending members who are experiencing legal difficulty.

Darren and his wife Sara were married on September 30, 2000, and they have four children, Adelaide, Stuart, Daphne and Phillip. They “officially” began homeschooling in April 2005.

Tj SchmidtTj Schmidt

Thomas J. (Tj) Schmidt was first taught at home in the second grade by his parents in northern Vermont. For nearly all of the remaining years of his elementary and secondary education Tj was taught at home. For much of that time his family was on foreign mission fields. Tj received his J.D. while studying at home from Oak Brook College of Law and began serving as a Legal Assistant at HSLDA. Now, as an HSLDA Staff Attorney, Tj answers general legal questions and assists members across the country experiencing legal difficulties. Tj and his wife, Susan, have six children: Josiah, Suzanna, Ella, Makenna, and Jonah, and Annika. They look forward to teaching all of their children at home.

Mike DonnellyMike Donnelly

Mike serves HSLDA as Director of Global Outreach and as Staff Attorney for members in the states of Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. As Director of Global Outreach he coordinates HSLDA’s support of homeschooling freedom all over the world. Mike is also an adjunct professor of government at Patrick Henry College where he teaches constitutional law. He received a juris doctorate from the Boston University School of Law with honors as a Paul J. Liacos Scholar. He is a member of the bars of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the United States Supreme Court.

Mike’s previous experience includes combat service during the first Persian Gulf War as a United States Army cavalry officer, private legal practice and the founding of a nationally ranked internet marketing firm. Mike is an internationally published writer and frequent conference and media spokesperson on the subjects of homeschooling, educational freedom, parental and human rights. His most recent publications include the first–ever chapter on homeschooling included in the four–volume global education policy series Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education, Religious Freedom in Education, appearing in the International Journal of Religious Freedom and Creature of the State, appearing in Homeschooling in America and Europe: A Litmus Test of Democracy. Mike and his wife homeschool their seven children.

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