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.
“You can’t cut hair” [0:19]
Mike Farris: When I first started defending homeschool freedoms
in the early 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
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.
Fixing a bad law [1:56]
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
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
Mike: Scott, fixing the discrimination issue for that program
sets a good precedent for other issues in Wisconsin. Well done.
Taking a college to school [3:07]
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
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
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
Mike: You would think the government officials could read. But,
alas. Thanks so much for your work, Darren.
Diploma discrimination [4:36]
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
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
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.
An increasing struggle [6:01]
Mike: We conclude this week’s programs with HSLDA attorney
and Director of Global Outreach Mike Donnelly. Mike, it’s great to have you
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 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
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
Scott and his wife, Jane, homeschooled all three of their children.
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 home
schooling. 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.
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 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.