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June 17, 2016

Dear Feds: You Keep Using that Word, Family

Federal Government Backs off “Equality with Parents” Claim

Lauren Mitchell
Legislative Assistant, HSLDA Federal Relations


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Based on an outcry from the homeschool community, two federal agencies removed dangerous language from proposed regulations that would have treated governments and schools as “equal partners” with parents.


Last December, the U.S Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services released a draft education policy statement declaring governments “equal partners”” with parents.

HSLDA condemned this attempt to weaken the critical and God-given importance of parents and increase the power of the government. We wrote: “This one sentence unmasks the federal government’s true philosophy: … the federal government believes that its role is equal with the role of parents.”

With the support of you, our members, we sent a loud and clear message to Washington, D.C.: parents and legal guardians should be the sole decision-makers in matters concerning children in their care.

Parents Speak Out

HSLDA Federal Relations Director Will Estrada met with senior officials from the U.S. Department of Education and personally explained to them the problems with the draft statement, as well as the strong opposition from parents across the nation to its bureaucratic arrogance.

At least this time, federal officials seem to have listened.

The DOE and HHS issued a revised policy statement, eliminating the “equal partners” language. The statement now recognizes the primary importance of family involvement in education.

“Families are children’s first and most important teachers, advocates, and nurturers,” it reads. “Strong family engagement in early childhood systems and programs is central—not supplemental—to promoting children’s healthy intellectual, physical, and social-emotional development; preparing children for school; and supporting academic achievement in elementary school and beyond. Research indicates that families’ involvement in children’s learning and development impacts lifelong health, developmental, and academic outcomes.”

The policy statement goes on to reaffirm the role of parents in education, highlighting several research findings including the following:

  • “Families have strong and sustained effects on children’s learning, development, and wellness.”
  • “Family activities such as reading and talking to young children lead to positive outcomes.”
  • “Promoting enriching learning activities in the classroom and in the home contributes to children’s learning and development.”

Cause for Concern

Despite this victory, there are other problems with the document that remain. The document’s working definition of “family” still includes not only a child’s parents or legal guardians, but “all adults who interact with early childhood systems in support of their child, to include biological, adoptive, and foster parents; grandparents; legal and informal guardians; and adult siblings.” From HSLDA’s perspective, in situations where conflict may exist between a child’s parents and other family members regarding educational choices, this still quite broad definition of family is not helpful for clarity regarding parental rights in education.

There is much work to be done before decades of federal overreach in K-12 education is reversed. This policy statement itself sets the stage for continued federal involvement in early education programs, something that HSLDA has long criticized. In addition, the Common Core State Standards, early education programs such as Head Start, and interstate data tracking of students remain prominent matters of concern for those concerned about freedom in American education. Ultimately, it is the action of parents, teachers, and local school boards that will keep federal overreach at bay.

This policy statement is just another example of how your continued vigilance for homeschool freedom is a crucial and powerful stand against power grabs by the federal government. Thank you for standing with us for family and freedom!