Past Victories, New Legislative Challenges
by Helaina Bock • January 29, 2019
In almost every state, there are legislators and bureaucrats who argue that the government, rather than parents, are responsible for overseeing children’s education.
As long as this view persists, legislators will attempt to impose additional regulations on homeschools.
Several of the situations we saw in 2018, including legislation imposing background checks on parents and allowing fire marshals to inspect private family homes, both violate families’ privacy and interfere with parents’ ability to educate their children freely.
These efforts to restrict freedom offer a good example of the kinds of proposed laws we can expect in 2019. However, the response we saw by homeschool families last year also offers hope that bad bills can be defeated by vigilant, freedom-loving citizens.
Taking a Stand
The year 2018 brought many significant challenges and hard-won successes for homeschoolers. Families in Hawaii, New Hampshire, California, and Maryland faced especially notable threats to their homeschooling freedom. However, in each of these states, parents and students took a stand before their school boards and state legislators to make their voices heard.
Their victories should be celebrated, but also serve as a reminder to us all that we should never take the educational freedom that we enjoy for granted. Instead, we should always be prepared to defend the right to homeschool.
Home Visits in Hawaii
On Valentine’s Day, 2018, more than 400 Hawaiian homeschoolers traveled to their state capitol and gathered in a cramped committee room to oppose a bill, S.B. 2323, that would require mandatory background checks for every homeschooling parent.
HSLDA attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole explained that this bill essentially would require parents to give up their privacy rights as a condition for exercising their constitutional right to homeschool. The bill would “treat every parent as a suspected abuser—unless a mandatory records check absolves them from guilt and proves them innocent.”
These homeschool parents and students understood the unconstitutionality of the bill. Some stood in silent protest, while others gave personal testimony to support their homeschool programs.
In just three hours’ time, the bill’s sponsor withdrew the measure. Kamakawiwoole said, “Without the sacrifice of hundreds of families, we would never have persuaded the committee to reconsider their position to adopt the bill before the hearing ever began.”
Canceling Homeschools in New Hampshire
Homeschoolers in New Hampshire proved just as dedicated as those in the Aloha State. When HSLDA warned them of a bill that called for an annual submission of homeschool evaluations and termination of homeschool programs that did not show sufficient “progress,” they came to the state capitol to testify.
These homeschool families realized that the definition of “progress” would remain up to the superintendent to determine. Requiring a superintendent to approve a homeschool program gives the state, rather than the parent, the primary responsibility of guiding a child’s education. This would inhibit one of the central purposes of homeschooling—allowing parents to craft each child’s education to meet his or her individual needs.
The sheer number of people that showed up at the committee meeting, which some eyewitnesses estimated was around 600, spoke volumes to legislators. And “their thoughtfully prepared testimony was compelling,” notes HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly.
As a result, the bill failed in the House.
Fire Marshal Inspections in California
In California, 3,000 homeschooling families and supporters flooded the state capitol. For three hours, homeschooling parents, teachers, and homeschooled students testified before the committee to oppose A.B. 2756.
This legislation was introduced as a response to an egregious child abuse case. It would have required homeschooling families to identify themselves while filing an annual affidavit and would have allowed local fire marshals to inspect their homes each year, without a warrant, reasonable cause, or consent. Under the Fourth Amendment, government officials are forbidden from entering your house unless they have a court order, there is a life-threatening emergency, or you give your consent.
The hearing dragged on late into the day, as person after person expressed their concerns about the bill. By the time the proposal came to a vote, not even one member of the assembly voted for the bill.
Home Visits in Maryland
Maryland homeschoolers became concerned at legislation, H.B. 1798, that would have allowed officials to enter their homes bi-annually to monitor their homeschool programs. Similar to the California legislation, this bill threatens families’ Fourth Amendment rights and is not based on any evidence that homeschool students are unsafe in their own homes.
HSLDA encouraged Maryland homeschoolers to challenge this bill. After hundreds of phone calls and emails made their way to Maryland lawmakers, the bill’s chief sponsor, Delegate Frank Turner, announced that the bill would not receive a hearing. Thankfully, many Maryland legislators also agreed on the bill’s unconstitutionality.
The success across the nation was possible only because homeschoolers are engaged citizens who are willing to fight to preserve their rights. This unwavering engagement must persist in 2019. HSLDA expects that similar misguided legislation will test the ability of families to exercise their right to homeschool this year.
A recent tragic child abuse case in Colorado has sparked debate over homeschool regulations in the state. One commentator from The Tennyson Center for Children, an organization that helps treat abused children, blamed the tragedy partly on allegedly lax homeschooling laws in the state and said, “if you’re going to homeschool your kid, [authorities] need to be able to see that kid.”
According to HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly, “in light of the response to this case, we have reason to believe legislators may propose legislation calling for more harmful regulation on homeschooling families.”
Lawyers from HSLDA also expect the proposal of legislation in West Virginia that could threaten homeschool freedom.
West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine blamed the sharp decline of public school enrollment partly on students foregoing public school for homeschool. Paine expressed concern at the lack of regulation on homeschoolers, fearing that homeschooled children are “not receiving a quality education.” There is a possibility that these concerns will result in legislative changes.
HSLDA President Mike Smith also believes there is a chance that Californian lawmakers may target homeschoolers this year. Smith explained, “The challenge in California is that more bills are introduced in the legislature than in Congress, and the legislature is full time.”
It is important for legislators to protect innocent children and to pursue an evidence-based approach to preventing child abuse. However, experts have never identified homeschooling as a risk factor for abuse. Rather than protecting children, the type of misguided legislation that we saw last year will only infringe upon fundamental freedoms and inhibit homeschooled children’s education. Homeschool families must remain vigilant to combat any new regulations that may harm all homeschool families.
In every state, HSLDA remains committed to help defend families’ right to homeschool. As Mike Smith put it, “We hope and pray that we do not have to face another legislative battle this year. But if it happens, HSLDA will stand with you, as we did last year, to preserve the current law.”
That’s because we realize that the choice to homeschool is not a privilege that we instantly gained. It is a freedom that must be continually cultivated.