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State Legislature Couldn’t Ignore Hundreds of Motivated Homeschoolers

by Peter Kamakawiwoole • February 21, 2018

On February 14, 2018, the Hawaii Senate Committees on Education and Human Services convened to vote on S.B. 2323. If passed, it would mark a sea change in homeschool history: every single homeschooling family in Hawaii would have to submit to mandatory criminal background checks before they could gain “approval” to educate their own keiki (children) at home.

I returned to Hawaii (my literal “ancestral home”) to attend the hearing. Alongside more than 400 local homeschoolers (kama’aina), we descended on the capital to voice our united opposition to S.B. 2323.

We knew we faced an uphill battle. There is not a single Republican in the Hawaii State Senate. Of the 10 committee members, seven had already signed on as sponsors of S.B. 2323—including both of the committee chairs and vice-chairs. And to make matters even worse, the chair opened the meeting by telling us that the bill would be passed that day with amendments that would leave both the approval and background checks intact.

In the face of certain defeat, we stood our ground. More than 700 pages of testimony were submitted on S.B. 2323—and all but 20 pages opposed the bill. For more than two hours, we pressed our case before the committees. There were testimonies from HSLDA and state leaders, a myriad of non-homeschool state and local organizations, second-generation homeschoolers, military families, and homeschool graduates and students. We reasoned. We educated. We pleaded.

We were hoping to make a statement. What we actually got was a miracle.

The following is a message I wrote to those amazing Hawaii families the morning after the hearing, from an airport in Texas. It’s raw and candid, but I hope it will give you just a taste of what God can do through a small band of like-minded strangers, drawn together to a common cause in a moment of necessity. And I hope it encourages those of you who are on the verge of your own battles for homeschool freedom, whether you know they’re upon you or not.

Major Victory: SB 2323 Sponsor Asks for Bill to be Withdrawn

In every state, the battle for homeschool freedom is a long process, a marathon. But every marathon contains a handful of critical moments. How you start. How you finish. And how you handle the strain, the adversity, the burn in-between.

As I stood in a crammed committee room yesterday afternoon, I felt that this was going to be one of those critical moments, even though the outcome was still very much in doubt.

The early signs weren’t good. But your resolve was stronger. A rainy afternoon at the start of rush hour? You still came. A power outage shut down multiple elevators? You walked. No seats to sit in? You stood. No air conditioning? You had plenty of printed testimonies to fold into makeshift fans.

The committee room was so full that they had to set up a second room for overflow. And then a third. When another nearby hearing ended, they converted it into a fourth. Each time, you filled them.

By day’s end, there were at least four more televisions in the outside hall. All of them were being watched at all times. At one point the fire marshal had to halt the proceedings because of the volume of people outside. You fished out some snacks, swapped in some new coloring books, and waited.

For those of you who wanted to be there but couldn’t, we used every one of your encouragements, well-wishes, and prayers. Had you been there, I think you would have been pleased with those who came, those who stood, those who shared.

One Voice

The kama’aina who shared were as broad and diverse as the local homeschooling community. Parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends; 30-year veterans, second-generation parents, brand new families who were trying to brave a better path.

But the spotlight never shined any brighter than it did when our keiki spoke. Words can’t do justice to the marked impression they left on the senators by what they said—and in some cases, by what they didn’t say.

What happened afterwards was nothing short of miraculous.

At the start of the hearing, Chairwoman Kidani informed you that the chairs had already decided to pass the bill with amendments, but the amendments would still require approval and background checks for all homeschooling families—regardless of whether they were suspected of wrongdoing.

If her goal was to weaken your resolve or blunt your testimony, you weren’t taken in and you didn’t blink. You spoke, you reasoned, you cried, and you cheered. About an hour in, the chair changed the plan; the committee would recess for decision-making in a separate room. That never happens if the outcome is set in stone. What was going on?

An hour later we got our answer when Senator Kahele, the author and lead sponsor of SB 2323 asked the chair to withdraw the bill, in favor of returning to the issue—with your input—next session.

Still Work to be Done

We expect the withdrawal to be completed today. Once withdrawn, SB 2323 will be off the table for the remainder of this session, and we have received assurances that too little time remains before adjournment for either of the remaining bills (SB 2274 and HB 2244) to make it through the legislature. Extend your thanks to Senator Kahele and the other committee members for listening to your concerns.

While the immediate danger appears to have passed, there’s still work to be done in advance of the 2019 and 2020 sessions. And there will be time in the future to discuss where we go from here. Today, I’d encourage you to pause and appreciate your moment. Think of where we were just one week ago, aghast and uncertain.

And then you came, creating petitions and posting contact info, starting Facebook groups, coordinating sign-wavings, learning about birth certificates and background checks, posting, encouraging, praying, coming, speaking, living. That in itself would have been a tremendous victory. That we also won is a miracle.

Every marathon has a critical moment. This was yours. And you crushed it.

Peter Kamakawiwoole

Staff Attorney

Peter has been an HSLDA staff attorney since 2011, assisting member families in Connecticut, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and his home state of Hawaii. Read more.

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