House File 100’s Home Visit Mandate is Unconstitutional
by Scott Woodruff • January 25, 2019
House File 100, a bill recently introduced in the Iowa Legislature, would allow officials to demand to come into a homeschool family’s home even if there is no evidence the family has done anything wrong and would empower an official to go to court if the family refuses. We believe this mandate is unconstitutional.
This belief is based on strong judicial precedent.
Between 1986 and 2011, six similar mandates were ruled unconstitutional or otherwise abolished. This bill aims to turn the clock back to a time when states violated the constitutional rights of homeschool families.
1986—Struck down as unconstitutional: a lesson from Rhode Island
Rhode Island law gives local boards of education power to approve or disapprove homeschool programs. An East Greenwich school board rule required that school officials observe the instruction of homeschool students. One homeschooling family, the Kinstedts, refused to let officials watch them as they taught their children. The school committee, in turn, refused to approve their homeschool program.
With Home School Legal Defense Association representing them, the Kinstedts appealed to the Commissioner of Education. In Kinstedt v. East Greenwich School Committee, the commissioner said:
“… both the Fourth Amendment and also the constitutionally derived right to privacy and autonomy which the United States Supreme Court has recognized protect individuals from unwanted and warrantless visits to the home by agents of the State under circumstances such as those present here.”
1988—Struck down as unconstitutional: a lesson from New York
Two homeschool families in Oswego County, New York, refused to submit to a local rule which required a school official to come into their home to observe instruction. The school system sued them. HSLDA defended the families. In In the Matter of Dixon, and in In the Matter of Standish, the court struck down the requirement as unconstitutional.
1988—Struck down as unconstitutional: a lesson from Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, many school districts formerly required families to allow an official to observe instruction. With HSLDA representing them, the Jeffery family filed a federal lawsuit. In Jeffery v. O’Donnell, the judge ruled that the entire homeschool statute violated the U.S. Constitution because it was so vague. The Pennsylvania Legislature subsequently eliminated home visits.
1988—Struck down as improper implementation of state statute: a lesson from Massachusetts
Massachusetts law allows local school systems discretion in setting requirements for approval of homeschool programs. The Lynne school system created a rule requiring families to let an official into their home to observe their homeschool instruction.
With HSLDA representing them, the Brunelle family filed a suit. In Brunelle vs. Lynne Public Schools, the court ruled that this requirement was not a proper administration of the state statute.
1993—Abolished: a lesson from South Dakota
A South Dakota law formerly required homeschool families to allow an official to observe instruction. With HSLDA representing them, a family filed a federal lawsuit against the Newell School District asserting that the law was unconstitutional. When the federal lawsuit brought increased attention to the issue, the legislature repealed the law.
Minnesota abolishes home visits in 2011
For many years, Minnesota law required that homeschoolers submit to a home visit or submit a portfolio of student work. The home visit component was widely recognized as a Fourth Amendment infringement. It was abolished by the legislature in 2011.
A Maryland homeschool rule currently requires families to consent to allow an official to “observe instruction.” Without exception, every time a family has refused to comply, and has had an HSLDA lawyer assist them, the official has backed down. Since the rule is never enforced, there has been no opportunity to challenge its constitutionality.
No other state has a home visit or observe instruction rule in operation.
House File 100 is clearly unconstitutional—for the same reasons that every other law calling for home visits or for officials to observe the instruction of homeschool students has been eliminated.
The bill invokes “probable cause,” but this does not rescue it from unconstitutionality. “Probable cause” is a proper basis for a court order only when there is probable cause to believe that someone has violated a law. The bill does not explain what law a family might have violated, so “probable cause” refers exactly to nothing.
This bill calls these forced visits “health and safety checks.” By calling them “checks,” and demanding them of all homeschool families regardless of each family’s own situation, the bill acknowledges that there need not be any reason to believe a child’s health or safety is at stake in order for an official to demand entrance to a home.
Child welfare laws already on the books allow for a court to intervene if there is evidence that a child’s health or safety is in danger. Which means that H.F. 100 is not only unconstitutional, it is unnecessary.