Homeschoolers Send Home Visitation Bill Packing
by Dave Dentel • March 14, 2018
Thanks to vigilant homeschooling families, lawmakers targeting freedom in yet another state legislature have been blocked.
This time, a Maryland delegate sponsored a bill (H.B. 1798) that would have allowed officials to enter families’ homes* and determine whether homeschool students are safe and learning. These checks would have occurred “at least twice each school year.”
Late last week, we asked our members and friends to help us challenge this bill—and already the response has brought about an encouraging reversal.
On Monday, chief sponsor Delegate Frank Turner announced that there will not be a hearing on H.B. 1798 this session. Since a committee hearing is usually a prerequisite for a bill to advance in the legislature, we are optimistic that no more action will be needed against H.B. 1798.
Taking a Stand
This announcement follows important legislative victories elsewhere this year. Homeschool advocates in New Hampshire and Hawaii helped defeat legislation that would have imposed new restrictions in their states.
The bill in Hawaii was especially onerous; it called for families who wished to homeschool to undergo a series of record-checks, such as a review of social services records and a full criminal background check.
But homeschooling families in the Aloha State proved they were up to the task of defending their rights. At a hearing on the bill in February, parents and students packed the statehouse, sharing with senators what homeschooling means to them and why enacting the proposed restrictions would be so detrimental to the cause they love.
Peter Kamakawiwoole, Home School Legal Defense Association’s contact attorney for Hawaii, also spoke at the hearing.
Afterward, the bill was withdrawn.
In New Hampshire, a bill that would have required the submission of annual evaluations and allowed for homeschools programs to be terminated was withdrawn. The House voted down the bill after hundreds of homeschooling parents and children attended an Education Committee hearing to oppose the measure.
Remember the Fourth Amendment
In addition to the passionate support of the homeschool community, another reason we were confident Maryland’s H.B. 1798 would ultimately fail is because it was blatantly unconstitutional.
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.
But H.B. 1798 was not premised on any evidence that homeschool students are unsafe in their own homes.
HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff pointed out this fact in a letter to Delegate Turner. As Woodruff noted, many well-established agencies—including a federal commission—have developed lists of risk factors for child abuse, and none of them mention homeschooling.
Several legislators agreed with our assessment of H.B. 1798.
Delegate Eric Ebsersole contacted HSLDA to say that his being listed as a sponsor was a mistake, and that he shared our concerns regarding the bill.
Delegate April Rose told us in an email, “This bill is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and I will work with my colleagues to stop [it].”
Technicalities Aside, It’s Still Bad
The bill did echo a provision in the Maryland homeschool regulation calling for officials to “observe” parents as they instruct their children. The regulation is rarely enforced, however, and based on our experience protecting families in other states against similar rules, we doubt that it would survive judicial scrutiny.
H.B. 1798 posed an unacceptable risk to what is supposed to be a sanctuary, which is why it needed to be stopped.
Our thanks go out to the 7,000-plus visitors to our H.B. 1798 webpage, especially those who took time to send a message to their legislators.
We would also like to thank Wendy Bush of The Excelsior Academy; Alessa Giampaolo Keener with Maryland Homeschool Association; and Gary Cox with Maryland Association of Christian Home Educators for their invaluable assistance.
*H.B. 1798 did not specifically state that government officials should visit families’ “homes.” It referred instead to the “primary location” where homeschooling is conducted, which for the vast majority of families would be the place they live.