Long-Overdue Improvements to Homeschool Law Are Closer to Reality
by Scott Woodruff • April 3, 2019
Yesterday the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee voted in favor of moving House Bill 1139 toward enactment. Committee members received many supportive phone calls from the homeschool community, which was very helpful.
The bill would implement four long-overdue improvements to Missouri’s homeschool law.
- It would protect information a school obtains about a homeschool family.
- It would do away with the notoriously problematic (optional) Declaration of Enrollment.
- It would end double recordkeeping and give families the option of keeping records of 1,000 hours of instruction or records of the child’s work, evaluations and activities.
- It would require prosecutors to have “reasonable suspicion” before seeking homeschool records, thus ending groundless investigations of families.
“Reasonable suspicion” is a well-understood concept already found at least six places in the Missouri statutes. It is also very familiar to prosecutors, any of whom could explain what it means because they work with it daily.
“Reasonable suspicion” means that an official has specific information which would make a reasonable person suspect that an individual has violated a law. It’s more than a hunch or guess. It’s more than just randomly picking out people and investigating them for crimes.
Putting “reasonable suspicion” into the law will give Missouri families protection that they have never had before. Nothing on the lawbooks now prevents a prosecutor from investigating every family in his area that decides to homeschool. This has actually happened in some jurisdictions.
“Reasonable suspicion” will not eliminate investigations. There will continue to be situations where a prosecutor has information that would make a reasonable person suspicious. But the arbitrary, groundless, seemingly random investigations of the past should come to an end.
It’s our judgment that the “reasonable suspicion” standard is more workable and realistic than the more stringent “probable cause” standard. Furthermore, it is more likely to be acceptable to lawmakers. Prosecutors have all the advantages now. Requiring “reasonable suspicion” will restore balance.
I have represented Missouri homeschool families in court, before local officials, and in the legislature for over 20 years, including a vivid memory of testifying against House Bill 540 in 1999.
In my view, H.B. 1139 will solve the most significant and recurrent problems homeschool families face. The Missouri homeschool statute was enacted in 1986 when the homeschool community was much smaller. We don’t need to continue to drag the shortcomings of the 1986 statute with us as we move forward.
The bill will now be assigned to another committee for action.
Our thanks go to Representative Ben Baker who sponsored the bill at the request of Families for Home Education and HSLDA. He is working vigorously to make Missouri homeschool law better.