HSLDA Alerts Families to Error-Ridden Form
by Dave Dentel • July 3, 2018
While many Americans are spending this week celebrating our national heritage of liberty, homeschooling families in New Mexico are preparing to send a message to state authorities in protest of unlawful demands.
Last week Home School Legal Defense Association and state leaders in New Mexico began a campaign to encourage homeschooling families to disregard official instructions for filing the annual notice of intent.
Asking our members to engage in passive resistance “is not something we did lightly,” said HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt.
Working with the State
The decision was reached only after months of trying to persuade state Public Education Department (PED) officials to remove an onerous and unlawful “statement of understanding” from the department’s online homeschool notice form
The statement requires parents to affirmatively declare “I understand” throughout an 11-point summary that not only misconstrues some aspects of New Mexico homeschool law, but implies that families risk losing approval to homeschool if they do not assent. In fact, the form cannot be completed unless the statement of understanding is affirmed and submitted.
Two points in the statement stand out as especially troublesome. The first, Statement No. 1, dictates how much time parents are to spend teaching their children daily, rules which HSLDA feels are clearly meant to apply to more traditional classroom settings and are simply not practical or appropriate for homeschools.
Statement No. 8 declares that students in a homeschool that does not comply with the law may be forced by the state to enroll in public or private school—a claim we find legally questionable.
A Matter of Integrity
In partnership with Christian Association of Parent Educators-New Mexico, Schmidt sent an email to homeschoolers in the state advising them to mail printed copies of the notice form—without the statement of understanding.
“We felt like this would be the least confrontational way to get the point across to the PED,” explained Cathy Heckendorn, a board member with CAPE-NM. And so far, “families are on board.”
Heckendorn added that many parents told her they are especially alarmed by education officials burdening homeschools with additional, questionable rules. They worry that signing a statement affirming these rules will embolden officials to add even more.
“It’s a matter of integrity,” Heckendorn said. “When we consent to sign this document we’re saying this part of law applies to us,” when it clearly does not. In the future, “what’s to say another part of the law won’t apply to us?”
Cost of Freedom
Schmidt noted that circumventing the official process could lead to repercussions.
“There is a risk that the department will reject your notice and find your child not in compliance with the homeschool statute,” he said.
However, because of the principles at stake HSLDA is prepared to support any family who does encounter legal trouble over the issue.
“Camels’ noses and education bureaucrats are a lot alike,” said Jim Mason, HSLDA vice president of litigation and development. “Sometimes they both need to be reminded to stay out of our tents.”
“They’re basically telling parents that they’re not recognized as a homeschool program unless they do everything their way,” he said.
Forcing parents to sign off on a viewpoint with which they may not agree violates a clear constitutional protection, one that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as last week.
Reversing a Trend
Both attorneys pointed out that HSLDA’s position is merely a recommendation. Each family must decide for themselves how to comply as conscience dictates.
However, if homeschoolers give in to this demand, which is not supported by the New Mexico homeschool statute, the PED could very well keep trying to stretch its authority.
This trend began when the homeschool statute was altered in 2014 to state that any person operating or intending to operate a homeschool program must “submit a home school registration form made available by the department.” At the time, however, there was no indication that the PED would attempt to interpret this to mean that homeschooling parents would only be able to submit a PED-sanctioned form.
It wasn’t until August 24, 2017, that the PED decided this provision allowed them to completely change the homeschool form—and insist that only their form was permitted.
Until this changes, we will continue to advise homeschooling families to invoke their constitutional rights by refusing to sign off on the form if it violates their convictions.