Homeschoolers Rally Against Forced Speech
by Tj Schmidt • August 24, 2018
More than 150 homeschoolers gathered in Santa Fe last Wednesday to rally outside of the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) offices.
Families from all over New Mexico came to protest the PED’s insistence that they sign 11 “statements of understanding” in order to be officially acknowledged as homeschoolers. We believe this amounted to forced speech. These families enthusiastically waved creative homemade signs that promoted homeschooling—messages aimed at the PED and any passersby.
Dave Jones, with Christian Association of Parent Educators-New Mexico (CAPE-NM), state Rep. Gregg Schmedes, and I spoke briefly to the crowd. We outlined the nearly yearlong battle with the PED over changes to the homeschool notice form and the work that all of us have been doing on this issue.
We were also able to talk to reporters with the Albuquerque Journal and KOB-4 TV. We shared that the PED was overstepping their authority by attempting to force parents to sign these statements or risk not being officially recognized as homeschooling.
While state law does not require parents to obtain approval,—or even acknowledgement—from the PED in order to legally educate their children at home, the PED has provided verification numbers in the past when parents submitted their notice. This year the PED was withholding these verification numbers from parents who did not sign the additional statements.
CAPE-NM and HSLDA first attempted to address the issue by sending several letters to the PED. Then in February CAPE-NM met with PED officials and several legislators.
At that meeting CAPE-NM urged the PED to simply cite state law without any commentary. Along with HSLDA, CAPE-NM also recommended that the PED simply provide the 11 statements to parents without requiring any signature indicating acknowledgement or understanding. PED officials appeared to agree to this plan, but then changed course.
Which is how we came to be rallying outside their offices in August.
It was great to see the large turnout of homeschoolers on short notice! It was obvious that the PED took notice of this large crowd outside of their building, peacefully protesting the department’s actions. At the rally we learned that the PED was planning on making a statement later that afternoon, and there was some indication that they would begin providing verification numbers to all homeschool families.
Later that afternoon I began to receive copies of the verification email that the PED was sending out. While it was good to see that the PED was acknowledging homeschool families without requiring them sign the 11 “statements of understanding,” some of the language in these emails was troubling. It demonstrates that work still needs to be done.
Both CAPE-NM and HSLDA, along with others, will continue to work on this issue until the PED eliminates their unnecessary commentary on state law.
Thursday morning I checked in at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) and attempted to meet with Andrea Gurrola, the director of admissions.
My purpose was two-fold. I wanted to confirm that homeschool students would be permitted to dual-enroll at CNM—as they are legally allowed to do. While I also wanted to let CNM know that the PED was now providing verification numbers to homeschoolers, I wanted to point out that CNM should be accepting homeschool students simply with a copy of their submitted notice form. No verification number should be required.
After waiting nearly an hour and a half, I was informed that Ms. Gurrola would not be available all day. However, I was able to leave a detailed message, and I spoke briefly with another staffer about our concerns and my desire to follow up with Ms. Gurrola. I intend on pursuing this issue as well.
I have no doubt that those who turned out in Santa Fe on Wednesday have had an impact on this situation, not just for the present, but hopefully for years to come. While I was able to personally meet and thank many who made it out, I am grateful for the sacrifice of their time to so wonderfully represent homeschoolers in New Mexico.
The work that CAPE-NM, Rep. Schmedes and other legislators have done also played an invaluable part in pointing the PED in the right direction. We will all continue to work together to protect and defend the rights of parents in New Mexico to freely educate their children!