The French Constitutional Council issued a devastating ruling against homeschooling in France by upholding a new law that makes home education less accessible and subject to highly intrusive and restrictive rules.
After months of activism and advocacy, French homeschoolers had pinned their final hopes for stopping the law on a petition submitted by almost 100 members of the French National Assembly and Senate. The petition requested that the Conseil Constitutionnel (the French version of the supreme court) review and strike down Article 49 of the new law.
The proposal had moved between the National Assembly and the Senate for months. Whereas the Senate had amended the law to remove the offending article restricting homeschooling, the National Assembly, controlled by President Emmanuel Macron’s own party, reinserted the article.
Arguing that the new law imposed unreasonable restrictions on French citizens’ rights of conscience, human rights, and freedoms, the petition called on the council to strike down the law. Sadly, the council swept aside these concerns, ruling that the National Assembly had the authority to impose such restrictions on the practice of homeschooling in France.
The new law, proposed by Macron in October 2020, was ostensibly motivated by concerns relating to Islamic extremism in the country. The law was aimed at much more than homeschooling and had mobilized broad opposition across the political, religious, and ideological spectrum.
The law requires that all private civic organizations support “French Republican values.” The law also imposes new restrictions on religious freedoms.
Homeschooling has been legal in France since 1882. The new law does not change the legal status of homeschooling, but does restrict it to four specific exceptions relating to health, family traveling status, medical or other specific reasons relating to the needs of a child. The other major change is that instead of every family being able to simply file a declaration and homeschool on the condition of submitting to annual inspections and home visits by the government, the new law requires new families who homeschool to obtain permission under one of the conditions of the law. Families permitted to homeschool must now also submit to further inspections and home visits by authorities.
Support for French Families
HSLDA has followed this legislation since it was first proposed, and stands with French groups who oppose the law. I submitted a legal memorandum to both the National Assembly and Senate. This document was used by French groups and legislators for their own memorandum and petition to the constitutional council.
National Assemblyman Fabien Di Filippo wrote to me that: “You can count on me to continue the fight against an absurd and penalizing measure for so many parents and so many children.”
Despite this major setback, reforming the law with the help of deputies remains possible. Also, as the law grandfathers current homeschooling families for a period of some years, there is time to regroup.
In the meantime, many French homeschoolers have contacted me to say they are planning to leave.
“Homeschooling was already hard to do in France—this will make it too hard,” one French homeschooling mom wrote to me after the court’s decision. “Time to become an expatriate again.”
Liberty under Attack
In addition to the homeschool restrictions, France has reduced freedom in other ways.
A new law now requires all people show proof of vaccination or a negative test for COVID-19 within the past 48 hours. The law has sparked widespread protests in France. Up until now tests had been free, but those who choose not to be vaccinated will have to pay over 50 dollars per test.
For a large family who wants to visit a museum as part of their homeschooling field trip plan, for example, costs like that will become excessive. HSLDA does not advocate for or against vaccines, but we do support the right of parents to make healthcare decisions without government interference.
France is not the only Western European country where policymakers are looking to enact homeschool restrictions. In the United Kingdom, a country where homeschooling is most freely accessible, supposedly “conservative” political figures like House of Commons Education Committee leader Robert Halfon have called for a national registration requirement on homeschoolers.
Homeschool Surge in America
In the United States, on the other hand, homeschooling is experiencing dramatic growth as more parents determine it is the best way to keep their children safe and learning during the ongoing pandemic. I suggested in a May of 2020 article published at Townhall.com that there could be as many as 8 million homeschooling families in 2021. It turns out I
may have underestimated.
This growth was made possible by 40 years of advocacy on the part of homeschool families and organizations. Since 2000, more than 20 state legislatures have made homeschooling more accessible and have reformed their laws to minimize bureaucratic burdens on families. For example, this year South Dakota joined the list of what HSLDA considers low regulation states, transforming into one of the most homeschool friendly states.
Better laws aren’t the only reason homeschooling is thriving in America. Access to thousands of local and state support groups, endless choices of curriculum, popular awareness from decades of positive media coverage and research, as well as the availability of support from HSLDA made it possible for homeschooling to triple or quadruple in the last 18 months.
The work of millions of parents over the years has demonstrated that homeschooling works.
The lesson of France is an important one for us in the United States. Our government is one of dual federalism. This contrasts with the French Republic, where the National Assembly exercises control over issues that in our system are left to the states.
While the French National Assembly has the power to restrict the freedom of the entire country, our state legislatures have acted to create many different approaches to homeschooling laws, all of which are superior to those in France (and most of Europe).
However, as the homeschooling movement learned in 1994, the federal government can attempt to exert power over homeschooling. That year Congress proposed a law that would have required all children to receive instruction from certified teachers as a condition for states to receive federal education funds. (And who can say no to free federal money?)
The homeschool movement erupted and burned up the phone lines (yes this was before email), resulting in a massive defeat of this provision. Since then, HSLDA and homeschoolers have watched the Congress like a hawk—and this attempt has not been repeated.
Nevertheless, what happened in France can happen anywhere. And there are a few in the United States who have actively sought the same kind of restrictions as those approved by the French National Assembly. Any homeschooler paying attention in the last two years will remember Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s infamous call for a presumptive ban on homeschooling. HSLDA wrote a book in response to her article. Check out the book online here.
The differences in our 50 states’ approaches to homeschool laws is a testimony to the wisdom of the founders who preserved state sovereignty as a bulwark against excessive and national centralized power. The lamentable defeat of French homeschoolers’
freedom demonstrates the wisdom behind our governmental structure.
Even with millions of new homeschoolers, we should not take our freedom for granted. Freedom is not free—it must be constantly earned and preserved. This is what we homeschoolers in the United States must do, or we risk a similar loss of freedom as in France.