Interesting people. Compelling stories. These are what fill the days of an HSLDA attorney.
Consider the case of a Pennsylvania mom, whose story crossed my desk just before I sat down to write this column. She and her husband successfully homeschooled their children for three years under one of the most demanding homeschool statutes in the country.
In Pennsylvania, the “supervisor” of the home education program must possess a high school diploma or its equivalent, which—in this case—the dad had but mom did not. Even though mom did not have a diploma, she had been the children’s primary teacher—a perfectly legal arrangement under Pennsylvania law—and the children made good progress each year.
Tragically, dad died unexpectedly in early 2022, leaving mom alone to raise the kids. When she sent in her annual affidavit for this school year, she crossed out the part attesting to having a high school diploma. The school district informed her that the supervisor—previously dad, now mom—must have a diploma or GED, or the children must be enrolled in school.
That’s when she called HSLDA.
We learned that mom lacked a diploma because she was raised under the Anabaptist tradition. We discovered that when mom and dad chose to homeschool their children, they did so out of deeply held religious convictions. And mom still believes that she cannot in good conscience before God place her children in public school.
What to do?
Because we’ve been advocating for homeschooling for nearly four decades, we had an answer. Pennsylvania has a Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA). It gives the school district the authority to exempt mom if the law places a substantial burden on her ability to do the things her faith requires (such as homeschooling) unless there is a legally compelling reason not to exempt her from the requirement.
HSLDA asked the school superintendent to give mom an exemption from the diploma requirement. We included letters from people affirming the sincerity of her faith and convictions, and we argued that mom had been successfully homeschooling the children already, so the state’s legitimate interest had been met in years past and would continue to be met.
At this writing, the school district has denied mom an exemption, and our litigation team is preparing to file a claim in court asking a judge to grant the exemption, which is the next step under the RFPA.
Helping homeschoolers in the middle of their life stories is not just our job—it’s HSLDA’s calling. It’s our highest purpose and has been since day one, way back in 1983.
As HSLDA’s new president, building on the foundation laid by Mike Smith and Mike Farris, I pledge by God’s grace—and with your prayers and support—that helping this homeschooling widow in her hour of need, and by extension keeping homeschooling free for all of us, will always be our number one priority.