Effect of El Paso Case on Home Schoolers

Regulate?Last week the 8th Court of Appeals of Texas issued a ruling about home schooling in a civil case filed by a home school family against El Paso ISD. This was in response to truancy charges that had been filed against them as a result of their family members alleging the children were not being taught and had no curriculum. The school district eventually dropped the charges against the family but they proceeded to file a civil action against the district arguing that the state had no authority to regulate or oversee home schooling at all.

Interestingly, this family was a member of both THSC and HSLDA but refused to follow the recommendations of THSC. In such circumstances a home school family must simply provide district officials with a letter of assurance stating that they have a curriculum covering the basic educational goals and are pursuing it in a bona fide manner. In fact if the family had provided the letter we recommend, the school district would never have filed charges in the first place. You can read an article in the El Paso Times on this ruling and you can read the court ruling.

The El Paso Appellate Court ruling said, “No parents have ever prevailed in any reported case on a theory that they have an absolute constitutional right to educate their children in the home, completely free of any state supervision, regulation, or requirements,” the ruling stated. “They do not have an ‘absolute constitutional right to home school,’” just as a parent does not have absolute authority over his children giving him the right to abuse them.

So does the state have the right to regulate home schooling? It is commonly accepted and understood across the nation that each state has the right to regulate education, both public and private. However, in the history of Texas up to this point, the legislature has refused to regulate private education, including home schooling, because of philosophical and political opposition. Even so, each school district does have the responsibility to enforce the compulsory attendance requirement, which says that school aged children must attend school.

Compulsory attendance enforcement became an issue for homeschoolers in 1994 when school districts began to require parents to submit their curriculum for the district’s approval. THSC took the issue straight to the Commissioner of Education, and in 1995 the Texas Education Agency (TEA) adopted our proposal and instituted a policy that school districts must accept a letter of assurance, as described above, and drop further action unless they had evidence that the assurance given was not accurate. Read the most recent letter from the TEA on the issue of compulsory attendance as it impacts home schoolers.

This El Paso court ruling reinforces the legal understanding that states have the right to regulate education but does not change a parent’s right to home school. THSC and Shelby Sharpe, lead attorney in the 1987 Leeper Case which clarified homeschooling as legal in Texas, agree after reviewing the case that it does not at all change the legal status of home schooling in Texas.Comments by El Paso school officials also make clear that they will continue to follow the direction of the TEA on this matter by stating, “In no way do we want to question the right of the parent to home school their children. It is only when we receive an allegation that this decision clearly underscores the responsibility of the school district and the attendance officer’s right to be able to verify that the student is being taught.”

This case is a reminder that we must be vigilant to keep our freedom to raise and teach our children at home. The home school community must be involved in the political process, educating elected officials who will oppose any effort by the legislature to regulate home schooling or private schools. THSC remains dedicated to keeping Texas families free. Please stay informed and stand with us.

Comments

  1. Karleen Mauldin says

    It seems to me that this family did NOT follow the Texas regulations for homeschooling…. I mean, as free as we are in Texas to homeschool the way we wish, there are *still* “regulations”.

    (I know I’m preaching to the choir here, and personally I feel this family’s actions *could* actually bring on the regulations they seem to think the state doesn’t have…)

    From THSC’s own website:
    State Requirement
    Texas State Law Requirements Regarding Home Schooling
    To home school legally in Texas, you must follow three state law requirements:
    -The instruction must be bona fide (i.e., not a sham).
    -The curriculum must be in visual form (e.g., books, workbooks, video monitor).
    -The curriculum must include the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship.

    • Tim Lambert says

      The family contended that the state has no right to interfere at all in their home school and they wanted court action to prove their point. They lost but nothing has changed from a legal standpoint and any attempt by any school district to require all home schoolers to present curriculum or prove they are “bona fide” home schoolers will be met with strong opposition from THSC.

        • Tim Lambert says

          I too agree, philosophically, that the state should have no authority over private schools, but the courts have consistently ruled that it does. It is therefore our job to make sure that the state of Texas does not exercise that right to regulate home schools.

  2. Terry says

    Thank you, Tim and others, for standing for our rights and keeping homeschoolers free in Texas!!!

  3. Roger says

    Tim is absolutely correct! We must remain vigilant!

    In principal, this family may have a very good point.

    As noted, the ruling equated educational regulation to the idea that parents do not have absolute authority over their child to abuse the child. However, that leads to the question of “who defines abuse?”

    THSC has assisted in the fight numerous times as innocent parents battled against a legally authorized body–such as CPS–that arbitrarily broadened the definition of abuse–in essence becoming abusive–and applied sanctions on the basis of that overly broad definition of abuse.

    My point is that failing to “push back” opens the door for governmental abuse: the frog in water slowly being brought to a boil scenario.

    One can argue that this family went to the opposite extreme in their opposition to governmental oversite and regulation. However, I am of the opinion that governments are FAR more likely to abuse their power–thus abusing their citizens–than parents their children.

    I am of the opinion that history has demonstrated that parents–with rare exception–will do what is best for their children without ANY government oversite but governments WILL abuse their citizens in the absence of citizen oversite i.e. “push back”. I think that is the point this family is trying to make.

  4. John says

    There is a lot about this case I agree with and disagree with. Honestly the family should have supplied the letter and it should have ended there. Here is my total disagreement with the ruling the most important is the judges ruling

    “No parents have ever prevailed in any reported case on a theory that they have an absolute constitutional right to educate their children in the home, completely free of any state supervision, regulation, or requirements,” the ruling stated. “They do not have an ‘absolute constitutional right to home school,’” just as a parent does not have absolute authority over his children giving him the right to abuse them.

    This paragraph should terrify anyone that has children. Even though the opinion did not state it but the implication is that homeschoolers are abusing their children by homeschooling them.

    I know most will say that is not true but all it takes is that statement that had no place in the opinion of the original case. I worked for attorneys my senior year of college and they had me looking for things just like this statement so they can argue their opinion.

    I have a daughter and she is homeschooled but she has never been abused. I do believe as a parent and until the age of majority we not only have a fundamental right but also an obligation to raise her in the way our beliefs tell us. To clarify what I am saying we determine what friends she should be with and to closely monitor the social structure she is placed in. Public school’s social structure is below our expectations.

    We use a traditional style curriculum that incorporates the bible and strategic acquired materials. She is taught reading writing math social studies and history and how the government works. She attended a private school for 2 years and we tired of a Christian school sending papers for us to be tolerant of other religions.

    We are devout Judeo Christians and hold those values very close. While we are not Jewish and we are Christians we do hold the values of Judaism and Christian values. I am also an ordained minister. We believe all public schools are detrimental to our belief system.

    Another part of this case is that the paper made specific mention that hslda attorney had no personal knowledge of the teaching habits. Another part of the opinion they upheld leper and other cases they still left the burden of proof of the curriculum on the parents and not just a letter. There is another part that in the email the HSLDA used the term bona fide manner in the email. This can be open to say parents must homeschool from 8 to 4 everyday and in a class room style. This is a problem with us because our daughter has CVS which is basically a migraine of the stomach and stress can severely affect it. So we use a non stressful environment and we also use drive time to teach and trips to teach history and geography.

    Ultimately we must enact legislation that really restores our rights to be parents.

    • Tim Lambert says

      I agree that our freedoms are always at risk and we must remain vigilant. The court ruled that the state may so these things, but currently and for the last 19 years, the TEA’s policy has been that a school district making an inquiry must accept a letter of assurance as documentation that a student is being home schooled in a bona fide manner unless they have evidence to the contrary. That policy is why if the family had simply responded with a letter of assurance the matter would have ended. Although this ruling restates Leeper language it changes nothing because of the current policy that THSC persuaded the TEA to adopt almost 20 years ago.

      • John says

        I agree Tim but my fear is how will some future liberal court interpret the words in this precedent in a way that could be detrimental to homeschooling.

        • Tim Lambert says

          John,

          The language of this decision essentially restates the Leeper decision that we have lived with for the last 20 years. There will always be a chance that someone can limit our freedom to homeschool. There is no silver bullet that will protect this freedom for all time. However, if the state of Texas limits our freedom it will be through the TEA or the legislature not the courts. In spite of virtually the same language in the Leeper case the TEA, at our request, forced school districts to change their policy of reviewing curriculum and school work, to accepting a simple letter of assurance.

          The longer we have this policy in place the more difficult it becomes for the government to change it. Four years ago an appellate court in California ruled that homeschooling was illegal unless the parents were certified teachers. They made this ruling on the basis of a 1950s court decision. Although it caused a huge uproar it was eventually overturned by the same court based on twenty years of legislation and government accommodation of home schooling in the state.

          We have no guarantee of continuing to have any of the freedoms we enjoy today accept as our founders noted, “Eternal vigilance.” That’s why THSC is here and why we will continue to push back against any and every attempt to limit the fundamental constitutional right of parents to direct the care, control and upbringing of their children. Even though it is not an “absolute” right, we are working to keep Texas families free!

  5. Stephanie says

    It’s sad to me that there are so many challenges to homeschooling in Texas. I now live in Alaska where homeschooling has support. There are those who homeschool due to location, but many do it by choice. Our programs are set up through several public school districts. Each family is assigned a certified contact teacher. The larger cities have school offices, resources, books, and sometimes organize field trips. Families get a set dollar amount from the state for curriculums. You can order from many companies. There are guidelines to follow -number of subjects, etc. to receive money. You can use Christian homeschool curriculum such as Calvert. There is a lot of freedom. Students do take the state tests. Hopefully, Texas will begin to look at how other states’ homeschool programs are operated and make changes to move forward. Homeschooling is growing, and it is NOT going away.

    • Tim Lambert says

      Stephanie,
      We have a lot of freedom too, but there are those who would like to see home schooling limited and some who oppose the kind of public school coordination you’ve described. I agree with you, though homeschooling is growing and we are NOT going away!

  6. Rachel Strait says

    We praise God for our freedoms that we have TODAY and seize every teachable moment with our children, so as to give them their own indestructible foundation. Matt 6:34 “therefore do not worry about tomorrow… Today has enough trouble of its own!”
    THANK GOD FOR TODAY!!

  7. Joni Hutchins says

    I just want to praise you, Mr. Lambert, and your well-run organization. It is a blessing of peace to the fluttering hearts of homeschoolers throughout Texas!