Does HSLDA Work with State Associations and Support the Autonomy of Homeschoolers?

Homeschoolers from various states have protested that the Home School Legal Defense Association has stepped in to change their laws to the extreme of going against the wishes of the state homeschool associations.

As presumed legal and legislative experts, [HSLDA attorneys] impose themselves on state networks and assume the individuals’ responsibility. When this happens, people on the state and local level are no longer building long-term relationships they can use, they are building relationships for HSLDA. When out-of-state attorneys fly in and start pulling tricks out of their hats they effectively circumvent the kind of networking and coalition building that can best serve the real needs of homeschooling families.

-Mark and Helen Hegener,
authors of Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk,
publishers of Home Education Magazine

“HSLDA waltzed into many states, including mine, as legislative experts and effected home education laws they could live with across the country. Now the strategy for HSLDA appears to be to freeze those unconstitutional laws in place. They certainly don’t need to lobby openly. They merely publish timely and biased bulletins encouraging their support groups to kill all new legislative efforts. Fear mongering is the typical method.”

-Doris Hohensee,
New Hampshire Alliance for Home Education


Examples

Illinois

Susan Frederick reports that on March 3, 1999, “the HSLDA lawyer took over the legislative hearing on the registration bill HB 2756 and became the one sole voice for homeschoolers” despite there being “a room full of Illinios homeschoolers” who were “ready, able and willing to testify.”

“HB 2756 was a bill that was intended to ‘protect’ the citizens of IL from those who had not been vaccinated. Under the guise of health, safety and welfare of the general public, homeschoolers would have been required to register and provide information that no other private school was required to do. In IL, homeschoolers are simply private schools, no registration or testing required.

The Christian Home Educators Coalition of Illinois flew in Scott Woodruff of HSLDA and somehow he managed to be the only representative allowed to speak for the homeschoolers. The measure passed by a narrow margin, in part because the imported HSLDA lawyer did such a poor job of objecting the presentation of homeschoolers as a filthy health hazard.”

“Many feel part of the reason that bill didn’t die in committee was due to the very ineffective job that the HSLDA lawyer did in stating the case against the bill. Because HB 2756 was not killed in committee much work had to be done to defeat it among the various representatives. Had at least one homeschooler who actually lived in Illinois been allowed to speak, it might have been a different matter.”

Michigan

Doris Hohensee writes, “In ’93 three MI Supreme Court cases were decided in favor of homeschoolers using the private school option in MI. Shortly afterwards Dee Witt Black of HSLDA told Pat Montgomery/Clonlara that MI needed a homeschooling law. Pat’s response was ‘over my dead body.’

“A stealth homeschooling bill passed the MI legislature in ’96 unbeknownst to homeschoolers in MI. In ’97 Michigan homeschoolers tried to repeal this homeschooling law (against efforts by HSLDA to keep the law on the books). HSLDA advised its members that the law created a valuable new option, that it did not take away any existing options, and that it was an “improvement” for home schoolers.

“‘Home education’ is now defined explicitly in Michigan law under the *public school code*, not as a form of private education. It’s only a matter of time before the some politician declares that homeschoolers are no longer private educators in Michigan. Scott Somerville’s/HSLDA response to this concern was: ‘So what?’”

If It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck

In 1995, a small collection of people, all connected to HSLDA and its affiliated Michigan state association secretly introduced and pushed through legislation that created a new definition of homeschooling, creating “a virgin field, ready to have a whole new set of case law plowed up out of it; a whole new set of lawyer fees to be paid to the lawyers doing the litigating, and a whole new set of homeschool families being scared into buying homeschool defense legal insurance.”

“In the end, a group of conniving individuals will be able to build bigger and fancier houses and be invited to serve on election committees as they move on to the next state to convince your legislators to clarify and expand the laws surrounding homeschooling. In fact, you can be sure they’re already there, laying the groundwork.”

New Hampshire

According to Doris Hohensee, “Unschooling is banned in NH because of the homeschooling law for which HSLDA came in and lobbied. We have requirements on defining a curriculum, maintaining portfolios of the child’s work, annual evaluation or testing, probation, termination and oversight council to allow some homeschoolers oversee other homeschoolers.

“When the current law was being introduced in the spring of 1990, HSLDA was heavily involved. HSLDA quickly flew to N.H., even before the first public hearing was held, for a special, private meeting with our legislature to help draft our new law. Mike Smith, from HSLDA, came to the legislative hearing and testified that the proposed legislation was ‘model legislation.’ Then HLSDA, along with the department of education, urged home educators to form organizations ‘in order to lobby’ hard for passage of their new bill.

HSLDA told homeschoolers in New Hampshire that this was one of the ‘best’ homeschooling laws in the country.

“However, by HSLDA founder Mike Farris’ admission in his book, Home Schooling and the Law, New Hampshire’s home education law is far from the best. According to this book, there are 25 states with less restrictive laws than N.H., 12 states have laws roughly equivalent to New Hampshire and only 12 state have laws more restrictive than New Hampshire.

“Had homeschoolers not allowed these ‘experts’ to compromise our rights, we would still have the old regulations, which were not litigable. Senator Disnard, the prime sponsor of the home education bill, said so. The old regulations were nearly impossible to litigate successfully since ‘manifest [educational] hardship’ was difficult to disprove. Senator Disnard explained that with this new law the State could finally ‘litigate and win against homeschoolers.

Doris Hohensee’s “Non-Compliance” Page

New York

As a response to proposed changes by the Home School Legal Defense Association and its associated state organization, Loving Education At Home, Inc (LEAH), the New York Home Education Network (NYHEN) created an E-mail discussion list, NY-Alert, in December 1999. A message from HSLDA attorney DeWitt Black asserted that NY homeschoolers live with the most restrictive regulations, and are, “in our opinion entitled to some regulatory relief.

Although the Home School Legal Defense Association was invited to the discussion, only an HSLDA legal assistant made two posts, which presented nothing substantive except that “HSLDA has not contacted any legislators in New York.” The legal assistant offered a two-day period during which list members were welcome to contact him with questions. He claimed to be unable to speak for HSLDA, but did not respond to the list moderator’s request for the presence of a representative who could enter the discussion.

LEAH president Paul Matte joined the list but made no substantive contributions initially. He has since contributed to various conversations but nothing further on the nuts and bolts of the pending situation. Working in concert with LEAH is Christian Home Educators’ Legislative Association (CHELA), a LEAH spin-off of LEAH, reportedly composed of those who consider the LEAH pace too slow.

The coordinator of the Brooklyn-Queens LEAH announced that, rather than participate on the list, she would prefer to keep “everything within LEAH and in NY state.” Lisa Miller, a member of both LEAH and HSLDA, posted that she was surprised that neither organization informed her that “there were changes in the works,” or asked members for their opinions.

Some members of the discussion list expressed disappointment that HSLDA and LEAH had not entered the dialog or answered questions. Others doubted whether there was a need or “good reason for HSLDA to be involved [in changing NY homeschool regulations] at all.”

Although admittedly aware of NYHEN and its NY-Alert discussion list, CHELA and LEAH began lobbying state legislators, without consulting or informing NYHEN. CHELA and LEAH are lobbying for a list of demands which, according to LEAH president Paul Matte, was “jointly developed by Home School Legal Defense Association and Loving Education At Home, Inc.

Seth Rockmuller, the head of the Alliance for Parental Involvement in Education (ALLPIE) expressed his reservations both to LEAH and CHELA, stating “I have serious concerns about home educators going to the legislature before completing discussions among themselves.

According to one of Rockmuller’s posts to the NY-Alert list, CHELA appears to have changed tack and is now “asking the committee to suggest changes to the Commissioner of Education rather than seeking a change in the law.” Rockmuller’s post noted that yet another new NY homeschool organization, Home Free, “circulated a special bulletin urging home educators to oppose CHELA’s efforts.”

The protracted discussions and insistence on full communication lead to NYHEN, LEAH and CHELA agreeing to sponsor an April 29th meeting open to all NY homeschoolers. According to a meeting announcement, “Prior to the adoption of the existing home education regulation in New York, there was an effective coalition of home educators from all sectors of the home education community. Since that time there has been a great deal of misunderstanding, sometimes mistrust, and very little communication. It is time to rebuild effective communications within our community.”

However, the founder of the NY-Alert list, author Linda Dobson, reported, “There was never much post-meeting talk or action, not even a follow-up meeting to date [December 29, 2000], and I don’t know what CHELA or LEAH are doing, if anything. Right now, attention is focused on the bill that raises the compulsory attendance age which, of course, works against homeschooling freedom instead of with it.”

[Note, on 12/27/00 NY's Governor Pataki vetoed the above mentioned bill.]

-From Shay Seaborne’s
combined and updated “National News” columns,
The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers

South Carolina

Dianna Broughton stated: “HSLDA attorneys were very instrumental in getting SCAIHS [an accountability organization] into existence via our state legislature in 1992. In return, SCAIHS made HSLDA membership a mandatory requirement. You couldn’t become a member of SCAIHS without becoming a member of HSLDA first. Homeschoolers could either homeschool through their local school district (often not an option due to district hostility) or through SCAIHS–those where the only two options at the time.

In 1996 a group of grassroots homeschool moms pushed through a third option of our law that allowed other associations to develop. (And no, we did not seek, nor were offered, help from HSLDA). While we were fighting that fight (or shortly after we won — I can’t remember the exact timing), SCAIHS dropped their mandatory HSLDA requirement.”

[NOTE from WebWeaver: Once the new law was in place, new organizations--some started by groups of homeschooling familes who wished for a truly inclusive association--sprung up quickly.]

Texas

HSLDA & Gun Free School Zones

This is a centralized power grab. Make no mistake about it.”

Texas resident Holly Fergason reports:

An HSLDA attorney asked if I wanted to be included in a lawsuit against the city of Houston with regard to the daytime curfew. This was in reply to a post where I said we had never had a problem with the curfew. Now, the only way we could have been a part of that lawsuit is if I had put my child in a position where he would have had problems (i.e. a manufactured crisis).

Not long after being asked, the city curfew ordinance came up for review. Despite pleadings from the secular homeschool community, HSLDA would not send their local people to speak out against the curfew even though several months later they turned out in full force to speak against the county daytime curfew and defeated it.

The difference? HSLDA needed the curfew (they were only preparing a case against the city so the county didn’t matter) in order to sue and look like homeschool heroes. The whole thing could have been taken care of by homeschoolers themselves had HSLDA not needed a crisis.

Other crises manufactured by HSLDA and its affiliated Texas Home School Coalition include: The University Interscholastic League (UIL) Crisis – The UIL governs competition only between *public* schools in Texas. HSLDA’s previously affiliated group, THSC, has been trying to get the UIL to allow homeschoolers to participate thereby differentiating us from other private schools.

The most amazing part of this crisis is the lawsuit they chose to support is a young softball player who not only wants to play on a public school team but wants to play on a team in another district because it’s better!

Some school districts have been allowing homeschoolers to participate in other activities and classes on a case by case basis but now have refused to work things out with parents because they fear getting caught in a lawsuit themselves!

The Gun Free School Zone Act (GFSZA) Crisis — This was a case in federal court in San Antonio to try to overturn the GFSZA which prohibits guns in and within a certain distance of schools. The case would have created a precedent definition in federal court of homeschooling had the judge not thrown it out. The GFSZA has sufficient remedy to allow homeschoolers to keep guns in their home, if they so desire. How could a bunch of Ivy League lawyers miss that?

The Re-entering Public School Crisis — When students transfer from one public school to another or from a private school to public school, the school districts can test the child and place them where they feel they need to be. The Texas HSLDA affiliate would like to make an exception in testing and evaluation for homeschool students claiming the policy that treats all students the same “discriminates” against homeschoolers setting us apart from other private school students further.

The Reasonable Cooperation Crisis — The decision in the lawsuit that reaffirmed Texans right to homeschool as private schools, Leeper -v- Arlington ISD, mentions that if questioned by school officials we should “reasonably cooperate”. Many homeschoolers feel that this basically means letting the local school district know that their children are being privately schooled. It’s the same answer a private school parent would give if asked!

The Texas Home School Coalition, however, went to the state commissioner of education “requesting” that he write a letter to the school superintendents defining “reasonable cooperation”. The letter states that homeschoolers, if asked, should submit a letter of assurance to the school district that they are homeschooling their children in a bona fide manner and using a curriculum that covers the five subjects mentioned in Leeper creating quasi-regulation and separating us still further from other private school families.

Of course, neither the superintendent of school districts nor the commissioner of education has any authority over children who are not enrolled in public schools so the whole issue is moot!

Mandatory Kindergarten Crisis — A bill was submitted last session to change the Texas Education Code (TEC) to require Kindergarten. The TEC, however, only regulates those students enrolled in public schools. As a matter of fact, the Democratic National Convention site contained a piece during this last presidential race that correctly pointed out that Texas doesn’t have a compulsory attendance law!

Tim Lambert, head of HSLDA affiliate Texas Home School Coalition, showed up to testify against this bill saying that it would force homeschoolers to buy curricula for their five year olds even if the parents felt that the child wasn’t ready. Of course, we wouldn’t have fallen under the TEC change and we don’t need to “buy” curricula but there he was standing in front a legislative committee misinforming them. The result? They thought that requiring parents of five year old homeschoolers to “register” would solve the non-existent problem!

Most of these “crises” would have led to a definition of homeschooling as separate from other private schools here in Texas, something that those of us who believe in homeschooling freedoms Do Not want since private schools are completely unregulated. But HSLDA keeps “finding” opportunities to attempt to define homeschooling as separate from private schools.

Virginia

Here in the Old Dominion, HSLDA has pushed legislation over objections by the The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers the inclusive state organization, which, according to its president, has spent much of its energy “doing damage control behind HSLDA.” For example, during the 1999 Va General Assembly, HSLDA promoted tax credit legislation that would have likely excluded those homeschoolers having a religious exemption about 20% of the state’s homeschool population. When VHEA suggested the remedy of a small change in the wording, HSLDA took no steps to correct the error. Still, according to “What is HSLDA?, the organization “regularly assists home school organizations to promote good legislation or fight restrictive legislation.

In addition, HSLDA made homeschoolers look goofy, with its response to a piece of legislation from 1999. Senate Bill 1316 would have made it illegal for Virginia’s public schools to allow access to homeschoolers. While VHEA did not consider this a vital issue, the law would have set a precedent for excluding homeschoolers from public programs. The state homeschool association spoke against the bill, and there was a motion to not report to the full committee. The chairman went on to another bill, when in walked Christopher Klicka of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Mr. Klicka spoke against SB 1316, after the matter had already been decided.

Mr. Shaw’s daughter, Elizabeth, had been present during the incident, and spoke on it when asked. “The nature of the remarks really annoyed the legislators. This was not good P.R. or good manners.” However, according to the VHEA president, HSLDA’s publication, “The Court Report” still claimed that the organization played a major role in defeating that bill.

Furthermore, HSLDA has refused to work with VHEA, although Mr. Farris denies this in a letter to John Holzmann [dated Mon, 27 Dec 1999], the publisher of the Sonlight curriculum. He wrote, “we work with groups who want to work with us. If we are failing to live up to this standard, then I would be glad to correct the situation.” To do so, Mr. Farris need go no further than his own backyard.

The Virginia Home Education Association has implored HSLDA to work together, and the latter has refused. June of 1999, VHEA called for a meeting with HSLDA. The state association representatives had hoped “to discuss concerns, share information, promote coordination and cooperation, and improve relations.” According to the July/August 1999 issue of the VHEA Newsletter, “VHEA explained, with specific examples, concerns we have about HSLDA’s conduct in Virginia relative to legislative strategies, bill craftsmanship, public relations, accuracy in reporting, and legal advice. VHEA representatives spoke with candor and without rancor, from the heart and from experience. VHEA offered to HSLDA various kinds and levels of information, cooperation, counsel and coordination.

HSLDA had asked for questions in advance of the meeting, which we had supplied, requesting general and specific responses. HSLDA declined to comment on much of what we had furnished in advance. HSLDA declined to commit to working together on anything. HSLDA would not concede that it has any obligation to concur with, consult with, or coordinate with VHEA, nor with any state homeschool organization in Virginia or in any state.”

Mr. Shaw later added, “Whenever discussing HSLDA, however frankly, we not-in-their-camp homeschoolers must always leave room and hope that it is actually possible, and would not be overly painful, for HSLDA to be true to themselves and improve their relations with the people who don’t accept HSLDA as representing them. It may not seem fair, but I think that the inclusivists– the democratic homeschool organizations– have the burden of continuously extending the hand of friendship and cooperation.”

-Shay Seaborne

 
 
 

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