What Purpose is Served by HSLDA’s “Alerts?”

Do they Truly Promote and Protect Homeschooling Freedoms?

This is exactly the problem I have every year with HSLDA:
they lack information and accuracy in their legislative bulletins
.”
-Doris Hohensee, New Hampshire Alliance for Home Education

The First Federal Alarm:

HSLDA‘s “first federal alarm” was sounded in 1990, when Dr. Moore and others were working to modify part of a proposed law, S.695. But HSLDA‘s Mike Farris “unilaterally rang an alarm, then quickly claimed credit which legislators and D.C. leaders said should [go] to others.” Dr. Raymond Moore’s White Paper

Many informed and experienced homeschooling parents are wary of HSLDA‘s “Alerts,” having found them to be unreliable by virtue of being incomplete, alarmist and often, unwarranted.

The most infamous HSLDA alerts are:

H.R. 6:HSLDA‘s ‘Urgent Alert!’ of February 15, 1994, which said ‘H. R. 6, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will require home school parents (and all private school teachers) to be certified teachers.’ Many homeschoolers became upset and worried about a minor problem that could have been easily clarified. A great deal of time, energy, and money was spent in this unnecessary effort.”

A Homeschooler’s History, H.R. 6“: “Substantial amounts of important information had apparently been witheld…within two days of the first notification, thousands of calls jammed Capitol Hill switchboards, closing them down.

Gun Free School Zones Act: “This is a centralized power grab. Make no mistake about it – a request for a declaratory judgment cannot be implemented WITHOUT a FEDERAL definition of ‘home schools.’”

Gun Free School Zone Act and a Federal Lawsuit: “A federal suit was introduced and then dropped by the Home School Legal Defense Association in a misguided attempt to guarantee that federal legislation aimed at keeping guns out of schools does not prevent homeschoolers from owning guns.” (Perez v. Reno , US District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division, SA97CA1023.)

In HSLDA‘s home state of Virginia, the organization’s actions in the General Assembly are well documented. Giving rise to questions about HSLDA‘s motives are the incomplete information included in alerts, the ignoring of legislation that would affect homeschoolers in a positive manner, and the damage done by inappropriate alerts and other actions.

Incomplete Information:

HSLDA/NCHE’s alerts often don’t include the full information homeschoolers need in order to determine whether they support a proposed piece of legislation. In addition, the outcome of action alerts does not always serve homeschoolers’ best interests. For instance, during the 2000 Virginia General Assembly, HSLDA urged its “Alert” recipients to ask their state representatives to vote for the Virginia Children’s Educational Opportunity Act of 2000 (Senate Bill 336 and House Bill 68), which would have mainly benefited families whose children attend private schools: up to $2,500. But for homeschooling families, the credit would be a maximum of only $550 per child.

In addition, the bill defined which homeschooling materials would qualify: “textbooks, workbooks, curricula, and other written materials used for academic instruction, and tutoring fees charged by an individual teacher or a home school correspondence school for academic instruction.” That definition alone leaves out a significant portion of homeschoolers–the ones who do not use these materials, but prefer to use library books, hands-on activities, field trips, internships, community service projects, science museums, and so on.

Furthermore, HB 68 limited the subject matter; not allowing deductions for physical education, art, music, or driver education.

Ignoring Helpful Bill:

Although HSLDA and its associated state organization, the Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) promoted the tax credit bill, they refrained from assisting with the improvement of the VA homeschooling statute, undertaken by the state’s only fully inclusive association, the Virginia Home Education Association (VHEA). The grassroots organization was working for the passing of SB486 which would have gently increased homeschoolers’ freedom by reducing the local superintendents’ control. Unfortunately, VHEA was the only homeschool organization in the state that was working for this legislation, and other organizations’ actions had a negative effect.

Backlash:

According to then VHEA President, Will Shaw, who was present at the 2000 VA General Assembly, “the education tax credit legislation was loudly supported by certain homeschool organizations [HEAV and HSLDA, of course]. This contributed to some talk of more regulation of homeschoolers, such as imposing SOL-based testing.” SB486 was gutted in House Education Committee, but VHEA continued salvaging efforts. Then Amundson amendment–which would have required every homeschooling child to pass the SOL tests beginning this year–was attached as an apparent backlash against the pushing of the tax credit bill.

VHEA had implemented corrective measures against this very onerous amendment, and the highly trained and competent Legislative Committee felt entirely confident that the measure would be defeated. However, HEAV and HSLDA disseminated “emergency alerts, which were unwarranted, may have damaged preexisting legislative strategies, and succeeded only in creating panic among Virginia’s homeschoolers.” Still, HSLDA claimed victory when the Amundson amendment was defeated.

Murky Water:

Had HSLDA and HEAV worked with VHEA, Virginia’s homeschoolers would have a new measure of freedom. HSLDA did finally agree to work with VHEA on SB486, but by then it was too late; the bill had been gutted.

Earlier during the General Assembly, on February 13, I asked Michael Farris why SB486 wasn’t listed on HSLDA‘s “Alert Pager.” The following day, Mr. Farris responded to other elements of my correspondence, but gave no answer to that question.

On Feb 29, 2000, at a CrossWalk chat, Michael Farris said he had heard about SB486 for the first time just that morning “I knew vaguely about SB 486…in VA…but I don’t monitor every state.”

When asked, “why didn’t we hear about the bill before this?” Mr. Farris admitted “we made a mistake on SB 486…I didn’t know of its substance until today.”

Yet the HSLDA affiliated state organization, Home Educators Association of Virginia knew about SB486 since at least the evening of Tue, 22 Feb 2000. That is when HEAV’s Exectuive Director, Yvonne Bunn, sent an E-mail stating, “I’m putting together a legislative update right now to send out this week. I have been waiting for the final votes on several pieces of legislation. I’ll certainly include SB 486!”

Apparently HEAV knew about SB486 even earlier, as the organization admitted in their communiqu�, dated Tuesday, February 29, 2000. The “HEAV Update” about SB486 stated, “Early in the session [emphasis added], HEAV opposed language redefining and broadening the meaning of the word ‘parent’…We requested that this be removed.” Evidence indicates that HEAV and HSLDA knew about SB486 well in advance of the Amundsen amendment, but chose not to cooperate, or even inform their members of its existence.

A Loss for Homeschoolers:

The defeat of SB486 was a serious loss for Virginia’s homeschoolers. Imagine how helpful it would be if we posessed a little more freedom under the homeschooling statutes–which we could have won, had HSLDA and HEAV focused on assisting with SB486 instead of on a tax credit bill of questionable merit.

Adversity or Cordiality: Which Style Best Serves Homeschoolers?

An E-mail “Informational Update” sent by the HSLDA affiliated state association, HEAV, on Tuesday, August 22, 2000, included a segment on “SOL Documentation Controversy.” It informed readers that the superintendent of Goochland county, VA, is requiring homeschoolers filing under Option 4 (neither parent has a college degree, and the parents wish to use an other-than-pre-approved curriculum) to “link” each item in the state’s Standards of Learning (SOLs) to “an item in the table of contents or scope and sequence for mathematics and language arts.” This would be an onerous task and one well beyond the legal requirements.

The segment in the Informational Update noted that HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff planned to “speak in opposition to this policy” at a meeting of the Goochland County School Board on August 22, 2000.

The follow-up HEAV Informational Update stated that Mr. Woodruff had appeared at the meeting and “expressed opposition to the superintendent’s requirement.” The report included that “The school board did not publicly respond to Mr. Woodruff’s comments.

HEAV’s September 9, 2000 Informational Update mentioned that “So far, no action has been taken against the option IV families who have not provided SOL documentation.” The report included that a member of a Goochland county support group obtained “HSLDA‘s blessings” to attended the Board of Supervisors’ meeting. There, the support group member distributed “the HSLDA press release and an article from the Washington Times.”

The materials addressed a lawsuit HSLDA initiated on behalf of a Goochland county homeschool family whose child had been charged with truancy resulting in the county attorney calling for a closed session.

In contrast to the adversarial methods employed by HSLDA and its associated organizations, the Virginia Home Education Association quietly met with the Goochland County School superintendent and his deputy on September 11, 2000, where the parties discussed the situation in a cordial manner. VHEA suggested alternative approaches, resulting in the superintendent’s significantly changing his position, now only expecting that the option IV “parents attest they have seen the SOLs for math and language arts and their curriculum meets or exceeds them.”

The latest reports–as of December 30, 2000–indicate that there have been no further problems with the Goochland county superintendent’s office.
-Shay Seaborne

Updated: January 20, 2007

 
 
 

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