Close to home
Several Legatus families join nationwide trend to educate their children at home . . .
When Mark and Linda Pierce’s two youngest children go out during the day, a letter from the local school superintendent saying they’re homeschooled (and therefore excused from being in a conventional classroom) is always with them.
“It’s something they carry just like you carry your driver’s license,” Linda Pierce said. The letter is one of the steps the couple, members of Legatus’ Cleveland Chapter, have taken to ensure they don’t run afoul of authorities concerning the family’s decision to homeschool. The Pierces also follow all requirements when submitting paperwork to the state.
“I don’t want them coming back with anything that says we haven’t complied,” she said.
With homeschoolers in Europe being arrested and having their children taken away — and U.S. courts and legislators taking on home education cases and regulations — parents who have opted to teach their children themselves know it’s wise to do things by the book.
Although homeschooling here doesn’t appear to be under an imminent threat of draconian restrictions or efforts to ban it, parents who homeschool nonetheless are staying informed about legislative and judicial developments. And they’re poised to fight when necessary.
“I don’t think we’re at a crisis phase,” said Linda Pierce. “But we need to keep our eyes and ears open and work so that certain legislation is not passed.”
Ann Martin and her homeschooled children often travel to their state capital to talk to legislators when laws affecting home education are proposed. “We dress in our best, hop on the train and go to see our representatives,” she explained. “In Missouri, we’re very blessed to have the freedom to homeschool. We don’t take it for granted.”
Martin and her husband Jeff, members of Legatus’ St. Louis Chapter, began homeschooling their children in 1993.
Since then, Ann Martin said, she has never had problems with authorities. “I have excellent records. I know what the law is for Missouri.” She advises parents to know and follow their state laws and also to join the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which helps homeschoolers get started, advocates for them legally and tracks state and federal legislation affecting homeschooling and parental rights.
Danielle Bean, a New Hampshire-based Catholic author, blogger and a homeschooling mother of eight, agrees. “We can’t give fodder to accusations that we’re not taking our children’s education seriously.”
“In New Hampshire every year, a couple of state legislators get it in their minds that homeschoolers are slackers,” she explained. “They decide they want to hyper-legislate and give us more paperwork. The HSLDA is on top of these cases. They help keep people informed, and parents go in to testify against these bills. So far they’ve haven’t succeeded in passing these really restrictive laws.”
A quick look at the Homeschooling News on the HSLDA website shows that the group is dealing with plenty of challenges — both legislatively and in the courts.
Mike Donnelly, HSLDA staff attorney and a homeschooling father of six, said that as homeschooling grows, it’s gaining more attention and generating a certain amount of conflict between proponents of home education and authorities.
HSLDA estimates that more than 2 million children are homeschooled in the U.S., representing about 4% of the school-aged population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, homeschooling has been increasing at a rate of 7% per year for each of the past 10 years. “Given the numbers of people involved, you would expect you’re going to have more head-butting with the state over the issue,” Donnelly said.
In the United States, he said, homeschooling advocates have worked hard over the last three decades to get good policies and legislation in place — and to defend the right of parents to educate their children at home. He said foreign countries have yet to grapple with homeschooling in the way the U.S. did when home education came on the scene here in the 1980s. “We’re 30 years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of our homeschooling experience,” he said.
In Germany, homeschoolers are routinely fined and threatened with prison, and courts there have upheld government efforts to “stamp out” homeschoolers as a “parallel society.” Because of this, a German Christian homeschooling family sought and was granted asylum in the U.S. earlier this year, although the federal immigrationenforcement agency here is appealing a U.S. immigration judge’s decision to grant them refuge.
In another case, the seven-year-old homeschooled child of a Christian couple in Sweden was removed from his home last year because officials there said homeschooling was an inappropriate way to raise a child.
Roger Kiska, legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund which has worked with HSLDA on homeschooling cases, said that in addition to conflicts over home education, problems have emerged in Europe with parents who simply wanted to take their children out of public school sex-education classes that promote abortion or the homosexual agenda. This has become a regular occurrence despite international law designating parents as the primary educators of their children and the European Convention of Human Rights saying the state must respect parents’ right to raise their children according to their own faith.
“It’s not about what parents want, but what the states want,” said Kiska, who is based in the Slovak Republic, where he specializes in international litigation with a focus on European law. “Individual states are trying to have cookie-cutter children under their social ideologies. The state is really trying to usurp the role of parents.”
Those who choose to homeschool their children often do so precisely because of their belief that parents, not the state, are their children’s chief educators — a stance supported by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1653).
“I think we forget that, as Catholics, we parents are the primary educators of our children,” said Ann Martin. “This is clearly outlined by the Church. So when we make a decision to turn our children over to schools, we do that with confidence that the school will raise that child and bring him up in a Catholic fashion — one that will nurture their souls. If a school doesn’t have those goals, we can’t have our children in that school.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the top two reasons that parents homeschool are their concerns about the school environment and a desire to provide religious or moral instruction.
Many also find it cost effective. For example, Ann Martin estimates that she spends about $500 per child annually for participation in the Seton Home Study program, which includes all books, access to online material, teachers and grading. By teaching her children at home, where they are away from peer pressure to conform to the latest styles, she saves money on clothes and transportation.
Although a common objection to homeschooling is that parents are not qualified to teach their own children, studies show that homeschooled students excel academically compared to their peers in public schools. The Progress Report 2009, a survey of more than 11,000 homeschooled students, found that the average homeschooler ranked 37 percentile points higher than the average public school student.
Despite such success, there are still those who are determined to thwart parents’ efforts to teach their own children. HSLDA media relations director Ian Slatter said that even though homeschooling has been formally recognized in all 50 states, threats to it are real.
“Many state legislators across the country regularly introduce legislation to regulate homeschooling, and homeschool families are still victimized by people who make anonymous tips to social services agencies.”
In addition, Slatter said, if the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is ever ratified by the U.S., it could jeopardize the right to homeschool.
“The UNCRC would supersede every state and federal law and alter the legal relationship between parents and children by giving the state the authority to make decisions in the ‘best interests’ of the child whether the parent agreed or not,” he said.
That’s all the more reason for parents — whether or not they homeschool — to stay on top of elected officials and pray for their children’s future, Ann Martin said.
“Everything we do has to be done with prayer,” she said. “We have to place our children in God’s hands every day and make sure we’re doing everything we can to give them the best education possible.”
Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.
Homeschooling New York couple arrested
HSLDA defends couple who failed to file paperwork
A homeschool legal defense group has come to the defense of a New York couple who were arrested for failing to register their four homeschooled children at the local school district for the past seven years.
Richard and Margie Cressy were arrested by the Montgomery County Sheriff in January on child endangerment charges for not registering their children, ages 8-14, at the local district. The Cressys submitted and won official approval for their homeschool curriculum for the 2009-2010 school year but soon after were arrested for not having done so in previous years.
The Home School Legal Defense Association agreed to defend the couple after they requested legal guidance from the group.
“It was completely unnecessary to arrest these parents,” HSLDA senior counsel Jim Mason said in a statement shortly after the incident. “We will be working with our local New York counsel to aggressively defend these homeschool parents against the charges.”
Fona-Fultonville Schools superintendent Richard Hoffman told a local news station that the Cressys “didn’t fulfill their legal responsibility to file with the school district to be homeschooled.”
Mason said that the Cressys had not in fact broken the law, and the police’s decision to arrest the couple was “highly unusual.”
“It is not illegal to do what they did,” said Mason. “There’s a regulation that has established a safe harbor that if you do register, then this sort of thing will not likely happen. This is basically a paperwork issue, not a [child] endangerment issue. I’ve been here more than eight years, I’ve dealt with situations in New York off and on during those eight years. This has never happened in my experience.”
The Cressys’ children were never removed from the home, Mason said. After discussions with the prosecutors, criminal charges against the couple were dropped earlier this spring, according to the HSLDA
“The criminal court judge has transferred the matter to family court, where it is being dealt with in a confidential fashion pursuant to New York’s Family Code,” the statement said. “There are no longer any pending criminal charges.”