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September / October 2003

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Standing together: 20 years later

by Zan Tyler

Just over a decade ago, homeschooling wasn't so easy in North Dakota. HSLDA worked with dedicated state leaders to make home education safe and legal.
As Home School Legal Defense Association celebrates 20 years of serving homeschoolers, both members and non-members alike can testify to its impact on their homes and communities. Homeschooling families across the country know from experience that HSLDA is more than just a law firm. It is a group of dedicated attorneys and staff members who share a common vision of homeschool freedom, educational excellence, and the protection of individual families. In this article, members of the homeschool community from across the country share what HSLDA has meant to them over the past 20 years.

Long-term commitment
On February 20, 1989, homeschoolers flooded the offices of North Dakota legislators with hundreds of tea bags with the attached message: "The consent of the governed for home schooling, too!" The "Bismarck Tea Party" expressed homeschoolers' frustration with years of unfair treatment. It would be another two years before the first permanent homeschool law in North Dakota was passed—a culmination of half a decade of collaboration between state homeschoolers and HSLDA.

"If you talk to Mike Farris, he'll tell you a lot about North Dakota, because he spent a lot of time here," says Gail Biby, Executive Secretary of the North Dakota Home School Association (NDHSA).

"Our story begins in 1986. Dr. Raymond Larsen, who is currently chairman of our board, was charged with violating the state's compulsory attendance laws. Several other families were also charged: the Patzers, the Reimches, and the Lunds. HSLDA attorneys handled this early case and fought continuous court battles up until 1993.

"It wasn't until 1989 that we got our first temporary homeschooling law passed in North Dakota. It was scheduled to sunset in 1991. But in 1991 our first permanent law passed. From 1986-1991, HSLDA was always a part of the process. Clinton Birst, who was president of NDHSA at the time, was in constant contact with Chris Klicka and with Mike. I don't know how we would have accomplished it without them.

"Our law was tampered with during every successive legislative session—1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2003. Each time we sought input from HSLDA.

"We depend on HSLDA. We had one issue arise recently in North Dakota over state assessment testing. Dewitt Black came to our state in February and testified in a Senate Education Committee meeting, and the bill was withdrawn."

Dr. Bruce Eagleson, Chairman of the Board for the Alliance of Christian Home Education Leadership and Vice-Chairman of the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP), tells a similar story about the drawn-out battle for the right to homeschool in Pennsylvania:

"Clearly in Pennsylvania we have been greatly blessed through HSLDA. Before the current law was passed in 1988, it was up to each school district to decide what they would require of homeschooling parents. Our particular school district required parents to have a teaching certificate in order to homeschool. That would have made it impossible to homeschool in Pennsylvania for most of us.

"This was overturned when HSLDA took a school district to court, and eventually the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruled that the Pennsylvania homeschooling statute was unconstitutionally vague. That very decision allowed Pennsylvania to pass a law that, although complex, is understandable and do-able."

Empowered through security
Michigan, home of the DeJonge case, was a hotbed of legal activity from the earliest days of HSLDA's history. Homeschoolers needed courage and confidence in the face of these attacks.

David Kallman, an attorney in Lansing who has served as HSLDA's local counsel for the state of Michigan since HSLDA's inception, attributes HSLDA with giving "a sense of security to a lot of people. A lot more people decided they were going to try homeschooling, knowing they had backup. They knew that HSLDA was there, that they could join and have protection, in the event they did get taken to court.

"Even beyond all the actual work that was done in the courtrooms and legislatures around the country, it was this sense of security that was given to people that empowered them. They knew HSLDA was there and would back them up."

Mark DeJonge, whose case was finally won before the Michigan Supreme Court after eight long years of appeals by HSLDA, said, "Joining HSLDA was the best investment I ever made!"

Confidence to persevere
Massachusetts, a small state with a large population, contains about 300 school districts, each of which is autonomous in what it requires of homeschooling families.

"In Massachusetts, each district superintendent is a law unto himself," explains Beverly Somogie. "And the guidelines that we do have arose from Massachusetts Supreme Court Cases." Beverly and her husband, Gary, founded Massachusetts Homeschool Organization of Parents (MassHOPE) in 1991. "Mike Farris came years ago and argued the Brunelle case; from that case homeschooling has gained a very positive image. The judges ruled very favorably for homeschoolers and basically said, 'Leave these families alone. They're doing a good job.'

"We've had five different superintendents in our town while we've been homeschooling. Each time there was a change, we had to have a meeting with the new superintendent. The last superintendent wanted us to meet with the principal of each school our children would be attending. We have four children and at that time they were in elementary, middle, and high school. The first year we did meet with all the principals out of courtesy. We educated the educators about homeschooling.

"The next year the superintendent wanted us to do it again, and we just said, 'It's really not necessary. We've met with these people. They know us, we know them.' She got very adamant about our compliance. Scott Somerville, HSLDA attorney and Harvard law graduate, wrote her a letter, and that was the end of that. We never heard from her again.

"Our situation was not unique. Homeschoolers have frequently been faced with unnecessary demands, such as unannounced home visits and severe testing requirements. HSLDA has given people in Massachusetts the confidence to homeschool-the confidence to say to an aggressive superintendent, 'No, this really isn't necessary.' Confidence is often the difference between perseverance and surrender."

State-by-state legislation
In 1988, Colorado homeschoolers began writing their state's first homeschool law. "Chris Klicka joined in to help us and provided immeasurable assistance," remembers Treon Goossen, Director of Concerned Parents of Colorado. "He wrote one of the key amendments in the law pertaining to record keeping, which has proven over and over to be a tremendous service to families.

"In 1994, when we worked on the major upgrade to our law, Chris came out and testified for us. We went into that legislative session asking for the moon, and we walked out with the moon. When working legislatively, we've learned to ask for everything we can, knowing that we might have to whittle down our original request. Well, we walked out with everything we asked for.

"Since that time, Chris has provided us with so much support and information. Even his illness hasn't slowed him down in terms of being there for me personally and for the state of Colorado.

"I'm so personally grateful for all that HSLDA has done. I know that homeschoolers across the state of Colorado join me in my gratitude."

A national presence
Mary Ann Eagleson, CHAP board member, gleans support and valuable information from the National Homeschool Leadership Summit, hosted every other year in Washington, DC, by the National Center for Home Education, a division of HSLDA.

"Because HSLDA goes to the trouble to host the National Leadership Summit every other year, they help keep us informed on those issues that have the potential to adversely affect the well-being of homeschooling families as a whole," she says. "State homeschooling leaders, in turn, are equipped to share these national areas of concern with their members. HSLDA has been a beacon for homeschooling families on the national front."

HSLDA hosts the National Home School Leadership Summit every other year in Washington, DC, to give state leaders a chance to dialogue and keep informed of trends in homeschooling related legislation.
A lifeline of support
Kathy Green, on the board of Homeschoolers of Maine, enthusiastically describes HSLDA's consistent, practical support. "We use HSLDA practically every day in this office, for one reason or another-for their advice, their wisdom, and their expertise. We're always calling on them for their help because they know what the answers are. If we don't consult them directly, we use the information on their website.

"We lean on HSLDA for all the information and knowledge that we need, every single day, to help homeschoolers across our state."

Nick and Sherri Sanders, HSLDA members in North Carolina, concur: "In 1983, we entered a lonely new world of homeschooling. When we found it hostile, HSLDA became our lifeline. [This is] a 20-year relationship worth keeping!"

Competent counsel, Christian worldview
Kent Vincent has been the Legislative Liaison for Christian Home Educators Confederation of Kansas (CHECK) since its inception about 12 years ago. A Topeka-area attorney, Kent and his wife have been homeschooling for 22 years. They just graduated their fifth child, leaving only six to go!

"I have represented homeschooling families since the pioneer days when everybody thought it was illegal in Kansas, and I have also been involved in legislative efforts," Kent says.

He continues,

With the advent of HSLDA in 1983, we had an organization that would back these families financially (in terms of legal assistance). In addition to the financial aspect, HSLDA has provided that rare blend of competent legal counsel with a Christian worldview. That has been invaluable in assisting families in their various problems with regard to our vague law here in Kansas.

I've been able to work with Chris Klicka, David Gordon, Scott Somerville, and Scott Woodruff, and now Jim Mason. All have been true gentlemen. They've all been helpful and very reassuring for these families who face uncertainties in Kansas. They have been a tremendous backstop in that whole system. Besides all that, they're just tremendous individuals. We've really appreciated getting to know them not only in these legal matters and legislative issues, but also at some of the homeschooling conferences.

Susan Beatty, 1982 co-founder and current Communications Director of the Christian Home Educators Association of California, adds:

HSLDA's significance to homeschooling worldwide lies within the dedicated men who launched and guided the organization. The dynamic yet oftentimes gentle presence and leadership of J. Michael Smith has given thousands of California homeschooling parents the courage to continue. In spite of moving from California to HSLDA headquarters in Virginia, Mike Smith remains 'our attorney' in the hearts of Californians.

Throughout its 20-year history, HSLDA has sought to effectively minister to the varied needs of homeschooling families. Sometimes that means fighting legal and legislative battles. Other times that means the day-by-day coaching of families facing difficulties. HSLDA attorneys stand in the gap by praying for and with families, counseling them, and dealing with government officials who step outside the law: police officers, social workers, school officials, and truancy officers. As HSLDA embraces a new decade of service, pray that the Lord will continue to sustain and bless their efforts among us.

About the author

Zan Tyler is the Home School Resource and Media Consultant for Broadman & Holman Publishers and the Editor of the Homeschool Channel for LifeWay's Web Network ( She is the founder and past president of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools. She and her husband Joe have three children and have homeschooled since 1984.