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No. 3

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by Andrea Longbottom
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How Safe is the Homeschool Horizon?

Part Two
Since the homeschooling movement’s rapid expansion in the 1980s, home educators have won significant freedoms, including the legal right to homeschool in all 50 states.

Still, just as homeschooling parents in the 1980s and ’90s faced battles to preserve their freedom, 21st century parents today face threats to homeschooling. In the March/April 2007 Court Report, we highlighted some of today’s ongoing challenges: school district policies that ignore established state homeschool laws and place additional restrictions on homeschoolers, and the threat from state and federal legislation that attempts to roll back freedoms already gained.

Other challenges for 21st century homeschoolers include social workers, public-school-at-home programs such as home-based charter schools, and a growing tension between parental rights and the government's control of children. A keen sense of alertness and commitment in the pioneers of modern home education resulted in the freedom we now enjoy—the same approach is crucial to preserving homeschool freedom today.

Social Workers: Constitution! What Constitution? / Jolanta Stozek

When investigating child abuse and neglect cases (including educational neglect) social workers are bound to honor a family’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy unless there is “probable cause” to invade that privacy. But HSLDA routinely encounters social workers who have violated the constitutional rights of innocent homeschooling families.

Today, HSLDA attorneys are dealing with more social worker situations than ever before. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics may explain one factor in this trend: “Social workers held about 562,000 jobs in 2004. . . . Employment of social workers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2014” (although the most dramatic job growth will be in the fields of gerontology and substance abuse). 1

Unfortunately, longstanding social worker policies that misapply the law have led to widespread misunderstanding about whether social workers actually have to obey the Constitution. In the October 2006 Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana, social issues reporter Tim Evans observed that

Indiana child protection workers have more power in many instances than police. They can enter homes without warrants and remove children based on quick personal observations, innuendo or hunches. The reasons are well-intentioned: Caseworkers must be able to intervene on behalf of children who often are scared, isolated and unable to protect themselves or seek help. The danger, some observers say, is that the confidentiality meant to protect children also allows caseworkers to abuse their authority.2 (emphasis added)

To help clarify social workers’ boundaries, HSLDA worked with U.S. House and Senate committees to amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, renamed the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act in 2003. The two new amendments signed into law require

child protective services workers to be trained in their duty to protect the statutory and constitutional rights of those they are investigating;

child protective services personnel to advise individuals subject to a child abuse and neglect investigation of the complaint or allegation made against them.3

Now, in order to receive federal funding, the states themselves must enact laws ensuring that these amendments are implemented. So far, 19 states4 have enacted at least part of these measures, and HSLDA is working with state homeschool organizations to advance legislation in the remaining 31. (The 19 states that have adopted legislation complying with the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.)

Social workers: Why so suspicious?

Instantly suspicious of any situation out of the ordinary and often having little experience with the warm, loving atmosphere homeschooling provides children, social workers can be particularly aggressive when dealing with homeschoolers.

Dawn Robertson, assistant director of a parents’ rights group called Honk for Kids, told Indiana’s Journal Gazette that “she thinks many caseworkers take action based on impressions and their personal conflicts with parents, rather than facts.”5

Media reports on occasional dramatic crimes involving homeschoolers also contribute to leading the public to assume the worst about homeschoolers in general. For example, in 2003, CBS aired a two-part TV story called “The Dark Side of Home Schooling” and “Home Schooling Nightmares,” which featured several gruesome stories of child abuse and neglect among families supposedly homeschooling their children. By isolating these incidents and failing to give adequate attention to the well-documented success of homeschooling, the story gave its audience an imbalanced view of home education.

After describing a 2001 murder/suicide involving three homeschooled children (who actually had been repeatedly contacted by social workers and thus were not “hidden”), an article by the Charlotte World online posed the question, “Even though these children’s lives ended under tragic and possibly preventable circumstances . . . Should any family’s decision to homeschool automatically alarm social workers?”6

“Absolutely not,” responds HSLDA President Mike Smith. “The failure of a few should not open innocent homeschooling families to suspicion and regulation.”

In a 2005 interview with Social Work Today magazine, homeschooling father and social worker Ray Martinez said,

I think social workers should approach homeschools with an expectation that they are strong, healthy, and functional. If evidence does not substantiate that view, then intervention must take place. But to operate under the assumption that these people are isolated, that parents are neglectful, and that children are lazy and not receiving proper nutrition or education is really inappropriate. Professionally, we are obligated to investigate, trained not to always take things at face value, and duty bound never to operate from a practice governed by stereotypical opinion.7

Such an approach would help eliminate many unwarranted social services allegations concerning homeschool families.

According to Christopher Klicka, another reason that social worker contacts among homeschoolers are increasing is the ease with which people can make baseless anonymous tips. In a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), anonymous “reporters” constituted the highest number of report sources outside of professional reporters (such as educational and social services personnel).8 It is HSLDA’s experience that most calls to social services are made by anonymous individuals (many of them relatives or neighbors). Some of these callers are sincerely concerned about a family—others use social services to show their disapproval of a family’s lifestyle choices, or in some cases, to settle a score.

The seemingly high number of baseless allegations is supported by statistics from the Administration for Children and Families. ACF estimated in 2004 that over 60 percent of investigated reports were unsubstantiated, meaning that “there was not sufficient evidence under State law to conclude or suspect that the child was maltreated or at risk of being maltreated.”9

HSLDA President Mike Smith estimates that currently four percent of homeschoolers nationwide are contacted or investigated. “But if you are in that four percent, it is a very frightening experience,” says Smith.

Although social worker investigations and contacts are numerically low across the homeschool population as a whole, the increase in contacts and investigations in recent years is a real threat facing 21st century homeschoolers. Families should be aware of the possibility of a social worker coming to their door, should know their rights, and should skillfully resist an unwarranted intrusion.

Public School at Home

What would you say to a homeschool program that gave you curriculum, a computer, and regular access to experienced schoolteachers—all for free? Does it sound too good to be true? It just might be. Public-school-at- home programs (also referred to as virtual charter schools, cyber schools, or online schools—not to be confused with private online schools) are attracting thousands of homeschooling families. While these schools offer helpful services, homeschoolers should be aware that they are public schools, and as such, they present a growing threat to the private home education movement.

Public-school-at-home programs come in a variety of forms. The two most well-known models are public school online programs and home-based (or virtual) charter schools.

Many public school districts offer online classes, giving students the opportunity to take classes at the school or from home-students can take all their classes online, or use the online programs to supplement on-campus classes. Additionally, these programs augment enrollment at the public school, resulting in increased state and federal funding.

And then there are home-based charter schools—an innovative, fast-growing alternative to traditional public schools that seems to be particularly attractive to private homeschoolers.

Home-based charter schools are the 21st-century sequel to brick-and-mortar charter schools. All charter schools are publicly funded, and operate under the sponsorship of a state board of education, local school board, or other entities designated by the state.10

What makes home-based charter schools different is the opportunity for students to study from home. Some of these programs are centered around online instruction. Other programs provide a textbook-based curriculum and maintain parent/teacher communication via phone and internet. All of these schools use state-certified curricula, mandate standardized testing, and require the parent to regularly report the child’s progress.

The bottom line is that many of these schools place parents in the role of monitor or guide, not teacher. As Pennsylvania’s WNEP-TV 16 News Station explains in an online article on traditional public cyber schools, “Parents are not the teachers, but they are required to make sure the children are following the cyber school’s curriculum.”11

The Wisconsin Virtual Academy, an in-home charter school, describes the responsibility of parents who enroll their children in the program: “Parents (or other responsible adults) guide students through the lessons and ensure that children are learning. They also contact teachers when students are experiencing academic problems, help students manage their time and set goals, monitor student work, and fill out daily attendance logs. Parents are also expected to participate in regularly scheduled conference call[s] with their teacher(s).”12 (emphasis added)

According to the Center for Education Reform, virtual charter schools are active in 19 states, and 92,300 students are currently enrolled across the nation, as of early 2007.

“If we can’t beat ’em, let’s join ’em”

One mission of these virtual schools is to provide a choice for parents who homeschool their children, states Instructor, Scholastic’s magazine for schoolteachers.13

Kansas public school superintendent Randy Weseman said, “Our virtual school is mostly home schooled students. My philosophy is to work with families and help them become comfortable with public schooling.”14

But according to Christopher Klicka, public schooling is exactly what many homeschooling families have rejected so they can be free from governmental oversight and train their children according to their own beliefs and values. Klicka surmises that state departments of education recognize that homeschoolers cannot be persuaded to enroll their children in traditional public schools. So, the home-based charter school model is the departments’ way of saying, “If we can’t beat ’em, let’s join ’em.”

While home-based charter schools seek to attract homeschoolers for many reasons, the possibility of increased funding creates a powerful incentive. Just as traditional public schools try to find ways to count homeschoolers as part of their enrollment, thereby increasing per-pupil funding, home-based charter schools provide another way to assimilate homeschoolers into the public school system—and pad charter school budgets with extra government dollars.

“As HSLDA has pointed out in the past, the issue is money and control,” says HSLDA President Mike Smith. “The higher the student enrollment, the more money the school receives.”

Why are charter schools a threat?

Accountability to and control by the government are key components of home-based charter schools. For instance, the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School (PAVCS) provides parents with a complete curriculum and testing requirements, connects parents with a teacher who monitors the program and to whom the parent is accountable, and requires parents to maintain attendance logs, among other conditions.

“The government takes responsibility for the education of children enrolled in virtual charter schools,” reports the Wisconsin Parents Association. “[The government] controls these schools; and dictates the knowledge, skills, and values their students are to acquire.”15

Because of this responsibility to the government, home-based charter schools also lose the “genius of flexible, individualized homeschooling,” Mike Smith says. The self-pacing of a home-based charter school, by nature of its government accountability, can never match the flexibility and tailored curriculum that homeschooling offers.

Parents’ ability to integrate religious beliefs with their child’s education is also limited in these schools. Because home-based charter schools are publicly funded, they are restricted from using religion-based curriculum. For example, MTS Minnesota Connections Academy explains that parents interested in their program should be “comfortable with a secular curriculum.”16 (See the March/April 2007 Court Report to read about one mother’s experience with the curriculum restrictions of a home-based charter school.)

“These are the same issues we fought so hard against in the ’80s and ’90s—in order to win the right to be free from this kind of control,’ says Christopher Klicka. Not only does government control restrict the flexibility and religious component of a child’s education, but it could eventually lead to another problem: If homeschoolers submit to government supervision through these public-school-at-home programs, public school officials and legislators may be further encouraged to regulate independent homeschoolers.

The Idaho Coalition of Home Educators and Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State elaborate on this threat of increased regulation:

The IDEA [Interior Distance Education of Alaska] program initially included significant freedom and flexibility. Gradually those freedoms have been curtailed as calls for ‘accountability’ have gained traction. The same will occur in Idaho. And sadly, those calls will encompass not only those families enrolled in this [Idaho Distance Education Academy] program, but all traditional home schoolers, as well. The lines that have historically separated public school students from home schoolers will be sufficiently blurred to make it significantly more difficult to maintain our precious home schooling freedoms.17

Home-based charter schools may fit the needs and lifestyles of some parents and children. But for parents who want to train their children spiritually and academically, at their own pace, these programs contain some of the same roadblocks to that goal as do public schools. It may be hard to resist free services and to see home-based public schools as a challenge to homeschooling—but it will be even harder to regain homeschool freedom once lost.

Parental Rights: A Storm is Brewing

“HSLDA’s primary purpose is to protect and advance freedom for families who want to teach their children at home,” says Mike Smith. “This freedom is based upon two fundamental rights: parental rights and the free exercise of religion.”

In its landmark parental rights case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the Supreme Court affirmed the right of parents to choose non-public education for their children. To date, the Supreme Court has stood by parental rights.

Yet, international tremors threatening parental rights are now being felt in the U.S., helping create a favorable climate for the government to usurp parental authority. According to HSLDA Chairman and General Counsel Michael Farris, the biggest threat by far to American parents is an international treaty called the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Already ratified in 193 of 195 eligible countries (Somalia and the United States are the exceptions), the UNCRC guarantees certain rights to children, such as the right to education and freedom of association. The threat the UNCRC poses to American parents is that it gives the UN the authority to decide what is best for children, regardless of what their parents (or their country) might think.

In the United States, parents’ rights are “unenumerated” rights, meaning that they are historically recognized as important, but not guaranteed in the text of the U.S. Constitution. While the UN treaty cannot trump rights spelled out in the Constitution, it can trump an unenumerated right.

One of the reasons the U.S. has not ratified the UNCRC is precisely because of the treaty’s threat to parental rights. And yet, pressures against parental rights within the U.S. are preparing the way for this treaty’s ratification. “The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have already begun to use international theories of children’s rights in interpreting American law,” says Mike Farris.18

As Farris has pointed out in a previous Court Report article, a New York federal district judge said in two separate cases in 2002 that the UNCRC is binding on the United States. And in 2005, the Supreme Court stated that the UNCRC should be considered a reliable guide in interpreting the U.S. Constitution.19

The trend towards officially establishing child rights is even making its way to Capitol Hill. In 2005, Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., introduced House Joint Resolution 29, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee a child’s right to a public education. If passed, H.J.R. 29 would transfer to the government the parental right to decide whether or not to homeschool a child. While H.J.R. 29 died at the end of the 109th Congress, it could be resurrected in the future.

“International law has gained serious momentum,” says Farris. “There’s no doubt that if international law and children’s rights begin to apply to the United States, our traditional standards will be overturned.”

The UNCRC is not the only international threat to parental rights. Parents homeschooling in Germany, where home education has been illegal (except in certain circumstances) since the Nazi era, are facing intense persecution because of their educational choice.

In September 2006, a German homeschooling mother was taken to jail. In February 2007, a German homeschooled teen was forcibly taken away from her parents, put in the child psychiatry unit of a clinic, and later transported by government authorities to an undisclosed foster care location. Over 40 German homeschooling families have been saddled with fines, jail time, or the removal of their children, while others have fled the country. In its September 2006 decision in Konrad and others v. Germany, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Germany’s long history of intolerance toward homeschooling when it ruled that the state’s interest in educating a child superseded the right of parents to educate their children according to their “religious or philosophical convictions.”20

The current persecution of German homeschoolers illustrates what happens when the government supersedes the parent in deciding how a child is raised.

“The European decision should serve as a wake-up call to American parents,” states Mike Farris. 21

U.S. courts falter on parental rights

In addition to the growing influence of child rights, there is an ever-increasing clash between government control and parental rights. This trend is evident in American courts.

In summer 2006, the choice of cancer treatment for 16-year-old Starchild Abraham Cherrix became a matter of media interest—and a public battle for parental rights. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 2005, Abraham underwent one round of chemotherapy, which drastically reduced his weight and strength, while only shrinking, not eliminating, his tumors.

After researching an alternative method of treatment involving herbal remedies and an organic diet, Abraham decided to try that method and discontinue chemotherapy. While this was contrary to his doctor’s recommendation, the Cherrix family agreed to let their son try the new treatment. In doing so, they locked horns with a juvenile court judge, who mandated that Abraham take chemotherapy.

After a round of courtroom hearings, the Cherrix family eventually reached a compromise with the government, allowing Abraham to undergo radiation treatment as well as try the alternative methods he had researched.22

That the Cherrix case was resolved without denying parental authority is an encouraging indication of the generally favorable attitude toward parental rights in our nation today. But the case also provides a frightening glimpse into what happens when the government takes on the parental responsibility of deciding what is best for a child.

While parental rights are currently held in high esteem by most people in the U.S., “the general trend of society” will naturally gravitate away from this view over time, says Mike Farris.

Public schools: “Parents, be quiet”

Parental rights are also facing a challenge in America’s public schools. A handful of federal courts of appeal have already ruled that parents give up certain parental rights when they send their children to public school.23

Some parents who have encountered inflexible public school policies have attracted media attention, such as Massachusetts father David Parker. When Mr. Parker wanted to opt his 6-year-old son out of public school classes which included discussions about homosexuality, the school refused to grant permission. Believing that parents should have the freedom to opt their children out of such classes and claiming their rights under a state parental notification law, the Parker family filed a parental rights lawsuit against their school system. On February 23, 2007, the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal district court judge who claimed that parents have no right to dictate what is taught in a public school. The Parkers’ lawyers have filed an appeal to the dismissal.24

According to the online WDC Media News, “Parker says there are more fundamental constitutional issues at stake beyond the Massachusetts opt-out provision: the right to the free exercise of religion; the right of parents to be ‘the primary directors of the moral education of their children’; and the right to ‘enjoy the zone of privacy’ related to intimate family matters.”25

In a 1997 publication, the Center for Reclaiming America described various violations of parental rights within public schools, including sensitive medical examinations of children without parents’ knowledge. “These few cases are but the tip of an immense iceberg of dangerous social programming threatening the rights of citizens, parents, and their children all over America,” the Center states. “The courts have almost always sided with the schools over the parents.”26

The right of parents to train and educate their children is an integral part of the foundation for homeschool freedom—without this solid base, all other homeschool freedom crumbles.

A Battle Worth Fighting

The threats to homeschooling in the 21st century come from many sources—school districts, state and federal legislatures and local municipalities, social workers, public-school-at-home programs, and changing views of parental rights across the globe. These threats are real and must be challenged. The first step to defeating them is awareness. The next step is action.

As you teach fractions to your 4th grader or gather your children around you for an hour of reading aloud, keep in mind the larger picture of why you can freely homeschool. It is only by the continued, united efforts of all homeschoolers that we will be able to hold onto the freedoms we possess and fight for those we hope to gain.

Know the issues

Stay informed about your city and school district policies, and state and federal legislation. Write to your congressmen and senators, and find out where they stand on issues that affect your freedom to homeschool. You can also sign up for HSLDA’s E-lert Service—these emails alert you to legislation affecting homeschooling and many times call for specific action on your part, such as calling or writing your elected officials. HSLDA's web page also features information on legislation and legal victories and challenges in each state.

Be involved

Homeschoolers can make a strong stand for their freedom when they unite.

  • State homeschool organizations and local support groups are great ways to stay connected to the homeschool movement as a whole.
  • Homeschool conferences are another way to get plugged in. To find out more about conferences near you, visit
  • Membership with Home School Legal Defense Association connects you to 80,000 other homeschooling families across the nation. “We are committed to defending your right to homeschool, monitoring homeschool legislation in all 50 states, and promoting home education,” says HSLDA President Mike Smith.

What about the attack on parental rights? What can parents do?

Mike Farris says that the only way to protect parents’ rights in America is by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “This is a multi-year process that’s going to take a lot of work,” he explains. Farris emphasizes the need to pass the amendment before the current societal support for parental rights diminishes. “Frankly, we need to get this enacted before today’s 13-year-olds take over,” he says.

Passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution will require a major grassroots effort, starting with homeschooling families. “There’s no substitute for grassroots pressure,” says Farris. He encourages parents to educate themselves about the threat to parental rights, ask elected representatives about their views on the subject and help educate them, and petition congressmen and senators for their support. You can also join, an organization launched by HSLDA in April 2007 to generate support for a constitutional amendment protecting parents’ rights.

Looking ahead

Homeschoolers have repeatedly proven that they care about their freedom and will fight to preserve it. “The pioneers of homeschooling were willing to risk prosecution and the removal of their children,” says Mike Smith.

This same spirit was evident among the 2,000 homeschoolers who packed the Montana State Capitol in defense of their freedom in February 2005.

For two hours, witnesses testified against Senate Bill 291, which threatened to place a stranglehold on homeschool freedom.

They began with Miss Montana (a homeschool graduate) and included HSLDA’s Dewitt Black. The stack of written testimonies grew three feet high. In the end, the Senate Education Committee tabled the bill, leaving only the bill’s sponsor in favor of it.

Thanks in large part to the swift efforts of the Montana Coalition of Home Educators, which spread the word about the harmful bill to area homeschoolers, who then took action to prevent S.B. 291 from becoming law, home education in the Treasure State was protected.

Battles against homeschooling exist, but by uniting forces, responding to both helpful and harmful legislation, and refusing to yield ground, homeschoolers will chart a steady course into the years ahead.


1 U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Social Workers,” The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 edition.

2 Tim Evans, “Critics form parents’ rights group,” Fort Wayne (IN) Journal Gazette, October 14, 2006.

3 Christopher Klicka, “Memorandum,” Home School Legal Defense Association, January 9, 2007.

4 Christopher Klicka, “Home Schooling in the United States: A Legal Analysis,” Purcellville, VA: Home School Legal Defense Association, 2007.

5 Evans, “Critics form parents’ rights group.”

6 Angie Vineyard, “Does DSS Target Homeschoolers?” The Charlotte World, May 2, 2002. .

7 Matthew Robb, “The ABCs of Homeschooling,” Social Work Today, September/October 2005, 5:17.

8 John A. Gaudiosi, project director, “Figure 2-1 Report Sources, 2004; Child Maltreatment 2004,” Child Maltreatment 2004, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families.

9 John A. Gaudiosi, project director, “Chapter 2 Reports; Child Maltreatment 2004,” Child Maltreatment 2004, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families.

10 Center for Education Reform, “FAQs”.

11 Rosa Yum, “The Cyber School Option,” WNEP-TV 16, November 8, 2006.

12 Wisconsin Virtual Academy, “Frequently Asked Questions.”

13 “Online K-8 Schools Growing,” Instructor, Scholastic, March 2003.

14 Lawrence (KS) Journal-World, “Chat with Randy Weseman,” February 22, 2006. Initially reported by Scott Woodruff, “Across the States: Kansas,” Home School Court Report, May/June 2006.

15 Wisconsin Parents Association, “Homeschoolers and Virtual Charter Schools,” fact sheet, August 2004.

16 MTS Minnesota Connections Academy, www.connectionsacademy .com/state/home.asp?schoolCode=mtsmca. Scroll down the page and click on “Take the self-assessment” to view the parent survey.

17 Idaho Coalition of Home Educators and Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State, “The Siren Call: The Dangerous Lure of the Idaho Distance Education Academy.”

18 Michael P. Farris, “Can America Protect Parental Rights from the Onslaught of International Law?” Home School Court Report, November/December 2006.

19 Michael P. Farris, “Parental Rights: Why Now Is the Time to Act,” Home School Court Report, March/April 2006.

20 Konrad and others v. Germany (2006). Go to and select “Case-Law” to search for the text of the decision.

21 Farris, “Can America Protect Parental Rights from the Onslaught of International Law?”

22 Description of Cherrix’s illness and treatments aided by Jerry Markon’s article, “Fight Over a Child’s Care Ends in Compromise,” Washington Post, August 17, 2006. Available by payment through Washington Post archives.

23 Some examples of anti-parent federal circuit court decisions are Mozert v. Hawkins County Public Schools, 827 F.2d 1058 (6th Cir. 1987); Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc. 68 F.3d 525 (1st Cir. 1995); and Fields v. Palmdale School Dist., 427 F.3d 1197 (9th Cir. 2005).

24 Mass Resistance, May 14, 2007.

25 Jim Brown, “Mass Parents Await Word on Parental Rights Lawsuit,” AgapePress, 2006. As reprinted by WDC Media News.

26 The Center for Reclaiming America, Issues Tearing Our Nation’s Fabric, Fort Lauderdale, FL: Coral Ridge Ministries, 1997. Accessed through Leadership University.