Is There any Such Thing as a “Safe” State for Homeschooling?
By Michael P. Farris
A number of situations have developed since I started the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 which have led me to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a “safe” state for homeschoolers.
Before rehearsing these episodes for you, let me clarify the purpose I had in starting HSLDA, to get a view of what I mean by a “safe state.” Although we have a phenomenal win-loss average, HSLDA does not guarantee victory if your homeschool is attacked by government authorities. We guarantee you a defense. Any lawyer can guarantee a defense—but an association of homeschoolers can guarantee a defense with two features that no lawyer can be expected to match.
First of all, your membership fee of $100 per family per year includes a free attorney to represent the member family. Some attorneys have sent our member families bills for over $10,000. HSLDA pays every penny for attorney fees. The families pay nothing (although they may have some court costs and other incidental charges—but nothing for attorney fees).
Secondly, because we deal with so many homeschooling cases, we have maintained a high experience level in managing exclusively homeschool legislation. As a result, we are able to give dependable service, usually good final results, and protect constitutional rights by establishing good precedent for the interest of all homeschoolers, as well as the specific family under attack.
Now, you may think you live in a 7ldquo;safe” state. In fact, the law may be entirely favorable to homeschooling. But that does not mean you will not be attacked in court.
Only one HSLDA member family has ever been jailed in the history of our organization. Without warning, a father and mother were both arrested, booked, and jailed in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is generally considered, even by us, to be one of the safest states with one of the best laws in the country. But this matters little when a father and mother are in jail. HSLDA hired and paid an attorney, the parents were released, and the case was won. The family paid nothing.
A man in Texas thought he lived in a safe school district. Just before the family heard me give an HSLDA presentation, the superintendent, who was a personal friend, told them they would not be prosecuted. The family decided not to join HSLDA. The following week, the school board voted to override the superintendent’s decision and to seek criminal prosecution. This family paid for their own defense.
In Oregon recently, I was told of a non-member family who was being attacked not for compulsory attendance or truancy—but by the city for violation of the zoning code. The state education law was considered safe and very pro-homeschool, but the city zoning code was being used to close the homeschool because the building was zoned as a residence, not a school.
I recount these stories not to help HSLDA grow—I tell them because I hate to turn people down who need help. We have turned down dozens of people for membership who never thought they would be attacked. They applied when it was too late. “It was . . . after all, . . . so . . . so unexpected. Couldn’t we make an exception for them?” My heart is usually moved. But I must say no, because if we are not good stewards, we cannot deliver our promises to our members.
Just how “safe” is it where you live? It’s hard to say. But my parents always told me it is better to be safe than sorry.