Texas Gains Ground
Many states which have not yet passed homeschool laws are carefully watching the developments in the state of Texas. Previously, Texas had the distinction of being the only state of the Union whose state board of education and attorney general had adopted a policy that did not allow homeschooling in any form. This policy was adopted even though the Texas compulsory attendance statute is vague. It is vague because it does not define a private school nor does it provide guidelines for home instruction anywhere in the statute. Such a vague statute should not be enforced because citizens who homeschool cannot reasonably determine from the laws what they must do to legally operate a homeschool, and also school authorities are not given any statutory guidance as to how to enforce compulsory attendance. Unfortunately, dozens of homeschoolers have been taken to court this 1985–86 school year including five HSLDA families (four of the case which have been dismissed by HSLDA attorneys). In addition, approximately 32 other HSLDA families have been threatened with prosecution but averted by the efforts of the HSLDA staff.
The state board of education’s strict anti-homeschool policy, however, is beginning to waver in light of several other developments.
First of all, HSLDA has become involved in bringing a class action suit against the state board of education, all school districts, and several truant officers in the state of Texas (Leeper et al. v. Arlington Independent School District et al., No. 1788761-85, 17th Judicial District Court of Tarrant County, Texas). HSLDA is one of several plaintiffs in the case and it is asking the court for a permanent injunction to stop the prosecution of all homeschoolers until the compulsory attendance law is ruled unconstitutionally void for vagueness and the statute is amended by the legislature to allow homeschooling.
The Galbraiths, and HSLDA family, have also joined as plaintiffs in the suit since they were charged with truancy last year for homeschooling their children. The attorney of record, Shelby Sharpe, is asking for $4,000,000 in damages on behalf of all the homeschoolers that have been harassed and dragged into court by officials who had reason to know that the statute is unconstitutionally void for vagueness.
The trial was originally scheduled for last summer but the state board of education asked for an extension until March 1986. Later the trial was rescheduled for April 21. Recently, the state board of education requested and received another extension until July 28, 1986, again claiming that they needed more time to prepare their defense. Attorney Shelby Sharpe believes the delays are unreasonable but feels every delay by the TEA has enabled the homeschoolers’ case to become stronger as more developments occur in their favor.
The state board of education, faced with the vagueness challenge by the Leeper case, decided to attempt to cure the vagueness problem by creating a set of proposed regulations which would sufficiently define private schools. On March 7, 1986, the board proposed new regulations which required all private schools to have:
professional staff members who hold at least a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution of higher education and who are qualified by education or experience for the positions they hold . . .
In addition, the private school would have to have a curriculum equivalent and comparable to the public school system, meet the same days as public schools, and comply with the local safety code. The board also defined “private school” as an institution which is in compliance with the above requirements but
it does not include an entity at which instruction is offered primarily by means of correspondence courses, workbooks, or other instructional materials without the direct, regular, and personal supervision of a qualified professional staff member.
These regulations would have prohibited most homeschools from operating in Texas.
As a result, hundreds of homeschoolers began to write to the school board voicing their opposition to these proposed regulations. In fact, one board member said he received 1400 letters opposing the regulations.
A second hearing took place on April 10 with 5000 to 6000 homeschoolers in attendance. The board had modified their rules somewhat prior to the hearing but the opposition was still so great that the board decided to withdraw their proposed regulations altogether. The board was also influenced in making their decision by a legal opinion issued by the Texas Legislative Council which declared that the state board of education has not been delegated the authority to regulate private education, by the legislature, in the first place.
As a result, on April 12, the board passed a resolution setting “suggested guidelines” for school districts to follow and asking the legislature to clarify the compulsory attendance law. The guidelines suggest three options a private school (or homeschool) can follow in order to operate as a proper private school under the present compulsory attendance law: 1) the entity must be accredited by an accrediting organization recognized by the commissioner of education; 2) the entity must meet three requirements: a) facilities must comply with local fire and sanitation codes, b) entity must have a regular written plan of instruction sufficient o meet basic student educational goals, and c) its students must take an annual nationally recognized standard achievement test, the results of which must be given to the superintendent upon his request; or 3) the entity must furnish evidence to the local attendance officer that it meets all the criteria of accreditation under #1 without actually being accredited. The resolution ended by stating that the above guidelines are “not to be interpreted in such a manner as to interfere with the exercise of religious freedom guaranteed by the United States and Texas Constitutions.”
Although the guidelines are not binding on the school districts, at least the board is beginning to change its position. School districts are still free to bring charges against homeschoolers but the state board is certainly less supportive of such action.
The Leeper case, at the end of July, may bring the permanent relief that homeschoolers need in Texas. Continue to pray that God will give the homeschoolers the victory in this case.