Iowa Cracks Down on Home Schools
By J. Michael Smith
The moratorium on prosecution of home schooling families for not being certified teachers expired July 1, 1989. There is concern, and rightly so, as to the future of home schooling in Iowa. We have been asked by home schoolers what they should expect. Will things return to a pre-moratorium situation? Our response is yes, but additionally, there has been a development that has many of us concerned.
This summer, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a family who was teaching their child at home could be brought before a juvenile court pursuant to a Child In Need of Assistance (CHINA) petition. Although the case which came out of Tama County involved a learning disabled child, the ruling could prove potentially dangerous for home schooling families. The Court stated that a truancy prosecution against the parents was not the exclusive remedy for a child not attending public school.
One would assume that county attorneys would continue with the same procedure where the school district insists upon pursuing the home schooling family, i.e. filing criminal complaints for truancy against the parents. However, in the county where Pastor Taylor lives, the county attorney has indicated that he may seek a CHINA petition against the Taylors. Other county attorneys, as they become aware of the above case, may file a CHINA petition instead of a truancy complaint, as it has a much more chilling effect on the families who desire to home school.
The real difference between the two methods of pursuing the home schooler is that in the criminal prosecution against the parents, the maximum penalty upon conviction, is community service. However, in a CHINA proceeding, a judge can order a child to be removed from the home should the parents not comply with a court order, i.e. enroll child in a public or approved private school. HSLDA believes that in a CHINA petition, the county attorney would have to prove that abuse of the child was occurring because of neglect of education. It would not be sufficient to prove that the child was not receiving equivalent instruction by a certified teacher. The Supreme Court concluded in the above case that because the learning disabled child had not demonstrated educational improvement, a petition for child abuse could apply.
A CHINA petition should never be filed against a family legitimately teaching their children; however, this is a new development in Iowa and there are no reported cases to give guidelines. Therefore, if a school district or county attorney should have strong beliefs against home education, they may attempt to use the drastic measure to try to stop the home education program.
Michael Farris and I have filed a declaratory judgment action in Polk County District Court on behalf of five member families that have either been prosecuted in the past or have been turned over for prosecution by their school districts. The complaint asks the court to strike down as unconstitutional the certification requirement for home educators in Iowa. The basis of the request is that the law that enacted certification in 1953 was enacted in violation of Article III section 29 of the Iowa Constitution. That provision requires a piece of legislation to address one single subject and the title of the bill must give warning of what is contained in the bill.
The law prior to the change required the home school teacher to be competent. The legislation that mandated certification was contained in a piece of legislation which reorganized the Department of Education. The bill had forty-four sections and all but one (the certification requirement) related to reorganization. It seems obvious that the intent behind placing this section in this bill was that those who would be opposed to the bill would not take notice of the provision.
The bill which was enacted in 1953 affected the private schools which were not charted since there were very few home schoolers in the state at that time.
Should Judge Hanrahan strike the statute, the law would revert back to competency. In all likelihood, the State Board of Education would then define by regulation what competency means since it is a vague term. To that end, we have been informed that the State Board would like to assist in eliminating the potential litigation and hard feelings that will likely result between school districts and home schoolers if certification is not eliminated.
Should the Judge not strike the statute, HSLDA is prepared to appeal the decision. Should a decision not be made prior to school beginning or not be favorable, we will continue to raise constitutional and statutory defenses for families that are confronted by their local school districts.
Iowa's law is now the most restrictive law in the country for home schoolers and it's all because of the certification requirement. Please pray that the lawsuit will be successful in abolishing the certification requirement.