Legislative Surprises In Maryland Threaten Home Education
The Maryland Senate Judiciary Committee recently considered testimony on S.B. 648, which proposed an amendment to the Family Law Article of the laws of Maryland to include an expanded definition of child neglect. Home schoolers across the state were alerted to the potential problem and rallied forces in the state capitol. State leaders and HSLDA attorney Michael Smith met with the author of the bill, Senator George W. Della, and communicated their extreme concern about the serious impact this amendment could have on families who choose private and home education. The amendment defined child neglect as:
“…failing to take reasonable measures to insure that a child attends school or otherwise receives instruction as required under § 7-301 of the Education Article.”
Senator Della was immediately responsive to the concerns of home schoolers and stated that it was not his intention to bring any unreasonable pressure to bear on those who chose alternative options to public education. Senator Della was made to understand how potentially dangerous a weapon this language could be in the hands of school officials who are unsympathetic to home education, giving them power to bring educational neglect charges against parents whose children are not “in school.” Such charges would also bring disputes between school authorities and parents into the juvenile courts where parental due process rights are severely restricted.
It was a tremendous blessing to see the number of home school families who attended the hearing. We were encouraged as well that Senator Della was so responsive to our concerns and agreed to an amendment which would specifically exclude home school students pursuant to giving notice as required by the home school law and private school students pursuant to enrollment in a private school.
As the challenges in S.B. 648 were being resolved, hearings were taking place in another room on S.B. 261. This bill introduced an amendment to the education code which would have raised the compulsory school attendance age to 18, another area of great concern to home schoolers. Under this provision the only grounds for exception to the compulsory age would be a high school diploma or certificate. The bill would have effectively raised the age for eligibility to take the GED to 18 as well. Upon the home schoolers' appeal, the author of the bill agreed to keep the qualification age at 16 for taking the GED.
God again moved in miraculous ways to protect His people. Most of the public testimony was against the two bills, and it now appears that there is little chance of their passage. However, we are not out of the woods yet! These types of bills crop up regularly, and it is important that home schoolers not be complacent in monitoring what is happening in our legislatures.