On September 16, 1992, Michael Farris, president of Home School Legal Defense Association, flew to Austin, Texas, to join leaders from across the state in a meeting with Dr. Lionel “Skip” Meno, Commissioner of Education for the Texas Education Agency. The purpose of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for the home-schooling leaders to meet Dr. Meno and to develop a relationship with him.
The Texas leaders were surprised at the open friendliness expressed by the Commissioner. Tim Lambert, executive director of the Texas Home School Coalition, reported that Dr. Meno shared his philosophy with the group. “He wants to have the best educational options for the children. He said, ‘we want the best public education options, the best private education options, and the best home-schooling options.’ He felt the most important thing was the parental right to choose that educational alternative for their children.” Tim summed up the leaders’ response to Dr. Meno’s statement, “We were extremely excited to hear that response from him because that is exactly where we are coming from.”
At the close of the meeting, Dr. Meno suggested setting up another meeting in six months. He told the assembled leaders, “You come to me and tell me what the problems are, and let&rsuqo;s work for some solutions.”
The leaders were elated. Donna Harp, executive director of HOPE for Texas said, “I left the meeting feeling jubilant! I went feeling really skeptical and expecting it to be a heavy power meeting where we felt intimidated. I never believed that we could have a friend in the TEA, but since attending that meeting I think we really have an ally in Skip Meno!”
Skip Meno came to the Texas Education Agency from New York where he had served as the Deputy Commissioner of Education, and the pre-meeting skepticism that Donna expressed was shared by many in the group. The Texas leaders quickly realized, however, that their fellow home schoolers in New York state had done them a great service. New York home schoolers had worked hard to develop a good relationship with Skip Meno and had impressed him, not only by what they said, but by their integrity and commitment as well. Tim Lambert said, “He was extremely positive about home education, and we want to thank our friends in New York for training him in that area.”
Mike Farris, who knew Skip Meno from his days as Deputy Commissioner of Education in New York, organized the Texas meeting. Mike believes that it is vital for home school leaders across the county to recognize the value of building bridges—not only with elected officials, but also with regulatory officials.
Tim Lambert captured the importance of this goal when he said, “The real battle that we home schoolers have is in the public relations arena. It’s good to make friends—everywhere. And Skip Meno is a good illustration of what that could mean. The friendship that the home schoolers in New York formed with him has been a blessing for the home schoolers in Texas. You never know who this friend that you're making right now could be at some point in the future.”