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Most Threatening Homeschool Bill in the Nation
On February 13, 2012, Representative Bob Evans (District 91) filed a bill in the Mississippi Legislature that would require parents to obtain permission from a judge to homeschool their children. House Bill 464 would impose a duty on school attendance officers to collect and maintain unspecified and unlimited information on all children being homeschooled and to report this information to the judge of the youth court or chancery court. This information would be used “for the purpose of exempting such children from the truancy laws of this state.” There is no requirement in the bill that there be any case before the judge involving the child whose home instruction program was being reviewed. The judge could simply review the information from the attendance officer and decide that a child’s home instruction program was insufficient, using whatever standard the judge wanted to apply.
Unfortunately, this sounds all too familiar to homeschoolers in Mississippi.
On March 23, 2011, Judge Joe Dale Walker of the Chancery Court of the Thirteenth District issued an order requiring attendance officers to provide to him the names and addresses of all students and their parents within his jurisdiction who were in a home instruction program. There was no case in Judge Walker’s court involving any homeschooling family for which he supposedly needed this information. According to Judge Walker, the purpose of his order was “to enforce the compulsory school attendance law ….” HSLDA represented families from each of the five counties within the Thirteenth District and challenged Judge Walker’s order in the Mississippi Supreme Court. On April 21, 2011, the court granted our petition and vacated the order. (You may read our article about this case online.)
But Representative Evans’ bill would accomplish even more than Judge Walker envisioned in his order last year. (Perhaps it is no mere coincidence that Representative Evans and Judge Walker share the same hometown in Mississippi where they are both lawyers.) If this bill were to pass, youth court and chancery court judges would rule homeschooling in Mississippi. They alone would have the authority to decide whether a family might continue to homeschool, even when the family had not been accused of failing to comply with the law. Mississippi would change from one of the best states in which to homeschool to the absolute worst.
Prompted by Home School Legal Defense Association’s e-lert to our members and friends in Mississippi on February 15, 2012, hundreds of homeschoolers contacted members of the two legislative committees to which the bill had been assigned. After only a few hours, key legislators offered assurances that HB 464 would not go anywhere in these committees. They complained that they were not able to give attention to other bills because of all the calls and emails they were receiving about HB 464. The homeschoolers had gotten their attention.
In response to the many calls and emails Representative Evans received from outraged parents, he formulated a standard email reply, expressing his support of their right to teach their children at home. He said that passage of the bill would mean that “your children and all other home-schooled children will be protected from unwarranted government intervention ….” We can only imagine what the bill would say if Representative Evans were not a friend of homeschooling.