by Nicki Truesdell
In April 2012, Texas homeschoolers celebrated 25 years of freedom to educate their children without restriction. The amazing opportunities that your children have through EC are only possible because of those who stood up for your right to homeschool.
Each homeschooling family has chosen to homeschool for reasons very important and very personal to them; you no doubt felt convicted that this was the best option for their family. And Texas is one of the best states in the country to do just that.
This freedom has always existed, but it was threatened severely in the 1980’s. According to Tim Lambert with the Texas Homeschool Coalition, “…the 1980s were a perilous time for home school families all over the country, but especially in Texas. More than 100 families were prosecuted by the state for teaching their children at home in those years. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) had taken the position (reversing almost 70 years of policy) that home schools were not private schools and therefore students being taught at home were truant. Everyone who decided to teach their children at home in those days understood they were taking a chance and that they had to be involved in the political process to protect themselves.”
The following is an excerpt from the Handbook for Texas Homeschoolers by Tim Lambert, President of the Texas Home School Coalition:
Home education has been an accepted method of education since the days of the Texas Republic. The state department of education, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), had never attempted to regulate, oppose, or discourage home schooling in Texas until 1981. In that year, the TEA issued a policy that stated, "Educating a child at home is not the same as private school instruction, and therefore, not an acceptable substitute."
The matter did not come into open conflict until the much publicized case of the State v. Short, (Dallas County, 1982). In this case, Richardson ISD took the Short family to court for educating their daughters at home. Dave Haigler, the lawyer for the Shorts, was interviewed on the CBS evening news after the judge had ruled against the family; however, the next morning, the justice of the peace reversed himself and ruled in favor of the Shorts. The legal argument of vagueness of the law became the standard defense used by home schoolers all over the country.
As a direct result of the change in the TEA's policy, over 100 families were prosecuted by school districts for violation of the compulsory attendance law. In those days, the attitude of most home school families in Texas was one of fear. At home school meetings, people did not give out their addresses or phone numbers and the thought of a list of the group getting out to the public created much anxiety and apprehension.
In March 1985, attorney Shelby Sharpe, along with several home school families and curriculum suppliers, filed a lawsuit against all the school districts in Texas on behalf of all home educators in Texas. In what became known as the Leeper vs. Arlington class action suit (Leeper v. Arlington I.S.D. No. 17-88761-85), home educators asked the court to give a declaratory judgment on the question of whether or not the legislature had intended home schools to be private schools when they enacted the compulsory attendance statute in 1915. The basic question was, are home schools private schools?
In the Leeper court proceedings, one point that was established and never challenged by the state was that in the early 1900s, when the compulsory attendance law was passed by the legislature, over 70 percent of the students in Texas were being taught at home. Lawmakers would most certainly not have enacted a law that would have had over half of the population in violation of it. It seems that home education was the norm in Texas even in the early 1900s.
While the Leeper case was pending, Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox was seeking to negotiate with the lead attorney in the case, Shelby Sharpe, to get him to drop the suit in exchange for regulations or rules passed by the TEA. The case was not dropped. Finally, the attorney general encouraged the TEA and the State Board of Education (SBOE) to set up a new accreditation agency within the TEA. This agency would accredit private schools. The purpose of this was to settle the issue of what is a private school by defining it as one accredited by this body.
The SBOE held a public hearing on this issue in April of 1986 in Austin. To the shock of the TEA and SBOE, approximately 6,000 people appeared to testify and protest what they perceived to be government intrusion into private education. This rally came to be known as the "Austin TEA Party."
Several legislators testified that neither the TEA nor the SBOE had any authority to deal with private education because the Texas Legislature had not given them that authority by statute. The Texas Education Code applies only to public education. The SBOE finally passed a resolution asking the Texas Legislature to define private schools or give them the authority to do so. The legislature refused to do either.
In January of 1987, the class action lawsuit finally came to trial. The trial lasted for a week and a half and included expert testimony from such national figures as R. J. Rushdoony, Raymond Moore, and Sam Blumenfeld. On April 13, 1987, presiding Judge Charles J. Murray issued a decision (binding on all 1,100 school districts) which was a complete vindication of the rights of parents to educate their children at home in the State of Texas.
I was at the Austin TEA Party, at the age of 14, with my parents. When my mom and dad got wind of this hearing we, along with three other homeschooling families, traveled from Collinsville all the way to Austin.
There was a lot fueling this mad dash to the capitol:
1) My mom and dad had been completely dedicated to homeschooling from the start. There was never any talk of "trying it out" or going back to public school later. They were sold.
2) My parents had already been arrested for homeschooling, and they wanted to be sure that wouldn't happen again.
|March against pornography when 7-11 and the Southland Corporation started carrying pornographic magazines in their stores.|
|March against abortion in our tiny hometown of Terral, OK.|
As with most homeschooling families, we survived on one income, and had little extra. But we packed our tents, sleeping bags, and camp stove and took off. We camped at a KOA campground and ate sandwiches from a cooler.
|The group of kids from Collinsville at the Capitol in Austin, April 1996.|
Why? Well, I’ll tell you:
Some of you have heard my story, about how my parents were arrested for homeschooling. But the story doesn’t really belong to me; it belongs to my Mom and Dad and to my aunt, Kari Davidson, whom many of you know. They were the homeschool parents who experienced a literal rude awakening early one morning in October of 1983. This arrest took place in Oklahoma, and was the result of an anonymous complaint.
Police officers knocked on our door at 7:00 that morning. A very apologetic deputy informed my parents that they were under arrest for truancy, and he needed to take them to the Jefferson County Sherrif's office. (Three days before, my dad had been fired from his job in this very office without warning and without explanation.)
My parents immediately called our Pastor. The Pastor went to inform my aunt Kari, who lived across town, that the deputy was on his way to her house, since she didn't have a phone. He arrived at the same time the police showed up, so it was a complete surprise to Kari. She grabbed her Bible, a toothbrush, and a sweater, because for some reason she remembered hearing that it was cold in jail!
All four of us kids stayed with the pastsor’s wife, while the pastor followed the offenders to jail in his own car.
Mom and Daddy were members of Home School Legal Defense Association, so phone calls were quickly made. John Eidsmoe, who was a professor of law at Oral Roberts University at the time, took Kari's case at no charge, since she was a widow. Michael Ferris, John Whithead, and Charles McLaughlin were all involved.
The legalities of homeschooling were a big deal at this time, as homeschooling had begun to grow in popularity. At the time, there were 7 homeschool defense attorneys in Texas. But no one expected a problem in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was, and still is, one of the best states for homeschooling, so this was unheard of!
Bail was set for $200, which our Pastor graciously paid. So Mom, Daddy, and Kari were fingerprinted and processed, but never locked up. They spent the day in the Sheriffs office while the attorneys were contacted.
The court date was set for January of 1984. Meanwhile, John Whitehead called the Oklahoma Attorney General and the State Legislature. Kari had a phone installed at her house in order to keep up with the case. We visited with the attorneys handling the case. Our families even went to the home of Kirk and Beverly McCord (whose name you may recognize as the founders of the Home School Book Fair). We, the children, were questioned privately to prepare us for the court proceedings.
In December, Kari received a phone call from another Oklahoma homeschooler who said that 300 other homeschoolers were planning to march at the courthouse where the case would be heard. She was so happy just to know there were other families actually homeschooling in Oklahoma!
Just days before the case was to be tried in court, the Terral School Superintendent dropped the case. He even came to our home and apologized to my parents for the inconvenience. Kari, however, did not receive a letter or an apology.
I was 11 years old when this happened. My sister was 8, and my cousins were 7 and 4.
|Here we are with a local church member who came to perform a weekly "chapel" service for us.|
I remember the fear of having police officers knock on our door so early in the morning, and finding out that they had come for my parents. I also remember spending the day at the Pastor's house, waiting for my parents to come home. I did have some worry that they might have to stay in jail. We had only been homeschooling for just over a month, so it was scary to think they had done something really wrong.
As far as my Dad remembered, they were the first to be arrested for homeschooling in Oklahoma.
(As a side note, homeschooling in Oklahoma has been legal since it’s statehood in 1908. All it took for an arrest was the perfect mix of an uniformed school district, a compliant sherriff’s office, and brand new homeschoolers with no knowledge of their rights. Unfortunately, this still happens all over Texas and the United States.)
My family’s story, although quite dramatic for us, is a simple one compared to many others. There are numerous families who have been through worse. Thanks to the good people at Home School Legal Defense Association and Texas Homeschool Coalition, much is being done every day to protect this very basic parental right. Arrest may not happen to you, but your support of these organizations will help protect families whose rights to homeschool are in danger.
In all the history of the world, freedom has never magically appeared. Battles for freedom of any sort had to be fought…sacrifices had to be made to win and keep freedom.
People who did not consider themselves “politically active” in any way suddenly found themselves speaking out against, fighting against, and even dying because of threatened tyranny. The United States of America would not exist without the willingness of brave families who gave up everything and risked everything to seek freedom for themselves and generations to come. The Pilgrims, who first fled to Holland from England and the tyranny of the King, left their second home, and in their desire to raise their children away from the dangers of the culture around them, they picked up everything and braved a 6 week ocean voyage, wilderness, Indians, and the great unknown. They had very little knowledge of this new world, its weather, terrain, people, vegetation, or possibilities. But it was worth it to them to protect their children and save their souls.
I, for one, am humbled by their sacrifice and thankful that they were willing. They suffered many hardships and losses, but they also produced some of the greatest men and women in history.
The American colonists did likewise. They did not simply wake up one morning and decide to start a revolution; they recognized the threat to future generations and took it upon themselves to do something about it in their lifetime.
John Adams said, "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy."
You do not have to be an activist; you should be knowledgeable and aware. All homeschoolers need to be willing to act on information regarding threats to our freedom.
"Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people."The threats still exist, at the local level, the State level, and the national level. Make no mistake: parents who take responsibility for the upbringing of their children are a real threat to the liberal agenda.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has listed among its many demands to “ban the private ownership of land” and “make homeschooling illegal because religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda.” This movement has the public support of President Obama and other Democratic leaders in Congress.
The freedom to educate our children is vital to the future of America. We can thank the pioneers of the modern homeschooling movement for standing up for that freedom. But it is our responsibility to keep it.
Texas Homeschool Coalition has played a vital part in preserving the freedom of Texas Homeschoolers. They work closely with the Governor and the State Legislature, closely examining every piece of legislation for threats to families who educate their children.
In closing, I would like to thank my mom, Debbie Barnes, my Dad Andy who passed away in December, and my aunt Kari for the legacy that they have given to me and everyone here. These pioneers in the homeschool movement paved the way. Now it’s up to us to keep the way open for our children and grandchildren.