While home schooling has become a familiar feature of the national
educational landscape over the past several decades, it still meets with a
substantial amount of persecution and harassment, according to the Home School
Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Recent years have seen a number of instances
in which Michigan home schoolers were harassed by public school administrators,
local police, and even other families in their neighborhoods or communities.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimates that between
700,000 and 1.25 million children are currently home schooled in the United
States. The Michigan State Department of Education says almost 2,000 home
schoolers reported to the state last year, a figure that is almost certainly low
given the NCES figures.
Government figures on home school families are questionable because of the
way they are reported. Michigan law allows parents two options: to operate as a
“nonpublic school” and submit enrollment figures every year, or to operate a
home-school education program without reporting to the state. Therefore, the
actual number of home school families is likely much higher than state
Michael Smith, president of the HSLDA, says that a perceived loss of money is
why public school officials consider home schooling to “threaten the very
existence of public education.” Local school districts lose $6,700 for each
student who leaves to be home schooled.
On the other hand, home school students save the state of Michigan money,
since they pay taxes earmarked for education, yet they do not send their
children to public school. If 2,000 home schooled children in Michigan enrolled
in public school this fall, the state would be obligated to pay $13.4 million
more per year, or the basic state foundation grant of $6,700 for each student to
the local school districts.
Smith believes that it is a mistake to underestimate the level of animosity
home schooling inspires among some public school advocates. The following
incidents, reported by the HSLDA, have been substantiated in police and news
reports—but because many families fear further harassment, the parties involved
will not be named.
In the fall of 2001, the district attorney for Grand Traverse County
threatened a Traverse City family with legal action after they withdrew their
children from public school. Communication from the attorney stated that it was
evident the family was not teaching according to the state’s requirements. Later
that year, the same family was visited by a police officer who insisted that the
family show him their curriculum. The family refused. The officer warned the
parents that he would seek an arrest warrant, and that they would have to serve
90 days in jail if they continued to disobey the district attorney. The HSLDA
told the district attorney in writing that this behavior was a violation of the
family’s rights, and he subsequently dropped the case.
A similar incident occurred in Allegan County last September when a police
officer arrived at a home schooling family’s residence, demanding to see the
curriculum. The mother provided the officer with a copy, which he deemed to be
“fine.” Nonetheless, the officer reprimanded the mother for not being qualified
to teach, to which the mother correctly responded that home schooling parents do
not have to be state-certified. The officer replied that during the previous
year, the county had arrested “all kinds of home schoolers.” The officer left
after warning the mother that he would seek an arrest warrant.
An exceptional case is that of a home schooled girl in Hanover who checked
her mailbox last year and found a packet of letters from third graders at her
local public school. The letters described what public school was like and
expressed sympathy for the girl because she lacked classmates and a traditional
school setting. It was later discovered that the students had been instructed by
their teacher to write the letters in order to leave a negative impression of
home schooling on her students.
According to the HSLDA, this sort of harassment occurs in all states whether
home school regulations are absent or extremely restrictive. The HSLDA considers
Michigan to be a very low regulation state because the state has a strong
parental rights law. “It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal
guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their
children,” according to the Michigan Compiled Laws Annotated (MCLA) Section
380.10. Other states require high levels of regulations that must be followed
prior to home schooling children.
Tennessee, for example, requires parents to notify the school district if
they want to withdraw their children from public schools. When a school bus
driver in Washington County went to obtain the necessary forms from her
supervisor, he became angry at her decision. The next day, she received a notice
informing her that she had been fired, giving no reason for her termination. The
HSLDA filed a lawsuit against the county and the woman received $16,500 as
settlement for unlawful termination.
California has between four and six high-profile home school harassment cases
each year, according to Cathy Cuthbert, editor of The School Liberator, an
online newsletter. A school district in San Leandro, for example, decided it
would begin to consider home schooled children as truant—and began investigating
all home schooling families in that area on the basis of this unwritten district
policy. The Hayward (Calif.) Daily Review reported in February 2000 that one
home schooling mother in San Leandro was visited by a police officer who
pepper-sprayed and arrested her in front of her daughter. Following the
incident, the woman’s family left town, Cuthbert says, and neither the Daily
Review nor the California Homeschool Network has been able to find the family.
Since 1995, as many as 120 students annually from Nine River Falls High
School in Washington state have harassed a local home-schooling family by
yelling obscenities, breaking bottles on their property, and threatening to
riot. Even a small bomb was exploded on the property, leaving a one-foot-deep
crater in the family’s yard. The homeowner once attempted to scare the crowd
away with a shotgun and was later threatened with a charge of illegally
brandishing a weapon. The local police department sends only two officers each
year to break up the mob. The family maintains a website featuring their own
commentary, comments from the community, court news, and published newspaper
articles about their ordeals. Local and web-based news organizations, such as
Lewis News (see www.lewisnews.com) also
have published stories and commentaries about the harassment by both the family
and members of the community.
“The harassment has decreased in terms of the percentage of home schoolers
that are challenged regarding their practices—but because of the larger number
of home schoolers, we deal with more contacts,” remarks Smith.
Cuthbert fears that ongoing harassment could be keeping people from starting
home schools. “I’m sure it has a chilling effect on people who are considering
home schooling,” comments Cuthbert.
Besides the threats and harassment home school families face, they also cope
with criticisms of home schooling teaching practices. For example, David
Stewart, director of Hillsdale College’s honors program, told the Detroit Free
Press that home schooled children are typically deficient in science education.
“I can generally count on them for having almost no science and virtually no lab
science,” he notes.
The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest school
employee union, believes that these educational deficiencies stem from a lack of
professional training on the part of the home school parent/teacher. NEA
spokesman Charles Erickson told ABC News that teaching is “just like any other
profession—you want to get someone who’s been taught to do it, so everyone has
the same opportunity to learn under a qualified professional.”
Nevertheless, despite these threats and harassment, home schooling continues
to thrive. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, it is
currently growing across the nation at rates of anywhere from 7 to 15 percent