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If It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like A Duck
(This article, by Susan Evans, was originally published in the May-June 1996 issue of Home Education Magazine.)
Introducing and passing a new exemption for homeschoolers in Michigan looked like duck soup to several individuals back in December, 1995. In fact, it was accomplished fairly easily and very quietly. Virtually no one outside the Michigan legislature and their apparent one-man-homeschool-lobby even knew anything was introduced. After it passed, it was kept quiet for three weeks until the governor signed it. The entire Non-public school Advisory Committee was in the dark regarding this major change in homeschooling regulations. Ironically, the Committee was established in 1993 to create a dialog between the state Department of Education and the private schools, religious schools, and homeschoolers in order to reduce the need for expensive and divisive litigation between parents and bureaucrats in the state.
The new law says a child is exempt if... "The child is being educated by his or her parent or legal guardian at the child's home in an organized educational program that is appropriate given the age, intelligence, ability, and any psychological limitations of the child, in the subject areas of reading, spelling, mathematics. science, history, civics, literature, writing and English grammar."
Although many of us were caught by surprise, since the law was signed, homeschoolers have moved rapidly: securing legislative documents and memos; reproducing faxes, legal opinions, meeting notices and plans for action; and creating information pipelines to share all of this information. By the first weekend in March, 1996, a diverse group of homeschoolers, many of whom hold very little in common except a deep commitment to the right of parents to educate their children, met and agreed to work together to repeal this new exemption.
All of these written materials being shared freely across the state show that the very few people who support this exemption are connected with a group of lawyers who have built their business largely around homeschool litigation. They include a past Home School Legal Defense Association-designated Michigan lawyer, his former partner (who provided the wording to exemption 1561(3)(f)), and the heads of the Home School Legal Defense Association-affiliated state group in Michigan.
Currently, the case law surrounding homeschooling is pretty much settled. Since the 1993 Supreme Court rulings conflict between the state and homeschoolers has been nil. This new exemption is a virgin field, ready to have a whole new set of case law plowed up out of it; a whole new set of lawyer fees to be paid to the lawyers doing the litigating, and a whole new set of homeschool families being scared into buying homeschool defense legal insurance. I can see only one set of beneficiaries in this process - the lawyers.
Michigan lawmakers lose. They voted in this exemption and if they don't move to repeal it , they will be seen as harassing parents who love and care for their children. The local and intermediate schools lose. They don't have a budget line item marked "prosecute local caring parents" (and if they do, there's a paltry sum of money in it). Governor Engler loses. After stating, "We must empower our families -- empower them with more choice. And that means giving moms and dads the freedom to send their kids to the school they think is best. My friends, freedom to choose is why this country was founded"1 , his Republican majority caucus is sending troops out after those very "moms and dads". Local communities lose. Homeschoolers are not going to meekly re-enroll in the local public school district; a large number of us will go underground. Our towns will lose township committee members, scout leaders, community celebration participants, supporters for library millages and all the other important roles that committed, caring people perform in their communities.
Our lawmakers, school board members, administrators and homeschoolers become pawns in a fight instigated by, defined by, and benefiting only a group of individuals who are greedy for power and/or money. Ultimately, it is our families and our children who will be forced to pay the expenses incurred by this exercise.
If this exemption is not repealed, in seven to ten years all the lawsuits will have found their way through the court system, new regulations will be put into place, homeschoolers will have searched out the loopholes and everything will be pretty much back to how they are now, legally speaking. But the stress within those families who get a knock at the door or spend three or four years moving through the courts will be horrendous. Communities will be reeling from the divisiveness resulting from neighbor turning against neighbor since enforcement will be pushed down to local school authorities. Children will be afraid to walk or play outside between nine a.m. and three p.m. for fear that someone may turn them in for homeschooling. They will not have the opportunity to share their skills and energy openly with other members of their communities.
In the end, a group of conniving individuals will be able to build bigger and fancier houses and be invited to serve on election committees as they move on to the next state to convince your legislators to clarify and expand the laws surrounding homeschooling. In fact, you can be sure they're already there, laying the groundwork.
(1 Special message to joint session of Michigan Legislature: On Education, November 8, 1995, Our Kids Deserve Better: "New Schools for a New Century".)
Copyright 1996 Susan Evans ....
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