On June 9, Texas homeschool families will celebrate “Leeper Day,” set aside to honor the 1994 Texas Supreme Court decision on the landmark court case (Leeper v. Arlington ISD) that legalized homeschooling in the Lone Star state. Twenty one years later, it is the current governor, Greg Abbott, who has recognized this historical date.
In a proclamation, the Governor wrote, “In Texas, we believe families should be empowered to choose the best educational environment for their children. Homeschooling provides Texans with a variety of options and a unique environment for learning.”
Abbott also wrote, “As you celebrate the final decision of the Leeper case and the affirmation of homeschooling in Texas, I commend you for your dedication to educating the next generation.”
Previously, the Governor has spoken to the importance of a parent’s role in their child’s education, in general, noting, “The ultimate parent involvement is giving parents more choices in choosing the school that is right for their child.”
Home education is one of those choices. There are approximately 120,000-plus Texas families who homeschool, translating into roughly 300,000 children, according to the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC), the state’s non-profit home school support organization.
Jube Dankworth is on the Board of Directors for the Texas Home Educators, a service organization benefiting the grassroots of homeschooling. Dankworth estimated they work with 500 home education groups across the state.
She told Breitbart Texas, “We are blessed that Governor Abbott has proclaimed June 9th, 2015 as Leeper Day, a day to celebrate our homeschool freedoms established by the Leeper Supreme Court case.”
Families and home school groups across the state will be celebrating in public places, something, once rarely done in the days before Leeper when parents were subject to arrest for homeschooling, she emphasized.
Dankworth said that events will be held through homeschool co-ops statewide. Some Leeper celebrations are listed on the Texas Home Educator Facebook page. Possibly, the largest of the festitivies will be held in Williamson County where local officials will follow Abbott’s lead and proclaim it Leeper Day. A ceremony will be held in Cedar Park.
Also voicing his appreciation to the Governor for the proclamation was Tim Lambert, THSC president. The non-profit has fought for the constitutional right of parents to direct the care, control and upbringing of their children in the courts, legislature and with state and federal agencies over the past 30 years.
Lambert told Breitbart Texas by email that “Governor Abbott’s proclamation recognizes the hard fought legal battle that began decades ago by parents to be able to teach their children at home.”
Breitbart Texas has reported that the Lone Star state is one of the most “favorable for home educators in the United States, and here people are free to determine the course of their children’s education,” according to THSC.
This was not always the case in Texas. Before Leeper, homeschooled families not only faced criminal charges for truancy but also lived with the real threat of having their children taken away from them.
Breitbart Texas has reported extensively on truancy laws in Texas. The state Legislature recently passed a historical bill to decriminalize the offense. That bill has gone to the Governor for his signature.
However, back in 1981, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the administrative arm for K-12 public education in the state headed up under the Commissioner of Education, banned homeschooling and treated it as a criminal offense, calling it “not an acceptable substitute.” TEA encouraged school districts to prosecute families for their failure to attend school.
Although Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox (1983-1991) was dubbed the “people’s lawyer” for his advocacy of what he deemed the everyday needs of Texans, he also publicly stated that he did not believe parents were qualified to raise their children, much less teach them at home.
In 1985, Texas home educators sued every school district in what became known as the Leeper case after approximately 150 homeschool parents were prosecuted as a direct result of school districts relying on the 1981 TEA policy.
In the court case, homeschooling was examined and ultimately, it was determined to be equivalent to private schools and thus, out of the jurisdiction of public compulsory education.
One year later, the state held hearings in an attempt to regulate homeschooling but in April 1987, Judge Charles Murray from the North Texas Tarrant County District Court ruled on Leeper that home schools were private schools.
It was an important victory but the state appealed this decision three times — at the local court, Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court levels. Each time the decisions were in favor of the homeschoolers.
Following the Texas Supreme Court’s 1994 unanimous 9-0 pro-homeschool decision, there were no more appeals from the state.
In 1994, House Resolution 6 was filed in the US House of Representatives to ban homeschooling nationwide. THSC “led the Texas response” as part of a national push that resulted in generating one million phone calls that literally shut down the Capitol switchboard,” according to Legacy of Freedom, a short THSC video, which encapsulated Texas homeschooling history, tracing over the far more hostile environment where the state attempted to either outlaw or regulate home education.
Similarly, Taking a Stand in Texas: The Battle for Home School Freedom is a 2007 documentary that tells the story of hardships and struggles of Texas families in the early days of the state’s homes school movement. It depicts those battles fought by home education pioneers that led to the legal victories and freedoms which Texas families now enjoy.
Most of today’s homeschoolers are beneficiaries of Leeper. They have no memory of these hard fought battles or of a Texas without educational choice. Noted Dankworth, “We hope that groups all over Texas will take this day to reflect on how far we have come in this short time.”
Far they have come, she added. Home educated children have gone from hiding in their homes during school hours to enjoying homeschool day events across the state, participating in co-ops, and other educational pursuits without fear of truant officers or CPS, she said.
“This will be a wonderful celebration of our freedom to homeschool verified by the Leeper v. Arlington decision,” she commented.
Breitbart News reported that the US Department of Education figures showed a 61.8 percent surge in the number of American children between the ages of 5 to 17 who are homeschooled between 2003-2012. Yet, homeschoolers are often the target of criticism from public school proponents. On the eve of Leeper recognition, Lambert took a moment to point out, “Today evidence is beyond dispute that children taught by their parents score well above the national averages of class room students.”
The National Home Education Research Institute’s (NHERI) most recent 2015 findings show that the homeschoolers typically score 15-30 percentile points above public school students on standardized achievement tests. They indicate the public school average is at the 50 percentile mark and scores range from 1-99.
Lambert added, “Home schooled students are distinguishing themselves in colleges and universities all across Texas and the nation.”
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.