The mainstream media trashed Texas homeschool laws in an onslaught of hit pieces that put the state’s laws on trial while crusading for heightened regulations in response to the Texas Supreme Court hearing oral arguments on Monday in Michael and Laura McIntyre v. the El Paso Independent School District, an action initiated by a homeschool family.
In a state that prides its homeschool freedoms, Texas liberal news outlets blasted religious liberty as on a “collision course” with homeschool. National headlines lamented if homeschoolers learned anything at all. The Washington Post pondered where did the line between religious liberty and parental rights to educate one’s own children stop. CBS News, like many news organizations, regurgitated the Associated Press’ narrative which scrutinized if Texas homeschoolers even have to learn. The Daily Beast attacked Laura McIntyre as the “Kim Davis” of homeschooling. It went on and on claiming that hope was around the corner — because the McIntyre case could change homeschooling laws for the state’s approximately 300,000 home educated students.
Tim Lambert, President of the Texas Home School Coalition Association (THSC), is considered the authority on home education in the state. He commented that the case attracted the attention of the mainstream media trying “once again to make the case that there should be more regulations on home schooling families by the government.”
The Los Angeles Times spoke to Rachel Coleman, an Indiana State University instructor and co-founder of the Massachusetts-based Coalition for Responsible Home Education about Texas homeschooling. Coleman also bemoaned the “political right” and conservative state legislatures as hinderances for homeschool regulation. News outlets did not contact Lambert for his expertise in state homeschool law, policy or about the McIntyres, who, early on, were affiliated with THSC, the state’s non-profit home school support organization. The national Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) assisted the McIntyres. Case history and developments are chronicled on these organizations’ websites.
Progressives made homeschooling the issue by pulling juicy bits and pieces from a complicated eight-year legal battle filled with far more internal family conflict, deceit and drama than any actual issues concerning Texas homeschool laws.
“The McIntyre case began at the instigation of family members who were at the same time trying to take a business away from the McIntryres in a very messy lawsuit. The case turns into a sad story of one family’s harassment from a school district,” Lambert told Breitbart Texas. The family has a total of nine children, all but one are grown.
In 2004, Michael and Laura McIntyre began homeschooling their children in an available office at the El Paso motorcycle dealership that the couple ran with other relatives. A family business dispute erupted into a multimillion dollar lawsuit, a teenaged daughter who ran away and wanted to go to public school, and Michael McIntyre’s brother’s allegations the children learned nothing because they were waiting to be to be taken to Heaven or “raptured” during the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. An anonymous phone call led to El Paso ISD filing truancy charges against the family, which were dropped in 2007. Along the way, discredited family members were found guilty of malicious actions against the McIntyres.
The media put a “sinister” Evangelical spin into the story, but missed the central issue concerning government overreach before the Texas Supreme Court. How far a local public school district can reach into a homeschooled family to verify that a parent meets educational needs is based on a state law known as “Leeper.”
In 1994, the Texas Supreme Court ruled parents could legally homeschool as bona fide private schools following the Leeper v. Arlington ISD decision. A year later, Texas public school districts started interviewing families and examining curriculum. Considered harassment by the Texas home school community, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) added a policy that “a written statement of assurance, provided by the parents to the school district, meets the requirements of Leeper and verifies compliance with compulsory attendance laws.” Every commissioner since has reaffirmed that official position for 21 years.
“If contacted by a school district official, home school parents simply have to provide a letter assuring the district that they have a curriculum that covers basic educational goals and are pursuing it in a bona fide manner. Unless the school district has evidence that this is not happening, it must leave the family alone,” said Lambert.
In June, Gov. Greg Abbott honored “Leeper,” writing in a proclamation: “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.” Previously, Abbott addressed 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.”
Despite media assertions that the McIntyre case could change Texas homeschooling laws and policies, Lambert says it will not. Last year, HSLDA attorney Jim Mason said virtually the same.
Nationwide, the number of homeschooled students aged 5 to 17 soared 61.8 percent between 2003 and 2012. The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) lists among the common reasons families home school — a need to “customize or individualize the curriculum and learning environment for each child, “accomplish more academically than in schools,” and “provide a safer environment for children and youth, and teach and impart a particular set values, beliefs and worldview to children.” Families also turn to homeschool and away from ever-increasing one-size-fits-all public education.
In Texas, homeschoolers do not have to initiate contact with a school district, submit to home visits, have curriculum approved, or have any specific teacher certification but homeschoolers need a written curriculum, conduct the school in a bona fide manner, and teach math, reading, spelling, grammar, and good citizenship.
Lambert said, if contacted by a school district, a family has to cooperate with the inquiry and that is defined as responding with a letter assuring that the family” is in accordance with Texas law. “If the district has no evidence to the contrary they accept the assurance, file it, and leaves the family alone.”
Texas truancy laws changed this year, decriminalizing the practice. Still, Lambert maintained, “If the (McIntyre) family had provided the letter we recommend, the school district would never have filed charges in the first place.” On Monday, the family’s attorney Charles “Chad” Baruch, said the McIntyres “interpreted the request as requiring them to use a particular curriculum,” which was why they did not respond to El Paso ISD.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.