Bill Would Close Parental Rights Loophole Affecting Texas Homeschoolers

Texas Capitol
Sarah Rumpf/Breitbart Texas

It seems like such an anomaly that Texas homeschoolers are still fighting for their rights in a state that ranks among the best in the nation to homeschool. Yet, last week, more than 250 homeschooled students and their parents convened in Austin for the Texas Home School Coalition’s (THSC) Capitol Days to lobby for legislation that will strengthen parental rights, if passed, during the 84th Legislative session.

Senate Bill 414, also known as the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act, authored by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunsfels), would close a troubling loophole in the Texas Family Code that currently does not protect homeschool parental rights.

Campbell, a strong proponent of school-choice, introduced SB 414 “to fortify the rights of fit parents when facing lengthy and costly legal battles over custody of their children with a grandparent,” Jon Oliver, Senior Advisor of Policy & Communications in Campbell’s office told Breitbart Texas.

According to THSC, the current laws allows wealthy grandparents and/or rogue judges to exploit the legal system, crush parental rights, and rip families apart through the Grandparents Access Statute.

This provision in the family code actually enables a judge to issue a temporary order to remove children from a single-parent home. For this to happen, all a grandparent must do is claim that the parent is denying them access, and that the denial of that access will significantly impair the child’s development, according to THSC.

A judge can then grant access to the grandparent for an undefined period with the temporary order and completely remove the child from the home.

In a statement, THSC Policy Director Jeremy Newman told Breitbart Texas that when a child is removed from a parent, it can be indefinitely and without even an accusation that they are unfit. THSC believes fit parents should be the one to determine who has access to their children.

Families are torn apart in these instances and while there are legitimate situations where access should be granted, THSC Chief Policy Analyst Isaac Sommers told Breitbart Texas, these decisions should not come at the expense of justice, due process, and protection of the family unit.

“Neither the parent or the child benefits from the financial and emotional strain of a frivolous lawsuit that drags on for years and devastates any hope of ever reconciling the relationships between the parent and the grandparents. Children should not have to bear the brunt of a disagreement between their parents and their in-laws,” Newman added.

“While there are certainly legitimate cases and reasons for a grandparent to sue for custody or access of a grandchild, current state law allows too much room for abuse as fit parents are put on trial and the best interests of the child are too often neglected,” Oliver added.

THSC is a longtime champion in fighting for the rights of families to homeschool and for their parental rights. Unlike states including Connecticut where homeschool families are fighting to establish parental rights coalitions, Texas has led the way in solidifying homeschooling rights. Most recent THSC estimates show that more than 120,000 families in the state home educate. This translates into approximately 300,000 children.

Breitbart Texas reported that Texans fought hard for their homeschooling freedoms over the years. THSC president Tim Lambert previously said that “we guard our freedom to home school with great determination because we experienced the heavy hand of government oppression against home schooling parents in the 1980’s.”

The state’s homeschool support non-profit organization won a difficult parental rights case for Jim Loose and his daughter in 2011.  Four years prior, Loose lost custody to his in-laws days after his wife passed away. A Fort Worth judge issued a temporary order against him and co-parenting custody had been granted to his former in-laws who lived in Texas. The 10-year-old was removed from his home and his custody. The bitter battle to regain custody put Loose at the brink of bankruptcy.

In retrospect, Loose cited his concern with the ease with which the system can tear a family apart through what he called a “way too activist judiciary and way too activist government, in general.”

SB 414 would shorten the lengthy legal process and require evidentiary hearings within 45 days of the filing of a suit, also raising the standard of evidence from ‘preponderance’ to ‘clear and convincing’, according to Oliver. These kinds of safeguards would prevent situations like what happened in the Loose case.

Oliver said that Campbell’s intention in creating the bill was to ensure a more appropriate balance that provides the best legal protection for all parties involved – parents, particularly single parents who are often most vulnerable, grandparents, and children.

At Capitol Days, Campbell spoke to families as did home school father state Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who was introduced as one of Texas’ biggest political advocates of home schooling.

THSC believes it has the support to pass the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act during this legislative session in the fight to “keep Texas families free,” which is the watchdog group’s motto. Currently, SB 414 is in its earliest stages.

“We believe that the fundamental, constitutional right of a fit parent to direct the care, control, and upbringing of their child should not be dependent on how much money they have and we are seeking to close loopholes in the law that allow non-parents to use this statute to ‘bootstrap’ themselves into a way to take children from fit parents,” THSC President Tim Lambert underscored in an email to Breitbart Texas.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.