Monday, April 11, 2011

Why I do not support HSLDA

I've been asked why I am do not support the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).  It's a long, long story, but I'll do my best to keep this as brief as possible.

As many of you are aware (including, by now, Judge Joe Dale Walker of District 13), the homeschooling community is very political. We know what's up. When the legislative session starts in Mississippi, I can think of several families off the top of my head who check the Bill Status web site for bills that would infringe upon our freedom to homeschool and then share that information far and wide. Many activist-moms also check for bills referencing vaccination, midwifery, animal cruelty, health care, disability, etc. So, knowing and protecting our rights is not just "a homeschool thing." It's a freedom thing.

HSLDA claims to help homeschoolers maintain their freedom to educate their children at home. I disagree. However, I didn't always. When I first began homeschooling, I almost joined HSLDA. Hey, it sounded like a great idea: protect my freedom for one low cost so that I can concentrate on educating my kids. But shortly after I started blogging in 2005, I began to see a different picture of HSLDA. One that:

  • Narrowly defined what homeschooling is and who should homeschool.  
  • Authored restrictive homeschool legislation in many states to reflect these views.  
  • Refused to work with and, in many cases, even worked against local non-HSLDA homeschool associations.

My first exposure to the "other side" of HSLDA was in June of 2005. It wasn't even a high-profile legislative battle with far-reaching implications. It was a local matter in Prince William County, VA that was being handled by a small coalition of local homeschoolers. Despite their efforts and the promise of a successful outcome, HSLDA interfered and--in a matter of days--nearly destroyed the progress that took these families over 18 months to achieve. Although the effort was salvaged, the local homeschoolers ended up having to compromise with HSLDA. You can read about it here:

June 20, 2005: With friends like these...
June 20, 2005: HSLDA on Prince William County, VA
June 22, 2005: Congratulations, PW County!
June 25, 2005: Whaddaya mean "WE"??

This is not an isolated incident. HSLDA has a history of running roughshod over local non-HSLDA homeschool associations. And, to add insult to injury, the organization also has a habit of claiming full credit for or exaggerating its roles in successful outcomes, further marginalizing (and demoralizing) local homeschool community. Here is an article documenting the organization's pattern of disregard.  Please read it.

I believe that local homeschoolers know better than anyone else just what we need to successfully homeschool in our home states. When HSLDA over-reaches and insists that it knows what we need better than we do, the consequences are long term.  And we have to live with them long after their attorneys have flown back home.

This is not an organization that embodies my view of homeschool freedom. And this is why I and others like me (including many Christian families who are former HSLDA members) see this organization as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

[Coming soon: HSLDA's involvement in Mississippi and the potential consequences.]

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Updated: District 13 judge demands info on all homeschoolers

[Scroll down for updates]

There's nothing like a little local homeschool controversy to bring a blogger out of hibernation.  But it is springtime, after all.  []

On Monday, April 4, I was made aware of a court order requested and signed by Chancery Court Judge Joe Dale Walker seeking to obtain the names and addresses of homeschooled children and their parents/guardians in District 13.  District 13 is comprised of Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Simpson and Smith counties.  I live in Simpson County.  After visiting and talking with several people at the courthouse, I learned that not only did he sign this order, he also contacted the Attorney General's office which sent a letter that threatened to arrest local School Attendance Officers (SAOs) if they did not comply with the order within ten days.

[Clarification: (April 11, 2011) Initial reports were that the threat of arrest came from the AGs office.  Although the AG's office did send a letter to the SAOs acknowledging Judge Walker's court order, the AG office's purpose was to advise the SAOs that the judge could find them in contempt of court if they refused to comply with the court order.]

Understandably, the SAOs are upset.  Homeschoolers are upset.  And I'm annoyed, because I was really hoping my "Hi, I'm back!" post would be more, I dunno, about me and not some vigilante judge who wants to shake down my friends.  Anywho...

It's real.  I have a copy of the court order and a copy of the letter the SAOs sent out to homeschooling families in the area informing them of the disclosure.  Here they are for your viewing pleasure:

Court Order signed March 23, 2011

SAO letter sent out on April 1, 2011

There is no mention of a specific court case to which this information pertains, nor is there a general reason given for requesting the information.  Essentially, Judge Walker is demanding the information simply because he wants the information.  But why?

According to courthouse conversations I had on Monday (I'm not sure if I should mention names here, so I won't), the general opinion is that Judge Walker may be attempting to determine which families are legitimately homeschooling and which are using the homeschool statute to circumvent compulsory attendance laws.  The ultimate goal seems to be prosecuting the parents of juveniles who show up in his youth court and who appear not to be receiving legitimate homeschool instruction as well as to flush out other "fake homeschoolers."

I also spoke with others who are officially affiliated with the court and, to the best of my recollection, they confirmed the following:

  • Judge Walker originally contacted the school attendance officers about a month ago and requested that they release the names and addresses of all homeschool students and their parents/guardians to the Youth Court Division of the Chancery Court.  They informed him that handing over that information would be unlawful.
  • Judge Walker contacted the Mississippi Department of Education to request the information.  He was informed by the Office of Educational Accountability that it would be unlawful to provide him with this information without a court order.
  • Judge Walker signed "the Court's own motion" demanding the release of the information on March 23, 2011 (filed March 24).
  • Local SAOs made a personal appeal to Judge Walker to reconsider and rescind the order.  He said no, cited his desire to prosecute truant youths and their parents who are misusing the homeschool laws to hide their under-age drop-outs and expressed his intent to proceed.
  • Local SAOs then received a letter from the Attorney General's office informing them that they'd be arrested they could be held in contempt of court if they defied the order.
  • Local SAOs sent out a letter informing homeschooling families in District 13 of the impending release of their names, their homeschooled children's names and their addresses.
  • Local SAOs were later instructed to remove the names of homeschoolers who are enrolled in any of the six unaccredited private schools (which are legally considered home schools and are casually referred to as cottage schools.) in the area, since those students are considered "legitimately homeschooled" by Judge Walker.
If this is true, perhaps Judge Walker either doesn't know or doesn't care that interviewing, profiling, visiting or otherwise needlessly interfering with homeschool families for the sole purpose of comparing them against an arbitrary, legally non-existent and unenforceable standard with the intent of potentially charging the "failing" parents with a crime is not legal.  

Clearly, the judge is not concerned only with the youths who appear in his court.  Otherwise, why would the court order seek to secure ALL of the names and addresses of homeschoolers in District 13?  By excluding the names of homeschooled students who are believed to be enrolled in cottage schools, he is specifically targeting families who homeschool their own children in their own homes and, one supposes, presuming that they deserve his scrutiny.  

More importantly, what specifically does he intend to do with this information?  That remains to be seen.  If I were a vigilante judge who got my hands on a database of homeschoolers' names and addresses, perhaps I would cross-reference it with past criminal records, DHS cases, driving records, credit histories, tax information, etc.  And if I thought I could get away with it, maybe I'd send someone to your home to interview you and hope that you don't know your legal rights.

I'm not saying that Judge Walker would do those things. But there are many possibilities and none of them are pleasant.  And I'm not saying that there are no "fake homeschoolers" out there.  But they are a small minority for which the lawful majority should not have to sacrifice or submit to unwarranted intrusion.  Prosecute the juveniles for the crimes they've been accused of and leave homeschooling out of it.

While I was at the courthouse Monday, I registered to vote.  Judge Joe Dale Walker's term ends in 2014.

April 7, 2011: As expected, the Mississippi Supreme Court has issued a stay on all proceedings until Monday, April 18, 2011.  Now, Judge Walker has to explain why he wants the information and put some law behind his justification.  Some speculate that Judge Walker may simply drop his original court order.  If he does, that would be stellar.  If he doesn't, there are pro bono attorneys who are waiting in the wings to help protect the information belonging to those of us who are not affiliated with HSLDA or any other group.

April 8, 2011: Correction: The stay is in effect until the Supreme Court issues a decision in the case, which will likely be after the 18th. The Judge has to submit an answer by the 18th, though.-- Genna McLeod

April 10, 2011: An incredibly simple, boring, one-sided article on the situation was published by the Clarion Ledger today. Way to phone one in, Jimmie Gates.

Side note: Y'all, do yourselves a favor: do not read the asinine comments at the CL (but if you do, be warned: that loud slurping sound--kinda like the one kids make when trying to suck the last drop of soda through a straw--is the sound of uninformed people trying to entice you into a fruitless debate. Just walk away.).  Enjoy this beautiful weather instead.

April 11, 2011: SAOs in Simpson County acknowledged that they received a second letter from the AG's office acknowledging the stay and instructing them (in bold capital letters) not to release any information to Judge Walker.

April 18, 2011: The deadline for Judge Walker to provide an explanation for issuing the court order is tonight at midnight.  We won't actually find out what happened or what comes next until tomorrow, April 19.  But, as soon as we do, I will update it here and post the update on Facebook.

April 19, 2011: Judge Walker did not provide an explanation to the MS Supreme Court before the midnight deadline.  According to my brilliant and helpful sources, the MS Supreme Court will likely interpret this to mean that there was no reason for Judge Walker to request this info.  It is unclear at this time whether the Court will hear from both sides before making a decision.  Either way, it appears that things will go our way.

CORRECTION: New development.  I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say or know, so I will stick to the basics: we don't actually know if the judge provided an explanation, because that information is no longer available. But, we do know that the MS Supreme Court hasn't ruled. It may not be a big deal, and we think we know what is happening, but I'd rather not speculate here.

Instead, we are preparing in case it becomes necessary to make an additional filing on behalf of "the rest of us" (because if you are not an HSLDA member, you are not specifically covered by HSLDA's filing. Fortunately, you don't have to be an HSLDA member to protect your family. Read on.). If you are a homeschooler in District 13, not a member of HSLDA and are interested in protecting your family's information from Judge Walker, contact Genna McLeod at It will cost you nothing. This is a pro bono service provided by MGM Law Group.  Thank you, Genna and Mark!

April 25, 2011: Excellent news! The MS Supreme Court has vacated Judge Walker's court order.  He will not be receiving any information regarding homeschoolers in District 13 unless they are appearing in his court as a part of a case.

The end!
[Necessary disclaimer: Since we haven't done this in a while, I'd like to remind you all that the views expressed here are my opinions.  I am not an attorney or a non-attorney spokesperson.  I have never played one on TV.  I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  Nothing in this post, before and after this sentence--or on this entire blog for that matter--should be misconstrued as legal advice.  Because it's not.  Because I'm not an attorney.  If you need clarification or legal advice, consult an attorney (i.e. not me).]

[Begrudging acknowledgement: I am aware that H$LDA's lawyers are on this.  It warms the cockles of my heart to include them in the first real post I've put up here in two years. /snark]