Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Punxsutawney Bill: HB 464 (updated)

It's that special time of year again, when two men dressed in outdated suits wake me from my bloggy slumber and force me into the bright sunshine. Unfortunately, I've seen the long shadow of Judge Joe Dale Walker on pending legislation, which means we'll have several more weeks of homeschool activism in Mississippi. Congratulations.

HB 464 is essentially a bill that spells out the qualifications and duties of school attendance officers. Section 1(4)(j) instructs school attendance officers to:
...collect and maintain information concerning each compulsory-school-age child who is being educated in a legitimate home instruction program, as defined in Section 37-13-91, which shall be provided only to the youth court judge or the chancellor of a court of competent jurisdiction for the purpose of exempting such children from the truancy laws of this state.
Sound familiar?

Representative Bob Evans authored the bill and serves House District 91 (Copiah, Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence and Simpson counties). His office is in Monticello. Judge Joe Dale Walker presides over Chancery Court District 13 (Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Simpson and Smith counties). His office is also in Monticello. I live in Simpson County, which is part of both districts. It's like the circle of life or something.

Recall that the MS Supreme Court vacated Judge Walker's court order forcing local school attendance officers to turn over information on all homeschoolers registered in District 13. This is clearly an end-around to get the names of homeschooled students, except it would affect all homeschoolers in the state of Mississippi, not just District 13. But, why go to so much trouble?

According to the bill, the purpose of collecting the information is "exempting such children from the truancy laws of this state." According to Miss. Code. Ann. 37-13-91, we are currently exempt.
(4)  An "unlawful absence" is an absence during a school day by a compulsory-school-age child, which absence is not due to a valid excuse for temporary nonattendance.  Days missed from school due to disciplinary suspension shall not be considered an "excused" absence under this section.  This subsection shall not apply to children enrolled in a nonpublic school. [emphasis added] 
What exactly is a nonpublic school?
(2)(i)  "Nonpublic school" means an institution for the teaching of children, consisting of a physical plant, whether owned or leased, including a home, instructional staff members and students, and which is in session each school year.  This definition shall include, but not be limited to, private, church, parochial and home instruction programs. [emphasis added]
HB 464 seeks to:
"...amend Section 37-13-91, Mississippi Code of 1972, to require the parent, guardian or custodian of a compulsory-school-age child to enroll the child in a public school or legitimate nonpublic school at the point the child is no longer receiving instruction in a legitimate home instruction program..."In other words, if HB 464 passes, homeschooling families would be exempt from truancy laws as long as we are engaged in what the youth court deems a legitimate home instruction program. Otherwise, the youth court judge can order a child to attend a public or private school for violating truancy laws.
Judge Walker has found a friend in Rep. Evans. This bill would create a legal basis for targeting and prosecuting "fake homeschoolers" by placing us all under the scrutiny of school attendance officers and youth court judges. There is no surefire way of determining who in the homeschooling community is doing what and how without creating standards, employing intrusive tactics and applying them universally to the whole. Is it worth putting us all through the wringer to catch a delinquent few? The answer is NO.

If you'd like to call Rep. Evans and ask him why he thinks homeschoolers are so suspicious that our information should be kept on file in youth court, his number at the capitol is 601-359-9393. He can be reached at his Monticello office at 601-587-0615. His email address is

Since Evans has no qualms over-reaching into our homes, you can "over-reach" him at home by calling 601-587-9313. I'm sure his family won't mind the intrusion.

UPDATE: HB 464 died in committee on March 6, 2012. Great news for homeschoolers in Mississippi!