The View From Inside the Horse
In the last year, Idaho has been thrust into the unexpected position of having the highest degree of home schooling liberty in the entire nation. We have jumped to the head of the class for home schooling freedom in America.
Though the ICHE board of legal advisors and the attorneys working for HSLDA would love to take credit for this turn of events, the truth is that it occurred almost despite our efforts. Here is the story of the unexpected twists by which this occurred, the narrative by which a near-disaster in California led to a dramatic victory in Idaho.
It is the account of a series of events which left the ICHE attorneys feeling a bit like the scrawny Greeks who were loaded into the wooden horse and left at the gates of Troy. We watched our opponents scrutinize our meager efforts and then, to our utter amazement, they insisted upon changes that yielded a massive victory for our home schooling liberties here in Idaho.
The whole story of this unlikely journey is far beyond the scope of this brief article. But for those who attend the CHOIS Convention in June, an extended account of the many dramatic and humorous miracles which culminated in this great victory will be provided. This one keynote session alone should be worth the price of admission!
As you may recall, a California appeals court ruled in early 2008 that home schooling was illegal in California. This stunning assessment was based on the lack of an explicit reference to home education in that state's compulsory education statute.
When the ICHE board of legal advisors reviewed Idaho's compulsory education statute, the failure of Idaho's law to expressly authorize home education exposed our Achilles heel under current law. A judge with a bent against home schooling might use an approach similar to that used in California to eliminate the practice here in Idaho.
Consequently, the ICHE and HSLDA attorneys began discussing the advisability of inserting "private home education" into the existing statutory list of the methods by which parents may ensure the education of their children.
To understand what cascaded from these discussions, it is first necessary to go back 20 years. The Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk was created in 1988 by then-Governor, Cecil Andrus. Staffed with educational, welfare, and law enforcement professionals, the Task Force was given the job of looking for ways to make it easier to investigate and prosecute cases of child abuse and neglect.
During the 1990s, the Task Force developed a curious fascination with home education. Several of Idaho's home schooling leaders were asked to address the concerns of the Task Force's that some parents who claimed to be teaching their children at home were actually neglecting their children's education.
The Task Force ramped up its scrutiny of home education in 2006 when it hired three B.S.U. professors to prepare a report on educational neglect. That report concluded that there were 13,954 school aged children in the state about whom the state had no evidence as to their education. The report inferred that many, if not most, of those children were home educated. When it turned out that both the methodology and the conclusions of the professors were seriously flawed, the report was quietly shelved. But the Task Force members continued to struggle with their concerns about home schooling.
As part of the conclusions in their report, the professors also noted that there were certain ambiguities in Idaho's laws on truancy. They encouraged the Task Force to amend those laws to more clearly define "educational neglect" in the state.
Fast forward to the summer of 2008. At the same time that the ICHE and HSLDA attorneys were discussing the advisability of amending Idaho law to insert clear authorization for home schooling, the chairman of the Task Force contacted ICHE to see if we had any objection to their plan to clarify the definition of "educational neglect."
When we mentioned that we were considering plans to amend some of the same statutes, the chairman suggested that perhaps a joint venture was in order. Despite our initial misgivings, in due course the home schoolers and the Task Force moved forward with a joint bill.
As the precise language of the bill was being debated, the home schooling attorneys also discussed the possibility of trying to eliminate two other restrictive aspects of the existing statute.
The first restriction had to do with the law's current requirement that we provide instruction that is "comparable" to that which is available in the public schools. Due to its vagueness, this requirement exposed home educators to the risk of a judge concluding that home schooling is by definition not comparable to all of the "wonderful opportunities" available within the public schools.
The second restriction arose from the question of whether the existing statute's reference to instruction being provided for the same period each year during which the public schools are in session applies to home schoolers. This "seat time" requirement was troubling due to the inherent efficiency of home schooling which typically produces superior academic achievement with fewer hours per year of actual instruction than are required in the public school system. If a judge concluded that home educators had to match the timekeeping requirements under which the public schools operate, the flexibility that yields such strong academic results for home educators could be compromised.
In the interest of keeping the bill as simple as possible, the home schooling attorneys decided that we would stay focused on the dilemma posed by the California court decision and leave the elimination of those other restrictions for another day.
However, when the bill reached the Senate floor for debate, opposition materialized which resulted in a meeting between ICHE and certain Senators who held concerns about the freedoms which were being expanded in the bill.
In that meeting, the ambiguities that were of concern to us in the existing statute were brought up by our opponents. By the end of the meeting, as we watched in silent amazement, the Task Force chairman recommended the elimination of all references to "comparability" in the statute, as well as the clarification that home schoolers were not subject to the "seat time" requirement already in the statute.
As a result, the effort in which we had only intended to accomplish a small step forward for home educators became a giant leap toward home schooling liberty. The bill suddenly and unexpectedly became both the vehicle by which Idahoans would be shielded from a California-style judicial tyranny and the means which established total flexibility in terms of the order, pace, and worldview of the subjects which home schoolers teach.
The bill has become the final chapter in a twenty year drama by which Idaho home schoolers have been blessed with the highest degree of liberty in the entire country. And as the crowning touch, the bill was passed at every step in the journey by the unanimous vote of our legislators.
And so, the next generation of home educators in Idaho have been blessed with unrivaled freedoms. But we must now be vigilant to protect these dramatic liberties from the assaults which will inevitably follow.