WorldNetDaily ExclusiveHOME SCHOOLING - Part 2
Despite home schooling's widespread successes and rapid growth, many school districts, police departments and local governments seem threatened by the movement.
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One thing is certain: home schooling parents are a tenacious bunch that react swiftly when they feel their rights are endangered. They respond immediately and almost unanimously when called upon to fight legislation that hinders their efforts. Even House Education Committee Chairman Bill Goodling, R-PA, has said that home schoolers are one of the two (senior citizens being the other) most effective lobbying groups in Washington, D.C.
Whether they are charging into litigious or legislative battle, home schoolers are usually led by the Home School Legal Defense Association. Directed by President Michael Farris, the association is entering its 15th year of representing the rights of home schooling families. HSLDA claims membership of over 60,000 families, each of whom pays $100 in dues annually.
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The association's literature says they provide "experienced legal counsel and representation by qualified attorneys to every member family who is challenged by government officials in the area of home schooling." The association also maintains an active lobbying presence on Capitol Hill.
During the 15-year existence of the association, Farris has seen a remarkable change in attitudes toward home schooling. Whereas Farris once oversaw voluminous legal responsibilities for his organization, now lobbying consumes an equal amount of the association's resources as litigation does.
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"We're doing more cases and contacts than ever, but the percentage of home schoolers that are having litigation level difficulties has decreased dramatically," says Farris. "Just about everybody was a target of litigation 15 years ago. The proportion has shifted over the time we've been in existence."
Still, the most persistent threat to home schooling parents has been the continued intrusion of social workers into families' homes. "We're litigating constantly," says Farris, "and we have a situation like that come up every single week."
Farris says social worker problems take up more of the association's time than anything else does, and they have several civil rights lawsuits pending. They sue the social workers and police officers directly, in most cases.
The association generally advises its members to ask social workers for a search warrant or court order before allowing them to enter their homes. That is what Shirley Calabretta did in November 1994 when social worker Jill Floyd and police officer Nicholas Schwall demanded entry into her home. The tactic didn't work, however, as Officer Schwall threatened to force entry if Mrs. Calabretta didn't permit Floyd to question her children.
The Calabrettas home school all six of their children, who range from ages 1 1/2 to 15. They live quietly in the Sacramento, Calif. area, and are dedicated to raising their children to serve Jesus Christ.
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Floyd was investigating an anonymous report of child abuse from the Calabrettas' neighborhood. The source of the report was also a social worker, who had heard a child screaming "No, no, no" in his backyard. Mrs. Calabretta explained that her son had fallen on a post in their backyard days before, injuring his wrist, and was screaming in pain.
According to Mrs. Calabretta, the "risk factor" section of Floyd's report stated that the Calabrettas home school their children, are extremely religious, and there was a cry heard coming from their home.
"It just seemed like there was a predisposition there against home schoolers and against people who call the Lord their own," says Mrs. Calabretta. "100 years ago being in a extremely religious family would have been considered a compliment. Now the red flags go up and everybody thinks you're some extremist or cultist, and that governments need to come in and protect your children from you."
Having gained entry, Floyd took the Calabrettas' twelve-year-old daughter, Tamar, to be interrogated in a bedroom. Tamar was questioned about her parents' practices of discipline and spanking. While being interrogated, the Calabrettas' 3-year-old daughter, Natalie, entered the bedroom. Floyd then requested that Tamar remove Natalie's clothes, which Tamar resisted. Natalie began screaming.
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Upon hearing Natalie, Mrs. Calabretta raced to the bedroom, where Floyd demanded to see Natalie's bottom. Seeing no other way to get Floyd and Schwall to leave her home, Mrs. Calabretta demonstrated that there were no marks on Natalie.
Before leaving the home, Floyd reprimanded Mrs. Calabretta for spanking her children with an object, and told her she was violating California law. However, California law specifically exempts spanking from abuse.
The Calabrettas are now being represented by the HSLDA in a civil lawsuit against Floyd and Officer Schwall. Their complaint claims that Floyd and Schwall violated the Calabrettas' 4th Amendment protection from illegal search and seizure without a warrant, and are seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Floyd and Schwall say that they didn't violate the Calabrettas' rights, and that Mrs. Calabretta allowed them to enter her home. The defendants also claim to be immune from such lawsuits.
On Jan. 7, 1997, Chief Judge Lawrence K. Karlton ruled that social workers and police officers investigating child abuse may not enter a home without a warrant or evidence of an emergency. Floyd contended that social workers aren't required to follow the same rules as police officers, which the judge rejected. That aspect of the case is under appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.
Now, over 3 1/2 years later, the Calabrettas are still waiting for a jury trial on the issue of whether Mrs. Calabretta consented to the entry into her home by Floyd and Schwall. "It goes beyond (Mrs. Calabretta) believing it was not voluntary consent," says Robert Calabretta, Shirley's husband. "It was clearly intimidation."
"I would say there's a combination of ignorance and deliberate disbelief in the principles of the Constitution," says Michael Farris. "The police think that the normal rules of the 4th Amendment simply evaporate, as long as they're with a social worker, which is simply not true."
"It's our goal to teach every social worker in America that they have to obey the 4th Amendment. That's a big component of what we do."
Another infringement upon the freedom of home schoolers (and all school age children) is the growing implementation of "truancy prevention ordinances" by local governments. Also known as daytime curfews, most of these ordinances make it unlawful for anyone under age eighteen to be anywhere other than a school building, or the child's home, during school hours.
These laws are increasingly popular and have been enacted in several communities, mostly in California. The most recognized such law has been enacted in Monrovia, Calif., because of its success in reducing truancy. President Clinton has praised Monrovia's daytime curfew and sees it as a model for the nation.
Home schoolers view the curfew as a severe curtailment upon their rights. Often a home schooler, or even a private school student, attends school on a completely different schedule from public schools.
"This defeats one of the obvious benefits of home education: a flexible schedule and different locations for learning experiences," says J. Michael Smith, vice president of HSLDA.
The Monrovia curfew authorizes police to stop any unsupervised youth who is not in school from the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on school days. If found to be truant, officers can cite the minor for a $125 fine or 27 hours of community service.
Monrovia police have detained home schooled and privately schooled children on several occasions when enforcing the curfew. Jesse and Ben Harrahill, ages 16 and 14, were stopped and interrogated 20 separate times over a nine month period. 16-year-old Gabriel Chavez was stopped five times by five different officers in a 20-minute period in the fall of 1996. Melinda Isenberger, 15, and a friend were followed and stopped by two plain-clothed officers in an unmarked car. The officers, who never identified themselves as police, let the girls go with a warning after questioning them.
HSLDA is now representing five families in Monrovia who are challenging the constitutionality of the city's daytime curfew ordinance.
"Curfews are a tool of martial law and are designed to bring people under control who are living in a war zone," says Michael Farris. "We don't believe the city of Monrovia is a war zone."
"Americans live in a free country and people are supposed to be able to walk on the street."
In some ways local governments and school districts have embraced home schoolers, although for reasons that may not be beneficial to home schoolers.
School districts in the States of California and Washington are leading the way in a movement to lure those who educate at home under the public school umbrella. Because funding for government schools is based on enrollment, those home schoolers who don't use public school facilities cost local districts money. This results in thousands of dollars lost for each public school.
To recover the revenue that is lost from those non-participants, school districts are establishing programs that permit home schoolers to use certain resources on a part-time basis. Often the home schooling family is offered a fixed dollar amount of curriculum or services for free (as long as they are a local taxpayer). As a result, that local school can claim the home schooled student as a full-timer, enabling the district to obtain the state dollars that are allotted for each student.
Washington has developed a program called Alternative Education, under which many school districts have established "cyberschools," which are designed specifically for home schoolers. These schools have become quite popular; many have long waiting lists.
Edmonds Cyberschool, just north of Seattle, gives parents up to $400 in curriculum, tutorials, computer time, classes in music or art, library services, etc. Students are required to be at school only 5 hours a week. The Edmonds school district is then reimbursed upwards of $3600 per student, as though they were enrolled full-time.
Because of the large financial benefit, many school systems have begun advertising for new recruits from the home schooling ranks. The schools make a good first impression on the home schooling parent: their tax dollars can be used for their children's education, and they can use resources that might not be available in their home. The offer is enticing.
However, parents who started home schooling for religious reasons, or to escape government influence, often find themselves back in the same trap. Once the student is enrolled in the government program, it is likely that they will be prohibited from using any religion-based curriculum. They must use state-approved materials.
"Your home is now an extension of the public school," says DiAnna Brannan, a Washington home schooling mother who has studied the subject extensively. She contends that once home educators are enrolled in the Alternative Education program, they are no longer home schooling.
Michael Farris agrees with Brannan.
"People who are home schooling for religious reasons need to realize they're forfeiting their ability to teach a Christian curriculum, as a result of signing up with these schools," says Farris.
Farris says he won't defend home schoolers enrolled in the government programs if they are sued for teaching religious curriculum. They have no basis in law to defend themselves.
According to Brannan, the next step is for governments to make enrollment in the programs mandatory for home schoolers.
"In terms of threats to liberty, (Alternative Education) is a big one that's coming," says Farris.
There are other pockets of resistance to home schooling, such as from the National Education Association, who believe all legitimate education needs certification from the state.
Also, home schoolers have had difficulty in gaining acceptance in the U.S. military, who view them as equals with high school dropouts and GED graduates. Farris successfully won a suit against the Navy on behalf of a home schooler who was seeking to serve the country.
On the other hand, college admissions have not been a problem for home schoolers. Their excellent testing performances enable them to meet college standards easily.
"Overall, there remain problems, but we see lots of progress," says Farris. "There's no area that occurs to me where we've absolutely hit a dead wall. We've learned to chip away at those."
Farris has waged many court battles over the last 15 years. "The vast majority of them, we've won," he says.
"There's been some aberration to that, but generally the courts say, 'Yeah, you're right; the 4th Amendment applies.' And as long as the 4th Amendment applies, we win."