Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Vice President of the Home School Legal Defense Association, Jim Mason to the newsmaker line to discuss their history and the current legal challenges facing homeschooling families today.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line by Jim Mason who is the vice president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Good morning, Jim.
Mason: Good morning.
Leahy: I guess you live in the Washington D.C. area north of Virginia perhaps? Is my guess correct?
Mason: Well, I prefer to think of it as living in the Shenandoah Valley than D.C.
Leahy: (Chuckles) What’s the weather like there this morning Jim?
Mason: We had some freezing rain overnight and it’s fairly cold, but foggy outside it looks like.
Leahy: Well here in Nashville people are recommended not to drive because it’s very very cold. Below zero. And the roads are filled with snow and black ice so it’s very dangerous. So that’s why we’re delighted to have you on the phone so we can talk about something else this morning Jim. Have long have you been with the Homeschool Defense Association?
Mason: I am approaching my 20th year.
Leahy: You’ve been there quite a while. I’ll tell you a little connection that we have. Mike Farris, as you know is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and also the founder of Patrick Henry College which is a great school in Purcellville, Virginia. Gosh, about 10 years ago I took my daughter who was then a freshman in high school and she spent two weeks there at a summer camp on ancient history and loved it.
It was great a great experience. Patrick Henry College is a great college. A lot of homeschoolers go there. The Home School Legal Defense Association began in the late 1980s when Mike Farris and Mike Smith said, we’re homeschooling kids and found there were some difficulties protecting that right to home school. Tell us a little bit about the history of the Home School Legal Association.
Mason: Well, you’re exactly right. Back when homeschooling as a movement was just in its little baby steps in the 70s and early 80’s both Mike Farris and Mike Smith lawyers like Mike Ferris in Washington state and Mike Smith in Southern California began homeschooling their own kids after they heard the famous broadcast on Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson.
Leahy: Let me stop you there just a moment. I was not aware of that famous broadcast. Please fill us in on that.
Mason: Well, so they were kind of one of the early advocates of home education. It was James Dobson who had Raymond Moore on his Focus on the Family radio show expounding on the benefits of keeping kids out of school and teaching them at home. And so both Mike Farris and Mike Smith heard that broadcast and within a very short time, both decided to start homeschooling their own kids.
Mike Ferris had his oldest daughter in a private school and Mike Smith had his in public schools, but they both started homeschooling shortly thereafter. Because they were both lawyers and the movement was just kind of taking off in its very early stages they would get calls from people because back in the early 80s homeschooling was not viewed with quite the same good wishes as it is today.
Most states, most schools, and most public schools thought homeschooling was either illegal or certainly a bad idea. And so there were a lot of legal difficulties and they were in private practice doing other things, but they were getting calls from other families who wanted to home-school. And so Mike Farris and Mike Smith started the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 where it had kind of the notion that homeschooling families could band together through a membership organization and they could then be able to have a lawyer at no cost.
And so in those early days, it grew from, a few 100s to a few 1000s. And today we have over 100,000 member families. By member families I mean we probably have close to half a million people in our membership because it’s mom, dads, and kids.
Leahy: That’s quite a level of growth. Now tell me, Jim, what are the legal challenges to homeschooling that you are working on today in 2021?
Mason: Well, that’s the amazing thing about the history of the home education movement. In the early days, the legal challenges were you might get prosecuted for truancy, no matter where you were. Today homeschooling is both widely and it’s completely legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. There is no question about that. Nobody questions the legality of homeschooling anymore.
The regulations that existed back in the early late 80s into the 90s and even into the early part of this century have mostly been rolled back to a much more reasonable level of regulation in most states. And we’re still working on rolling back some unreasonable regulations in a few states like Pennsylvania and New York and a few other outlying kinds of regulations. But for the most part, it is unquestionably legal.
So the barriers to entry to homeschooling today are much lower than they were before. The real challenge for folks today is however is the public schools are still a government bureaucracy. And no disrespect to public school teachers, but public schools still don’t tend to favor homeschooling in a lot of cases.
And that’s what we’re seeing today right now with the pandemic and school closures. Lots of people are seeing homeschooling as a safe haven and we’re starting to see a couple of things. Some real outrageous responses by public schools for people wanting to home school. We’re starting to see some pushback.
Leahy: So let me stop for a moment. Logically it would seem to me with public schools either not meeting or having all sorts of constraints on behavior and attendance it would seem to me would simply be logical for a parent to say well, I can’t take my child to public school. I will homeschool them. Now it sounds to me like you’re saying the public school bureaucracy is increasing its attacks on people that want to do that. On what grounds? What are some of the examples of the outrageous pushback from public schools you’re seeing during the pandemic?
Mason: Well a couple of things that occurred just earlier this month, one is truant officers are going around on Saturdays knocking on the doors of people who haven’t had their kids logging into the online thing. (Chuckles) And that’s kind of frightening because in most states you have to home school. You have to least file some kind of a notice of intent to do so.
But with the school closures and offices closed and so forth the word doesn’t always get to the right people. And so you do everything you’re supposed to do to lawfully homeschool but on a Saturday morning, a truant officer shows up at your door and says, hey, why aren’t your kids in school?
Leahy: So so walk me through that. What has happened? Give me an example where a truant officer, knock knock knock goes to the home-school family on Saturday. Your kids aren’t in school. Oh, truant officer, they are being homeschooled. What happened next?
Mason: Well so far as I know nothing terrible has happened. We encourage people to have all of their paperwork and so forth ready and handy just to show the truant officer immediately. One of the sad things though that sometimes happens is it’s not the truant officer that shows up but it’s a CPS child welfare investigator. That’s a completely different story.
Leahy: So, how does a child welfare investigator get to show up instead of a truant officer? Where is the legal authority for that?
Mason: So there are places but one state that does this routinely is New York state.
Leahy: Oh, wait, wait wait. Do you mean the state where Andrew Cuomo is the governor? That state?
Mason: Last I checked he was still governor. I heard some rumblings though.
Leahy: There are some rumblings. Talk about the epitome of the overreaching state government. But go ahead about when the child welfare service person shows up at a home in New York. What happens then?
Mason: This is a story that I’m not even sure that I believe yet and but I’m pretty sure it’s true. So here’s what happened.
Leahy: Jim, hold through this a little bit. I know it’s going to be a good story. We have to take a little break…
Listen to the full first hour here:
– – –