DALLAS – The Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week to decide the level of autonomy of homeschools in the state that houses one-sixth of the nation’s total homeschool population.
The case began in 2006, when Michael and Laura McIntyre of El Paso, Texas were accused of not properly educating their children after their 17-year-old daughter ran away from home to attend school.
She ran away to family members that were involved in a contentious multimillion-dollar lawsuit against her parents over the ownership of a motorcycle business. Shortly afterward, the local school district received an anonymous complaint that the children were not being properly educated.
According to the litigation, a family member overheard one of the McIntyre children reference “the rapture,” in connection to not doing homework, but the validity and the circumstances surrounding this comment are uncertain.
Texas has some of the most lax homeschool regulation laws, under which homeschools operate as private schools. Under current law, in cases where education is suspect, state officials may ask the homeschool providers in question to sign a form verifying that they are meeting the basic requirements – reading, spelling, grammar, math, and citizenship – or face truancy charges.
The McIntyres refused to sign the form, claiming that it would violate their religious liberty and constitutional rights. School administration repeatedly requested further documentation, and the McIntyre’s responded with a letter from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) asserting that the McIntyre’s were in full compliance with Texas requirements.”
“We believe that this case is really rising from a family business dispute, so it is synonymous to divorce case in that it is very messy,” said Michael D. Farris Jr., HSLDA Chairman.
The district’s attendance officer, Mark Mendoza, filed truancy complaints against the McIntyre’s after they failed to produce documentation; however, these complaints were ultimately dismissed after the 17-year-old and the family members to which she ran away declined to testify.
The McIntyre’s then sued the school district, its superintendent, and Mendoza, claiming that in its investigation into their homeschooling curriculum, the defendants violated the Texas Education Code and the U.S Constitution. They also claimed that the contentious suit occurring between the McIntyre families motivated the initial truancy complaints.
An appellate court ruled in the school district’s favor, finding that “parents do not have an absolute constitutional right to home school,” and that Mendoza was legally able to investigate the curriculum.
The McIntyre’s appealed, and oral arguments for the case were held this week.
The case, according to Plaintiff’s Counsel Charles Baruch, involves two issues, one with major implications for the homeschooling community, and one with more technical yet still decisive effects.
First, it addresses whether or not the school district can regulate homeschool curriculum.
On a more technical note, the School District argued that the McIntyre’s did not “exhaust administrative remedies” in failing to first take their issue before the school board before taking their issue to the court, said Baruch. If the court decides in favor of the School District, the case will be moot as the plaintiffs claims will be barred by government immunity.
Baruch said that the oral arguments went “fine.”
“The court had a lot of good questions,” he said.
Baruch said that although the case began as a result of a family dispute over the motorcycle business, it is now “about the rights of the homeschool families” of Texas.
The Texas Supreme Court is known for its conservatism, and will issue its decision in then next 3-5 months.
Despite the potential increased state authority over homeschool curriculum, the HSLDA said that the decision, whatever the impact, will not weaken Texas’s homeschool environment.
“We are confident that this is not going to change homeschool law in Texas. At all,” said Farris.