Thursday, June 9, 2016

Leeper Day

Leeper Day has nothing to do with Leap Year Day. It’s the day the Texas Supreme Court gave the final word declaring homeschools to be private schools, and therefore legal, in Texas. Which led to much of our homeschool freedom across the country.

Where to start the story? Let’s briefly go back to 1915. At that point, the state legislature enacted compulsory attendance laws, which included either public schools or private schools. At that time, a majority of Texas students were educated in small, unaccredited private schools or at home. Only 10% attended public schools.

Move ahead a few decades, and public schools have overtaken private schools as the common experience. But all along there continued to be people who educated their children at home.

The more public schools monopolized education—along with more one-size-must-fit-all rules and regulations—more parents looked for alternatives. There have always been parochial and private schools. But for families with multiple children—who are already paying ever increasing taxes for education—the tuition can be daunting.

And then there are these reasons: lack of religious and moral education in public schools, bad socialization in public schools, lack of individualized attention for different learners running the gamut from Down’s Syndrome, to learning disorders, through gifted students. Plus there are other reasons—families wanting to spend more time together, families wanting to travel together, families with students specializing in various talents and skills.

So, in the 1970s and 1980s, there were families who homeschooled—but they were seen as iconoclastic pioneers in an era of factory-modeled public schools. These pioneers were mainly dedicated, hardworking families who valued education and were willing to sacrifice to give their children what they thought was best. But public school officials saw them as a threat and began prosecuting them for truancy. Starting in 1981 the Texas Education Association (TEA) changed its language to declare that home educated students were not exempt from compulsory attendance at public schools.
Daughter Social Sphere, ctitizen lobbying at the
state capitol, one of our homeschool adventures

The courts were mixed in their decisions: sometimes school districts won, sometimes homeschooling families.

Families started working together and learning how to lobby the legislature in hopes that writing clarifying laws, guaranteeing parental rights, might help. And they got better at that—but the legislative route, in a state that was at that time staunchly democrat with the big government that goes with that, was not making progress. [Homeschoolers are still among the best citizen lobbyists in Texas, forever working to restore and maintain parental rights. Because, as they say, “When the legislature is in session, no one’s freedoms are safe.”]

Shelby Sharpe, attorney in the
Leeper v. Arlington case
photo from
Then, in March 1985, a lawyer named Shelby Sharpe decided to go about things in a different way. He filed a lawsuit on behalf of all home educators in Texas, at the request of a number of homeschool families and curriculum suppliers, against all the school districts in Texas. The Leeper family became the title of the case, against their school district, Arlington ISD (independent school district). The lawsuit asked for a declaratory judgment on whether or not the legislature had intended the term “private schools” to include homeschools, back in that 1915 statute on compulsory education.

This case turned things around, from defense to offense. Instead of individual families one-by-one defending their right to homeschool, homeschooling families together charged 1063 individual public school districts to prove that homeschoolers hadn’t been following the law all along.

Besides the lawyer, who was extraordinary during the years this case went through the courts, there were some other figures who stand out. One is expert witness Dr. R. J. Rushdoony, who knew Texas law, and testified in homeschooling cases across the country. The opposition couldn’t refute the facts he brought with him.

Additionally, there were the families that were represented in the case, the Leeper family and others. The opposition had tried to portray homeschooling families in various negative ways. They claimed they were bigoted, and they pulled their kids out of school after integration because they didn’t want to mix—but the families were a broad mix, including black and Hispanic families, who were as welcome in homeschool communities and anyone else.

The opposition claimed they were just using their older children to babysit younger children while they went to work—but they were never able to find even a single such family anywhere in the state.
The opposition claimed that they weren’t educated well enough to teach their own children. Even Teas Attorney General Jim Mattox publicly made this claim. Here the opposition seriously failed to do its homework. There was a particular family from near Houston, a black family. The mother had worked at NASA. The opposition attorneys probably thought she had been on the cleaning crew. But she was in fact an engineer—who had been offered the opportunity to be the first woman, and the first black, astronaut; she had turned down the opportunity for the sake of her family.

I re-watched a documentary on this homeschooling story—Taking a Stand in Texas: The Battle for Home School Freedom, produced in 2007 for Texas Home School Coalition. In the video, Shelby Sharpe tears up still, twenty years later, at the touching sacrifice of this woman. I believe he mentioned her name, but I missed it. He had known she was an engineer, but he hadn’t known she gave up being an astronaut; she had been private about that. But her testimony convinced the judge that, a) she was educated far beyond necessity for teaching her own children, b) the family cared deeply about the children, and c) clearly racism had nothing to do with it.
The video documentary by THSC,org
(no longer available)

In April 1987 Judge Charles J. Murray issued a decision in Tarrant County District Court, binding on all the state’s school districts, ruling that homeschools are private schools for the purpose of compulsory attendance, completely validating the rights of parents to educate their children at home anywhere in Texas.

While all the districts were involved, there were three main school districts representing them in the case: Arlington, Katy (near Houston), and another in, I believe, San Antonio. The superintendents in all three agreed with the ruling and were willing to abide by the decision—no longer prosecuting homeschoolers as truant. However, the State Board of Education (remember, this is back when Texas was still mainly democrat) insisted on appealing.

The appeal took from September 4, 1987, to November 27, 1991, going through the same testimony. And the same decision. The Second District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling—completely, and without changes.

The SBOE appealed again. Apparently believing that homeschooling was some sort of threat to them. But finally, on June 9, 1994, the Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously (9-0) to confirm the lower court’s decision.

As Sharpe describes it afterward, “After the victory that God gave us in that case, the prosecutions [of homeschoolers] stopped in all the other forty-nine states.”

Homeschoolers were taking a risk with the case. If they hadn’t won, they had very little recourse.
But it is a God-given right for parents to see to the care and upbringing of their children. That means it is not a right granted by government when government sees fit; government interference is an attempt to usurp authority from the parents.

So we have these pioneer homeschooling heroes to thank. By the time our family started homeschooling in 2000, we were still a bit odd, but everybody knew some homeschoolers. We were able to join with other homeschoolers locally. We had resources at various levels to turn to. And curriculum alternatives—including online resources, many of which are free or low cost—were already growing exponentially.

The homeschooling victory shows us a pattern. Individuals who valued education had been seeing to the education of their children for centuries—millennia. Government, whose purpose is to secure our rights of life, liberty, and property, does the typical human thing and tries to usurp power, claiming it is for the good of all. They skew a basic interest such as, “An educated populace is necessary for a self-governing people,” into, “Government knows how best to educate, and all people must submit.”

It’s scary how successful that tyrannical line has been for well over a century so far. But people who say, “No, I have an inalienable right, and I don’t submit to your control,” can eventually break through. And then everyone benefits.

Not only are families free to homeschool if they choose, families are gaining more and more alternatives to the government institutional monopoly. Charter schools, private schools, education savings accounts, part-time private schools combined with homeschooling, private tutors, online programs, special needs programs, specialized lessons—the variety is growing. The free market is doing its inventive thing to meet the growing demand.

So, even though we face tyranny from so many directions around us—marriage laws, sexual-predator-accessible bathroom and locker room facilities, religious discrimination, speech discrimination, and threats to so many of our liberties—we have seen an example of success against tyranny.

Thank you, homeschooling pioneers, for teaching us that we can win back our freedom.

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