For Immediate Release: Texas Supreme Court Sends Homeschool Case Back to Lower Courts
Canton, Ma., 6/29/2016—On Friday, June 24, the Texas Supreme Court issued its ruling in a long-standing dispute between a homeschooling family and a local school district. Although the court had the opportunity to clarify the responsibilities of school districts with regard to homeschooling in the state of Texas, it declined to do so. Instead, the court decided to send the case back to a lower court while limiting its discussion to technical jurisdictional matters.
The case began in 2006 when Tori McIntyre, the family’s oldest daughter, ran away from home because she wanted to attend school. After Tori was placed in the ninth grade at a local public school, despite being 17 years-old at the time, her grandparents contacted the school district to notify officials of their serious concerns regarding the education of their other homeschooled grandchildren. The district requested that the McIntyre parents sign a homeschool verification form and upon their refusal brought truancy charges against them. The charges were soon dropped, but in the aftermath, the McIntyres filed a suit against the school district (and family members), claiming these entities had violated their rights under state and federal law.
Under Texas law, homeschools operate as individual private schools. Parents are not required to provide notice of homeschooling or to submit any evidence that they are educating their children. While parents are required to provide instruction in good citizenship, math, reading, spelling, and grammar, there is no assessment mechanism to ensure that this instruction is being provided. “Texas’ homeschool law offers some of the fewest protections for homeschooled children in the country,” said Rachel Coleman, a homeschool alumna and the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. “School districts aren’t given a lot of clarity or direction when it comes to safeguarding homeschooled children’s right to an education.”
Friday’s ruling centered on two rather technical legal issues. The first was whether the courts even had jurisdiction over the McIntyre case. In order to bring a complaint regarding Texas education laws to a state court, one must first exhaust administrative avenues for resolution, for example, by bringing the matter before the Texas Commissioner of Education. The school district maintained that because the McIntyres did not do so, the case should be dismissed. On this question, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that courts did indeed have jurisdiction over the matter since the complaints involved broader constitutional issues. The court, however, declined to rule on these constitutional issues, opting to send the case back down to a lower court. The second legal question was whether Mark Mendoza, the district official who filed truancy charges back in 2007, was shielded from personal liability. Because he acted in his capacity as a governmental official, the court ruled that he was indeed protected.
The core issue that remains unresolved after this ruling is whether Texas school districts are permitted to conduct minimal oversight of homeschooling. In this case, the district merely asked that the McIntyres submit a verification of homeschooling form. The Texas Supreme Court, in its 1994 Leeper decision, upheld the permissibility of homeschooling so long as the basic educational needs of students were being met. But school district officials are given virtually no guidance on what they are permitted to do in order to ensure that these basic educational needs are in fact being met. We hope that in reviewing this case, the lower courts will rule in favor of district oversight so as to ensure that all Texas children receive a proper education.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.http://www.responsiblehomeschooling.org