As a homeschooled child, Michael Farris, the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), was my hero. It was HSLDA, I believed, that had given my parents the right to homeschool, and that continued to protect our rights against government encroachment. This made what I have learned about the organization upon adulthood that much harder to absorb and fully comprehend. Put simply, HSLDA is doing everything it can to keep people from reporting child abuse and to inhibit child abuse investigations, has opposed laws against child abuse, and is working to undo compulsory education laws altogether, effectively decriminalizing educational neglect.
HSLDA was in 1983, ostensibly to protect families’ right to homeschool. In practice, however many of its cases today deal not with homeschooling but with child abuse allegations. If you read through HSLDA’s Court Report, you will find story after story of HSLDA defending homeschooling parents against child abuse allegations. Homeschooling is today legal in every U.S. state, and HSLDA has gone far, far beyond its original mandate. In fact, it appears that HSLDA is today more preoccupied with sheltering child abuse than it is with protecting the legality of homeschooling.
Let me offer the Stumbo case as an example. In September of 1999, a neighbor saw the Stumbo’s two-year-old naked and unattended in the family’s driveway and registered an anonymous tip with Child Protective Services. After receiving the tip, a CPS worker appeared on the Stumbo’s porch and asked to interview the children to ensure that there was no abuse taking place. On HSLDA’s advice, the Stumbos refused to grant the CPS worker any access whatsoever to their children. The CPS worker then went to a judge and got a court order to interview the children. In spite of the fact that the case had nothing to do with homeschooling, HSLDA appealed the order and eventually won; the court found that there was too little evidence of abuse to justify a court order. HSLDA had hoped the court would find that interviewing a family’s children would count as seizure under the fourth amendment, but was disappointed as the case was decided more narrowly.
I remember reading about the Stumbo case in Home School Court Report when I was kid. It was played up as this grand scary thing, as though the kids were about to be removed from their parents for no reason whatsoever. At the time I wasn’t aware of the legal background surrounding the case—including the reality that there was never an attempt to remove the children from their parents and that the case primarily involved not homeschooling but rather the proper procedures for child abuse investigations. Whether or not the CPS took the proper actions in the Stumbo case isn’t the issue. The issue is that HSLDA has moved beyond defending the legality of homeschooling and into the world litigating against child abuse investigations—sometimes with rather disastrous implications for abused children.
And HSLDA isn’t shy about this shift, either. For example, this statement was included in a paper from the 2000s on how to deal with CPS investigations:
HSLDA is beginning to work with states to reform the child welfare laws to guarantee more freedom for parents and better protection for their parental rights. HSLDA will be sending out Alerts to its members in various states where such legislation is drafted and submitted as a bill.
“Child welfare laws” means laws dealing with child abuse and Child Protective Services investigations. “Better protection for … parental rights” means protection against accusations of child abuse and CPS investigations. This has nothing to do with homeschooling and everything to do with protecting parents’ absolute control over their children, and absolute freedom from state interference, no matter what that means for the well-being of the children themselves.
From what I have learned in the time since my teenage years spent pouring over each month’s Home School Court Report, it appears that there are four primary ways that HSLDA is complicit in aiding and abetting child abuse and educational neglect: (1) They work to minimize the reporting of child abuse; (2) They seek to stall the investigation of child abuse; (3) They defend the legality of excessive corporal punishment; and (4) They oppose any homeschooling regulation whatsoever, even when it is merely intended to ensure that learning is actually taking place. This post introduces a series addressing these issues (click the links embedded in this paragraph to see each post) and revealing HSLDA’s troubling relationship with child abuse and educational neglect.