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Wednesday, March 1, 2000

The Right to Home School: A Guide to the Law on Parents’ Rights in Education by Christopher J. Klicka

Klicka Explains the Rights, Challenges, and Defenses That Parents Encounter in Homeschooling

Home School Legal Defense Association • 1998 • 198 pages • $10.00 paperback

While the title would suggest otherwise, Christopher Klicka’s book is not the kind of text most homeschool parents would pick up and read. In practice, homeschool parents tend to focus on how-to books and curriculum reviews, with a smattering of methodology thrown in for good measure. Homeschool bulletin boards, discussion lists, and my own support-group meetings reflect those concerns. With the exception of start-up requirements, the law as it applies to home-schooling is virtually never discussed. So why bother with a book on homeschool case law?

All homeschool parents, especially those who have made a long-term commitment to homeschooling, should read this book. The Right to Home School is full of information about actual cases and studies involving homeschool families, and is so well researched and documented that the citations alone are worth the reader’s time.

Klicka is senior counsel of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), and the cases in his book describe much of his own work. As long as legal challenges continue, future court decisions will make the status of homeschooling evolutionary and uncertain. Klicka’s book is really a chronicle of those challenges and resulting court decisions; the ability to exercise the fundamental right of educational choice in every state is either upheld or eroded with each successive case.

The author first discusses why parents choose to homeschool: to incorporate religion into school life, to exercise choice in topics and values in secular education, or to provide their children with a private alternative to government-run classrooms. Many home-schools operate for a combination of reasons. We come to understand the rights, challenges, and defenses that parents encounter in each situation.

A big issue facing parents in each state has been the question of who has the authority to make educational decisions about children. Klicka examines that problem by presenting numerous cases handled by the HSLDA. Often they involve homeschool families embroiled in truancy and other disputes in their districts. Homeschool parents can gain a useful understanding of cases in which the law has been scrupulously applied, as well as those in which it has not. The resulting decisions in the federal and state courts define the legal standing of homeschooling today. Even favorable decisions, however, have not eliminated the struggle faced by many parents to exercise their existing legal rights.

Homeschooling is growing at a rate of 15 to 40 percent per year in the United States, with 700,000 to 1,200,000 children in grades K-12. Confounding the predictions of the government education establishment that homeschooled children would be intellectually handicapped by not receiving schooling from “the experts,” statistics now confirm the superior results of homeschooling compared to public school and even to private schools. Homeschool regulations are different in every state and range from minimal to almost insurmountable. Discriminatory and unreasonable standards have often been imposed as the education establishment tries to keep its grip on American children. Despite those obstacles, and with the assistance of the HSLDA, more and more parents are exercising their rights to direct the education of their children, tailoring the pace and curriculum to the needs and interests of the child and thereby maximizing the likelihood of success.

Part of the mission of HSLDA is to arm homeschool parents with knowledge about legally defensible homeschool arrangements. Through an in-depth look at the experiences of homeschoolers in the courts, readers of this book will become better educated about their rights. Any new or current home educator should find it enlightening, although reading about the battles people have had to fight just to secure the right to educate their children at home is sure to raise your blood pressure.

For me this book was an unexpected find, and thoroughly welcome.

Karen Palasek is an adjunct professor of economics at Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina.