Home School Legal Defense Association comes to aid of Florida family, challenges public school rigmarole

When a Florida family received an email from the local public school claiming their homeschooled daughter was enrolled as a full-time student, they were shocked.  

“A month into school, I got an email that she was no longer registered as a homeschooled student,” recalls Cathryn, the student’s mother. “It was a complete surprise.”  

By law, Florida parents who wish to homeschool their children must simply submit a written note of intent to the local superintendent, which Cathryn had done for the past four years. Parents must also maintain logs and samples of student work and submit an annual educational evaluation to the local district superintendent.  

Even though Cathryn complied with the law, school officials were now insisting she had to fill out an online form to correct the enrollment issue. But the form asked for information Cathryn knew was not required, so she refused to complete it. 

Fearing further complications and potential truancy charges, she contacted the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a nonprofit organization providing legal support to homeschool families since 1983. 

Thomas Schmidt, an HSLDA staff attorney, wrote to the school district on Cathryn’s behalf, insisting the problem is the school’s responsibility.  

Three days later, the family’s homeschool status was reinstated. 

Their ordeal comes at a time when legal organizations and legislators around the nation have been advocating for more parental rights in education, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Florida, in particular, has been a beacon for school choice and parents’ rights. In fact, upon the passage of a bill for “Parental Rights in Education” in March, Gov. Ron DeSantis called 2022 “the year of the parent.”  

“Children belong to families, not the state,” Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson said at the time. “Parents are not the enemy; they are a child’s first and best advocate.” 

Homeschools’ historic growth and legal defense

In the 1970s, there were as few as 13,000 home-educated students in the United States. By 2016, that number rose to 2.3 million. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the homeschool population exceeds 3 million.  

Data show similar growth in the state of Florida. Between the 2011-12 and 2021-22 school year, the student population in home education doubled, from 72,000 to 150,000. The number of homeschool families also doubled, from 49,000 to 105,000.  

Despite the rarity of homeschooling before the 1980s, the federal government had already addressed issues of school choice and parental rights in education. In 1972, for example, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Amish family whose religious beliefs prohibited their children from attending public school, as was required by law.  

Even earlier, in 1923, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Lutheran schoolteacher who taught German against state law – recognizing his right to bring up children according to his conscience. 

The majority opinion declared the Nebraska law unconstitutional, affirming the right of each person to “establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”  

But homeschooling had to overcome legal hurdles in the 1980s, such as when a Kansas Supreme Court decision appeared to make the practice illegal, the very year HSLDA began its work on behalf of homeschooling families. 

The fight for homeschooling is far from over even now, though, as evidenced by the Florida enrollment case – and a similar one in Missouri, in which school officials demanded a homeschool parent’s signature on a form that is, by state law, optional. 

The Missouri parent even faced threats from a uniformed police officer that she would be “charged with criminal neglect” if she refused to sign a declaration of enrollment for the 2022-23 school year. The form, as the parent knew but the school did not, is optional under Missouri law. 

“Using a sworn law enforcement officer to attempt to intimidate a citizen into doing something that is not required is entirely unacceptable,” attorney Scott Woodruff wrote on the mother’s behalf in a letter to the school principal, who had accompanied the officer to the family’s home.