A substitute public school teacher in Missouri and a correctional officer in Texas recently experienced discrimination in their careers on account of being homeschooled.
Both graduated with homeschool high school diplomas, which laws recognize as valid even if issued by parents instead of conventional schools.
Fortunately for these grads, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) intervened to defend their right to work in their respective vocations.
“HSLDA remains committed to advocating for homeschool graduates in situations where employers wrongfully dismiss their parent-issued diplomas as inadequate,” wrote Dave Dentel, the nonprofit’s newsletter editor. “As part of this effort, we’re continuing to press for legislation that prohibits discrimination based on education.”
‘They were telling me I had failed’
Even though families have homeschooled since the 1980s, some employers still question the validity of homeschool high school diplomas, especially if they have never encountered them before.
Evie, who graduated from homeschooling in 2022, applied with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) seeking approval to be a substitute teacher in her local school district.
However, the official reviewing her paperwork said because Evie was homeschooled, her diploma was insufficient.
“They wanted me to take the GED,” Evie said. “In my mind, I felt like they were telling me I had failed. I thought, ‘We’re going to fight this in a different way.’”
After the family contacted HSLDA, DESE officials received a letter from Scott Woodruff, HSLDA director of legal and legislative advocacy.
“Missouri prohibits all government agencies from discriminating based on how the person obtained their lawful education,” he wrote.
In fact, the department risked being found in violation of state law since Evie had met all legal qualifications to work as a substitute teacher, Woodruff explained in his letter.
“It’s rather shocking that people who administer state law sometimes don’t understand state laws themselves,” he said.
About two weeks after the letter, DESE officials approved Evie’s substitute teaching certificate. She began substitute teaching in January and hopes to open a Montessori preschool one day.
“I just love the interaction you get from teaching,” she said.
‘A choice of being terminated or resigning’
HSLDA also defended the case of a homeschool graduate in Texas who had been hired in February as a correctional officer in a facility that houses about 1,000 inmates.
“I applied, got interviewed and was hired in the same day,” he said.
The private facility that hired him offered training and advancement opportunities, which he pursued in addition to earning overtime on his 12-hour overnight shifts.
However, an April audit by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) took issue with the graduate’s high school diploma. He had earned the diploma in 2020 from an accredited distance-learning academy based in Oklahoma.
“The state officials told me I couldn’t work there anymore because my diploma was not valid,” he said. “My employer gave me a choice of being terminated or resigning. I felt betrayed. I had thought I wouldn’t mind having this as a forever job.”
After the graduate was suspended, his family contacted HSLDA. Peter Kamakawiwoole, HSLDA director of litigation, contacted TDCJ officials on the graduate’s behalf.
He pointed out how the graduate qualified for the job based on requirements of a high school diploma coming from a state-accredited school or any private school.
“I’m not sure why TDCJ was unaware of the policy,” Kamakawiwoole said concerning Texas law, which considers homeschooling to be private schooling. “But once we made them aware of it, they accepted the graduate’s credentials.”
About a week later, the facility asked the graduate to resume his work. He did so and now works the day shift.
“I’m really happy I got my job back,” he said.
HSLDA encourages other homeschool graduates who may be experiencing discrimination to contact staffers if experiencing a legal issue related to their high school diplomas.
“Two generations of homeschoolers continue to demonstrate that they are bright, capable, hard-working individuals who can bring value to any workplace,” said Jim Mason, HSLDA President. “Many employers welcome, and even prize homeschool graduates for the positives they offer.”