When Gene and Shirene McIntyre met with an attendance officer in the El Paso Independent School District in November 2006, their nine grandchildren had already been homeschooled for more than a year. But they were concerned the kids weren’t getting a proper education.
According to court documents, the children were always playing instruments and singing — nothing like traditional school. The children's uncle testified that one child said they did not have to do schoolwork because their parents, Laura and Michael, told them they were “going to be raptured.”
Meanwhile, the oldest granddaughter ran away from home so she could attend school. When the school district asked the McIntyres to prove their children were properly educated, they sued. They argue their personal liberties are being violated.
The Texas Supreme Court is considering the case. The nine judges heard oral arguments Monday. While some homeschool advocates don't believe the case will change homeschool laws in the state, it raises the question: Where is the line drawn between a parent's right to homeschool and a school district’s duty to make sure children are being educated?
“Typically school districts aren’t going out and policing home schools," says Mark Tilley with the Texas Association of School Boards. “The attendance officer here was responding to a complaint and made a home visit and made an inquiry as to whether there was a bona fide home school going on. The real issue here is to what extent can school officials can determine whether home school parents or children are receiving a bona fide education.”
Bona fide home schooling means children are learning the basics: reading, spelling, grammar, math and good citizenship.
More than 20 years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled home schools counted as private schools if children were receiving that bona fide education. But parents don’t have to do much to prove that’s happening — homeschooled students don’t have to take standardized tests, and parents don’t have to provide a curriculum. The Texas Education Agency says parents have to write a letter to their public school district assuring they are homeschooling their children. In oral arguments before the Supreme Court Monday, attorney Chad Baruch, who represents the McIntyres, reminded the court of Texas’ lack of homeschool regulations.
“Our legislature is one of small minority that has chosen not to enact any legislation governing home schools. The clear national trend is to the contrary. Thirty-six states now have enacted homeschool statutes in some form," Baruch says.
He argues the school district overstepped its bounds by investigating the McIntyres. El Paso ISD’s attorney, Anthony Safi, argues the school has the right to investigate, if they have evidence that a parent isn’t complying with the law, like a complaint from a grandparent.
“When a school district receives disturbing information, it may have a little leeway," Safi said, as the judges peppered him with questions.
A state appeals court already ruled against the McIntyres. The all-Republican state Supreme Court isn’t expected to reach a decision for months. The TEA estimates more than 300,000 students are homeschooled in Texas.