MICHIGAN HOME SCHOOL HISTORY: 101 [May 2003]
As time marches on and home schooling becomes more and more accepted, it is wise for us to go back and review the price tag that was paid for our current freedom and liberty. Most of us involved in home education today have no idea how difficult it was to keep your children at home in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Both the state government and local school systems were convinced that they alone were qualified to teach children. Even though home education is the oldest form of education known to man, our modern version did not come free of charge. In order to provide you with an understanding of the legal battles that led up to our current laws, we are sharing with you a portion of an article written by David A. Kallman, a Lansing attorney who represented many home school families during the years we struggled to gain our independence from the government schools.
“One of the first cases testing the right to home educate in Michigan involved Peter and Ruth Nobel. From Allegan County, the Nobel’s were teaching their children at home in the 1970’s, long before most people had ever heard about the concept. They were using a curriculum provided by Christian Liberty Academy. The Nobels were prosecuted for allegedly violating the compulsory attendance law because they were not certified teachers. The state’s position was that certified teachers were required for all home schools, and that if they were not used, then that home school was not a proper school under the law. In fact, the state continued to maintain that position for 23 years.
Attorney John Whitehead, who later started the Rutherford Institute, came to Michigan and defended the Nobels. Allegan County District Court Judge Gary Stewart heard the case and issued an opinion ruling in favor of the Nobels based upon the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
However, District Court opinions are not binding anywhere else in the state. It is only controlling precedent within the borders of that court’s district. The pressure continued to build as more and more people began opting to teach their children at home. Prosecutions began popping up all over the state. Fortunately, in the early 1980’s, attorney Michael Farris saw the need to legally assist home educators all over the country and so he formed the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). For a $100 fee a family could join the association, and if they were taken to court, HSLDA would provide the legal representation at no additional cost (editors note: annual member in HSLDA is still only $100). This pooling of the resources proved to be very effective and enabled HSLDA to help home schoolers all over the United States. I have been privileged to work with HSLDA over the years in representing their members in courtrooms all over Michigan.
Throughout the 1980’s and the early 1990’s there was a very adversarial relationship between home educators and the state. The state attempted to regulate home educators out of existence through the use of teacher certification requirements, curriculum requirements, regulation of the days, hours, and length of the school year, and numerous other requirements. Many families had visits from local school officials, protective service workers, police officers, and other state officials. Many times they would be given ultimatums to either have their children in the public school the next day, or else their children would be removed from their home.
It was a very stressful time for home educators throughout our state. Iowa, North Dakota, and Michigan were considered to be the three worst states in the country in which to try and home school. Many attorneys and home school organizations were kept busy attempting to represent families in court and deal with prosecutors, Dept. of Social Services workers, and school officials.
The prosecution of families in District Court continued until the Michigan Supreme Court in 1993 decided three cases: People v DeJonge, People v Bennett, and Clonlara v State Board of Education. The DeJonge case threw out the teacher certification requirement for those who home schooled out of religious conviction. The Bennett case required the state to comply with the private school code’s requirement that an administrative hearing be held before a parent could be prosecuted under the criminal law. This effectively stopped the prosecution of all home educators until the administrative hearings were implemented, which to this date has not been done. The Clonlara case affirmed that the Michigan Department of Education did not have any authority to promulgate administrative rules dealing with home education. Therefore, the MDE’s expansion of the law in its handouts were interpretations only and were not necessarily enforceable against parents.
The DeJonge case in particular was very effective in stopping the harassment and intimidation of home school families. Mark and Chris DeJonge were from West Michigan and were home schooling two children at the time. Mark was a dairy farmer and he and Chris used the Christian Liberty Academy curriculum with their kids. They challenged the teacher certification requirement based upon their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs. Their case was truly a marathon, and took over 9 years to complete. They set a tremendous example of faithfulness and perseverance to see their case through to the benefit of all parents in Michigan. The trial Judge said on the record that it was clear that the DeJonge children were receiving a fine education, but he still had to find them guilty of violating the compulsory attendance law because they were not certified teachers. After seven lower court decisions went against them, the Michigan Supreme Court finally ruled in their favor in May of 1993. As a result, the teacher certification issue fell by the wayside.
Since these court decisions in 1993, the climate has improved tremendously in our state. There have been a few court cases initiated, but they were all dropped after a review of the law and the applicable cases. Home educators’ legal standing was strengthened even further in 1996 by the passage of an amendment to the compulsory attendance law. Language very similar to that added to the Probate Code over ten years ago was added as exemption (f) to the compulsory attendance law:
(3) A child is not required to attend a public school in either of the following two cases: (a) The child is attending regularly and is being taught in a state approved nonpublic school which teaches subjects comparable to those taught in the public schools to children of corresponding age and grade. (f) The child is being educated at the child’s home by his or her parent or legal guardian in an organized educational program in the subject areas of reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing, and English grammar.
(4) For a child being educated at the child’s home by his or her parent or legal guardian, exemption from the requirement to attend public school may exist under either subsection (3)(a) or (3)(f), or both. As a result of this amendment, the focus in District Court prosecutions is now be on the education of the child and not on the form of the educational process. Exemption (f) only applies to homes where the parent or legal guardian is doing the teaching. In all other cases, exemption (a) is still available. Parents now have a choice as to which exemption they wish to operate under, or they can choose to operate under both.
In summary, we have come a long way since the continual harassment of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. It is much easier to teach your children at home today. This does not mean that the fight is over. Laws can be changed. Administrations of state government can change. We must learn from the past, not drop our guard, and not return to the problems of the past. Be sure to stay informed. Contact your legislators. Join your local support group. Join groups such as INCH and HSLDA. Vote for candidates who support home education. Let’s be sure that we keep the freedoms that have been earned over the past thirty years.”
Reprinted with permission of David A. Kallman, J.D.
Excerpted from the “Michigan Home School Legal Manual” by David A. Kallman
To obtain a copy of the Legal Manual, contact the law offices of David Kallman in Lansing at (517) 484-6135.To read more, click here to download the pdf version.