LINCOLN – Homeschooling parents in the state of Nebraska recently packed a public hearing in Lincoln, as well as two satellite sites in Grand Island and Scottsbluff, to express their disapproval of newly proposed regulations surrounding the choice to homeschool.
The Nebraska Department of Education had called a conference over the rules, which had been introduced in light of a recent homeschooling case that was fought all the way up to the state Supreme Court. The parents ultimately won the case, State v. Thacker, with the help of the Virginia-based Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
Eric Thacker and his wife Gail had been accused of violating Nebraska homeschooling law in 2011 after postponing homeschooling until November while public schools opened in August. The family had moved to the state in March, and when their children weren’t enrolled in a public school by April, an officer from the Dawson County sheriff’s office contacted the Thackers.
The Thacker family
Eric and Gail advised the police that the children were homeschooled and had already completed their curriculum for that year. They were then advised to file with the Department of Education if they were going to homeschool that year.
The family had planned to move again in the fall, so they did not immediately file with the state. However, when Eric was promoted at his place of employment, the Thackers opted to stay, and filed notice that they would begin schooling in November. The Department of Education stated that it received the paperwork in early October.
However, the family was charged with five misdemeanor counts of truancy, one for each of their five school-age children, for not beginning school in August like the rest of the schools in the state or sending their children to public school in the meantime. A county court judge later found the Thackers guilty of all five charges, but did not impose any punishment other than the coverage of court costs.
But the HSLDA noted that state law does not require homeschools and public schools to begin on the same date; the only requirement is that the required hours of teaching be fulfilled within the school year. Eventually, HSLDA convinced the courts that the Thackers were not guilty of truancy.
“[The Thackers] argue that Nebraska’s statutes do not preclude them from starting a homeschool after the public school calendar year begins or compel them to enroll their children in a public school until their homeschool begins operation,” the Nebraska Supreme Court wrote. “We agree with the Thackers.”
Now, the Nebraska Department of Education seeks to alter current homeschooling laws to require students to remain in public school for up to 30 days until the government issues an acknowledgement letter regarding parents’ plans to homeschool. Notification surrounding the intent to homeschool must also be filed by July 1st each year, as opposed to the current July 15th deadline.
But homeschoolers came out in force this month during a recent Department of Education meeting to express their opposition to the new rules, stating that they were tantamount to “tyranny” and “government interference.” An estimated 250 people packed the Lincoln, Grand Island and Scottsbluff sites, some of whom testified, and others faxed or emailed the department to express disapproval.
“At least twenty homeschooling parents and students gave oral testimony in opposition to the changes,” HSLDA attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole, who spoke at the event, explained in a news release about the hearing. “Many others had originally intended to do so, but decided to not give oral remarks given the volume of the turnout.”
“We have a God-given right and responsibility to educate our children our way,” one parent told the panel.
However, the department asserted that it was not seeking to burden homeschoolers, but to better differentiate homeschoolers from truant students.
“We’re not trying to control anybody,” education official Russ Inbody explained, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
But board member John Sieler disagreed and stated that the proposed changes amounted to “over-regulation” of homeschooling. Other state officials also contended that the changes were unnecessary.
“Thanks to the strong response, the Department of Education understands that Nebraska homeschoolers consider the proposed rule changes to be significant,” HSLDA explains. “While the DOE had originally planned to make a decision in early November, the Department announced after the hearing that it does not have a set timeline for making a decision.”