Tragedies can bring unintended consequences. Regrettably, this is happening here in our nation's capital, and homeschoolers are in the line of fire.
It all started when District resident Banita Jacks was accused of murdering her four children, who had been dead for months when their bodies were found in January.
It was reported that she was a homeschooler, but this is not true. Miss Jacks' children were enrolled in public schools and were truant. She did not follow District law, which is to file a notice that she was homeschooling her children.
As a result, District government officials, who knew of Miss Jacks from past brushes with government agencies, lost track of her.
After her children's deaths were discovered, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty acknowledged that a breakdown at the Child and Family Services Agency had led to the deaths. Several workers were fired.
Nevertheless, in response to the Jacks situation, the new Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has proposed some of the most invasive and repressive homeschool regulations in the country.
If implemented, these regulations would make homeschooling an extremely burdensome choice for parents and effectively dissuade families in the District from homeschooling.
The regulations cover everything from record keeping and home visits to the power of government officials to immediately terminate a homeschool program at their discretion. D.C. homeschoolers were stunned.
On March 5, the board held a hearing to discuss the regulations, and D.C. homeschoolers attended to give their side of the story. Board member Ted Trabue said attendance was the highest of any hearing he could remember.
In nearly unanimous testimony, 40 witnesses testified that the proposed regulations were unconstitutional, vague, unnecessary and intrusive and granted authority to the OSSE in areas beyond its expertise.
The hearing also gave the board the opportunity to hear from homeschool students. Thirteen-year-old Jonathan Ward, who takes college courses, said, "These proposed regulations are too intrusive. I urge the board to reconsider."
Seventeen-year-old Shannon Powell, a National Christian Forensics and Debate Club award winner agreed: "Homeschooling allows me the freedom to pursue my interests and to excel academically. Please don't make it harder for my parents to homeschool."
A homeschooling father of two who is a 16-year resident of the District, said, "These regulations require that I sign away my constitutional rights as an American citizen in order to homeschool."
There is hope, however, for the District. It was clear that the board listened and empathized with the concerns of the witnesses. It also agreed that more work was required to achieve regulations that meet the needs of all parties.
We trust the board will recognize that homeschooling is a desirable option for the education of children. It is well-established that the overwhelming majority of parents who homeschool raise exceptional students who academically and socially outperform their peers in public and private schools.
The District's homeschoolers want to be able to educate their own children privately, with minimal governmental interference. There is no reason they should be denied this fundamental right.
It remains to be seen whether the District ultimately will uphold parental rights and recognize the benefits of a home education, but the homeschooled children who participated in the hearing showed what parents can achieve when they are left to educate their own children without unreasonable government interference.
Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media AT hslda.org.