Schooled Reporting on education

Hawaii homeschoolers celebrate ‘miracle’ victory

Education | Hundreds rallied to defeat proposed restrictions on homeschooling families in the state
by Leigh Jones
Posted 2/28/18, 03:24 pm

Homeschoolers in Hawaii scored a major victory earlier this month when they persuaded a state senator to withdraw a bill that would have mandated background checks for all parents wanting to teach their children at home.

Hundreds of parents and students filled several state Capitol hearing rooms to testify before the committee considering the measure, which had support from seven of the panel’s 10 members. As the meeting opened, the chairwoman announced lawmakers had already agreed to pass the bill on to the full state Senate.

But the homeschoolers testified anyway—for hours—hoping to persuade at least a few lawmakers to change their minds.

“We were hoping to make a statement,” wrote Peter Kamakawiwoole, a lawyer with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). “What we actually got was a miracle.”

State Sen. Kai Kahele, who sponsored the bill, withdrew the legislation after reviewing nearly 1,000 pieces of written testimony and listening to the parents and children who passionately defended homeschooling.

“The democratic process works,” he said after the hearing. “And it’s evident today, when hundreds and hundreds of parents and children came to the legislature to make their voices heard, and their voices were heard.”

Kahele drafted his measure several weeks after police in California discovered 12 children imprisoned by their parents under horrific conditions. David and Louise Turpin claimed to homeschool their children, something critics say enabled their abuse. Kahele, who represents Hilo, also cited two cases in his small community in which children died at the hands of parents also claiming to homeschool.

But parents who testified at the Feb. 14 hearing noted that in at least one case, Hawaii officials knew about concerns for the child’s safety and didn’t act on the reports. In light of other missed opportunities to protect the children, it wasn’t fair to target homeschooling or equate homeschoolers with abusers, they insisted.

“Innocent families were sort of being punished simply because they homeschooled and there was a presumption of guilt simply because we wanted to homeschool,” said Anna Black, one of the parents who attended the committee hearing.

Although the homeschoolers won this round, the battle for educational freedom in Hawaii isn’t over. Kahele plans to consider a revised version of his proposal in the next legislative session or the one after that. But Kahele promised to seek homeschoolers’ input on any new measures, giving them hope for another chance to make their case.

Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren (file) Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren (file) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Feds flush transgender restroom complaints

Transgender activists lashed out at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earlier this month after a Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed the agency would no longer investigate complaints from students not allowed to use the sex-segregated facilities of their choice.

Eliza Byard, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group GLSEN, called the news “devastating,” while also admitting it didn’t come as a surprise.

Until just a few years ago, “sex” in Title IX of the Civil Rights Act referred only to a student’s biology. During the Obama administration, the Education Department redefined “sex” to include gender identity, making the terms “male” and “female” subjective in the eyes of the government. Schools that did not agree with the change and open restrooms and locker rooms accordingly faced the possible loss of federal funding. To determine whether schools had violated the law under the new definition, the Education Department had to investigate every claim.

But DeVos rolled back her predecessor’s policy last year, ending the need to investigate restroom access claims. Students who believe they have been “penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes” can still file a Title IX claim, said Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill.

“In the case of bathrooms, however, long-standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX,” she told NPR. —L.J.

Abandoned ban

Transgender activists are continuing to push their agenda at the school level through curriculum that normalizes or encourages gender identity over biology. One South Dakota lawmaker tried to block those efforts by proposing a bill that would have banned teaching about gender identity in elementary or middle schools. Republican state Sen. Phil Jensen killed his own bill earlier this month with little explanation, other than to say he’d realized the legislation raised other issues he hadn’t thought of. GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) applauded the move and warned other states against considering similar measures that are “bad for students.” Although transgender-affirming lessons might not be the norm, they are gaining traction. Washington state curriculum guidelines suggest kindergarten teachers should make sure students understand gender can be “expressed” many ways. —L.J.

School choice for military families

In October I wrote about a push by the Heritage Foundation to get education savings accounts approved for military families. During last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos voiced support for such a school-choice plan. DeVos made the comments during a discussion with Kay Coles James, the recently appointed president at Heritage, although a department spokeswoman later said DeVos wasn’t endorsing the Heritage plan specifically. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., is working on a bill to create a program based on the Heritage plan, which proposes using federal funds from the Federal Impact Aid Program to give military families more control over their children’s education. —L.J.

West Virginia walkout

Teachers across West Virginia walked out of classrooms last week to protest a pay raise they describe as less-than-adequate to cover rising living costs, especially for health insurance. The strike continued into its fourth day Tuesday, with union officials vowing educators wouldn’t return to school until legislators agreed to give them more than a 2 percent raise. After at first urging teachers to be patient, Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, agreed to bump the raise to 5 percent, prompting teachers to agree to return to class Thursday. Educators who protested at the state Capitol during the walkout highlighted the discrepancy in pay between teachers, who start out making about $43,000 per year, and state lawmakers, who earn $20,000 for two months of work, plus $131 per day for expenses. While West Virginia lawmakers are among the nation’s highest paid, the state ranks 48th in the nation in teacher pay, making it hard for schools to recruit educators. This year, 700 teaching positions remain unfilled, leaving classrooms staffed by semi-permanent substitutes. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Nat Manzanita
    Posted: Wed, 02/28/2018 07:33 pm

    I was there at the Hawaii Capitol building on Feb 14, and it was an amazing experience. I've never felt more proud to be part of a democracy or more hopeful about what that implies.