The Texas Supreme Court is set to determine if parents have a religious-freedom right to homeschool with no state oversight whatsoever. Michael and Laura McIntyre, who homeschooled their nine children after pulling them out of a local Christian school, claim the El Paso Independent School District violated their rights when it attempted to verify the children were being educated.
The Associated Press reports that in court filings, the McIntyres have claimed the school district is “biased against Christians” and called its investigation a “startling assertion of sweeping governmental power.”
But this isn’t really a witch hunt.
The family sued after the school district requested evidence that they used an academic curriculum to teach their children; state law requires homeschooling families to use a written curriculum that includes instruction in math, reading, spelling, grammar and citizenship.
District officials only stepped in after relatives filed a complaint. The McIntyres and their allies have worked hard to characterize this as some sort of attack on their faith, but there’s evidence that relatives had genuine cause for concern.
According to the children’s uncle, Tracy McIntyre, the children were never spotted doing schoolwork, even though they were supposedly being educated in the motorcycle dealership he runs with his twin brother, Michael. Tracy McIntyre said the kids seemed to spend most of their time singing and playing instruments; he claims he also overheard the children saying “they did not need to do schoolwork because they were going to be raptured.”
Was there any actual education going on here? That’s what state officials tried to find out.
One McIntyre child eventually ran away from home. The reason had little to do with common teenage rebellion: 17-year-old Tori wanted to go to school and to learn. Her grandparents stepped in and enrolled her in a local high school, where she tested so far below grade level she had to enroll in ninth-grade courses.
The McIntyres refused to provide the high school with any information about their daughter’s education and in court filings they say the grandparents enrolled Tori in school over their objections. Only after filing suit against the school district for its alleged persecution did they finally identify the curriculum they allegedly used: The “A Beka” textbooks produced by fundamentalist Pensacola Christian College.
No wonder, then, that the school district slapped the family with criminal truancy charges. Texas, of course, recognizes the right to homeschool – but not the right for homeschooling families to refuse to educate their children.
That’s why a lower court ruled against the family last year. Chief Justice Ann Crawford McClure of the Court of Appeals, Eighth District of Texas, found that the school district had acted within its legal rights and rejected the family’s religious-freedom claims. “They do not have an ‘absolute constitutional right to home school,’” she concluded.
Nevertheless, the Religious Right has rallied around the McIntyres.
That’s probably at least partially due to the family’s ties to far-right groups in the state. According to The El Paso Times, Laura McIntyre participated in the 2012 Stand Up For Religious Freedom Campaign and is a known anti-abortion activist in the state. The Times also reports that the McIntyres were part of the El Pasoans for Traditional Values campaign to recall El Paso Mayor John Cook; Cook sparked their ire by working with the El Paso City Council to extend domestic benefits to same-sex couples.
Other far-right groups like the Texas Homeschool Coalition Association and the Homeschool Legal Defense Association have defended the McIntyres’ claims. Both groups frequently tackle culture war issues like abortion and LGBT rights in addition to their advocacy for unregulated homeschooling.
Parents have the right to homeschool children, but there has to be some actual schooling going on. No law recognizes a religious-freedom right to exempt children from education entirely or to homeschool without even minimal state oversight; even Wisconsin v. Yoder, a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found that Old Order Amish can legally end education after the eighth grade, doesn’t go that far.
The McIntyres and their ideological allies are constitutionally free to believe that education is unnecessary, that the Rapture is imminent and that public schools are hives of secular villainy. But their right to believe these things does not legally trump a child’s right to receive an education.
Follow Sarah Jones online at @onesarahjones.