by Andrew Vandever, Vice President, CHEA Board of Directors
“My name is Jennifer. I’m a homeschool mom, and I strongly oppose this bill as amended.”
On Wednesday, April 25, at the California State Capitol building, you could have heard some variation on these words over one thousand times, as a line of people that couldn’t fit on a single floor of the state capitol building snaked its way along to not one, but two microphones, eager to ask our representatives not to proceed with legislation that would mandate more data gathering–and publication–about homeschool families and their particular circumstances.
Nearly three hours before the last citizen in line declared opposition to the bill, Assembly Member Jose Medina (D – Riverside) made his case to the committee. He first drew attention to the event which motivated him to author the bill, the tragic case of the 13 Turpin children in Perris, California. As he looked for the mechanism by which the government should have been able to put a stop to the abuse sooner, he felt that certain agencies that should have been in contact with them, weren’t. Mr. Medina’s first take on a solution was to establish mandatory fire inspections, but after speaking with a colleague who is a homeschool parent, he arrived at the version of the legislation that we heard on Wednesday: additional information would be collected on private school affidavits, “disaggregating” homeschoolers by including information about “the nature…of the private school” in the affidavit.
Afterward, the committee heard two witnesses in favor, and two witnesses against, the legislation. Next, the floor was opened for public comment. Citizens were instructed to simply state their name, affiliation, and position on the bill (support or oppose). To make things even simpler, supporters would go first, then the opposition. The line to support was exactly one person long. The line to oppose was over a thousand people long. It included homeschooling parents, students, graduates, grandparents, and more. When it was over, Assembly Member Kiley from the committee asked Medina a handful of questions, after which any motions on the bill were postponed due to missing committee members. In the meantime, a few exhausted homeschoolers delivered packets of information prepared by Family Protection Ministries (FPM) to the offices of assembly members before either heading home or waiting in the hearing room for the final outcome. Several hours later, we heard the good news we’d been waiting for: the bill is dead because no one on the committee was willing to even make a motion to vote on it.
What It Means
There are several lessons I believe we can take away from these proceedings:
First, we need to remember that liberty is a precarious thing, and its price is eternal vigilance. This is not the first attempt by lawmakers to add burdens to and take privacy from homeschooling families in California, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Second, there is tremendous strength in our willingness to show up. It is quite common as homeschoolers to feel marginalized as our friends, church, coworkers, and even family just don’t understand why we insist on doing things this way. But the truth is that we are part of a movement, the movement is significant (it has been estimated that more than two million students in the US are homeschooled), and the movement is dedicated. There are thousands of people who are willing to spend their day in a government building in order to protect your rights!
Third, the authors of bills like AB 2756 are not the enemy. I watched Jose Medina explain his motivations for writing the bill, and I believe him. I strongly disagree with the impulse to reduce liberty and privacy for the many in response to the crimes of a few, but I do believe that protecting children was first and foremost in Mr. Medina’s mind as he came up with the proposal. This is why the work of groups like Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and FPM is so important–the better we educate our legislators about homeschooling, the safer we are from invasive legislation. I thank God for the many bills that never even made it to committee due to FPM’s important work.
Fourth, we need to be praying for our communities, and for the world around us. While I don’t expect an end to sin and suffering in this era, I do believe that tragedies like that of the Turpin children are close to God’s heart, and I hope that communities can get better at identifying and intervening in abusive situations without new laws like AB 2756.
Andrew is a computer systems engineer working at a social media company. His wife Jenny is the director of SELAH Christian Homeschool Support Group, a member of the CHEA Support Network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Both Andrew and Jenny were homeschooled, and are now homeschooling their two daughters, ages seven and eight. Andrew serves as Vice President of CHEA’s Board of Directors.