The Texas home schooling community has been abuzz the last few months with the story of the Trevor and Christina Tutt family of Dallas County, Texas. According to reports, the Tutt children were removed from their home on November 21, 2013 by armed constables and placed into foster care in spite of there being no legal cause for such action. Perhaps most distressing about the case is the fact that in spite of very clear home schooling laws that have been in place for decades, two separate judges, and lawyers for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (TDFPS) have chosen to focus almost exclusively on the fact that the Tutts exercise their legal right to home school their children rather than focusing on any legal grounds for removal of the children.
According to THSC at a hearing that took place on January 7, 2014, Judge Tena Callahan of the 302nd district of Dallas County acknowledged that TDFPS had no cause to remove the children from their home and returned several of the children, but ordered that the Tutts place the children in public school, citing personal concerns that several of them tested behind grade level while in the custody of TDFPS. Judge Callahan issued the order with the caveat that if the children could be brought to grade level she would consider allowing the Tutts to home school in the future.
Some people fail to see the massive implications this ruling has for all parents in Texas, not just those who home educate. The fact is, this case has implications for each and every parent because:
1) The Tutts legally protected right to make decisions concerning their children's education is being violated.
Texas Family Code section 151.001 clearly states that it is the legal right of parents to make decisions concerning their child's education. Further, In Leeper et. al vs. AISD, it was clearly established that parents in Texas may legally home school their children without oversight or testing being required.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has repeatedly stated in regards to home schooling:
The TEA does not regulate, index, monitor, approve, register, or accredit the programs available to parents who choose to home school.
Leeper vs. AISD went all the way to the Texas supreme court and the many ins and outs of the law were hashed out in extreme detail. This is not an untested law. This is a law that has been met with intense legal scrutiny. This is a law that has been clearly spelled out and the right of a parent to educate their child at home without oversight by the TEA or any other entity strongly upheld repeatedly.
If a Judge can violate the Tutts right to make decisions about their children's education in spite of the fact that they were in full compliance with homeschooling law, then any judge in any court can choose to violate any fit parent's legally protected rights.
2) The Tutts are being held to a higher standard than parents whose children are in public school.
If a Judge can order children in a private educational setting, like the Tutt children, to test at public school grade level in order for their parents to be allowed to exercise their legal right to make educational decisions, then shouldn't that Judge mandate that ALL children in Texas (or at least her district) test at grade level on standardized testing, as well?
Recently the TEA sent a team of monitors to observe DISD schools because a large percentage of students had placed behind grade level on standardized tests. How long did the TEA observe these schools? 4 days.
That's right. If you home school and your children are considered below public school grade level you have your rights removed for months and are under continual scrutiny by the courts and CPS, but if you are a public school with 50% or more of your students testing below grade level, the State sends folks to observe you for 4 days and make suggestions which you can then take or leave.
3) CPS is stepping outside their purview.
CPS exists to protect children from abuse and neglect and give parents the resources they need to parent their children effectively. They do not exist to monitor education. I received a call several weeks ago from an elected official who had encountered a family in crisis whose children were not attending school regularly. Hoping they might be able to offer services to the family so regular attendance would be possible, he called the CPS hotline. They asked if he had seen abuse, heard an outcry from a child claiming they are being abused, or seen the kids hungry or dirty. When he said "no," he was informed that it is not the job of CPS to make sure children are in school. He was told they could not even record a complaint because this did not qualify as abuse or neglect. And they were right. According to Texas Family Code, a child not in school regularly is not the business of CPS and does not constitute abuse or neglect.
The Tutt case is not about homeschooling. It is about the legal rights of Texans being violated and ignored by those in positions of authority. As citizens of a Constitutional Republic, we should demand that our government agencies and elected officials uphold the rule of law. If we allow the rights of those around us to be violated without raising our voices to protest, then we are complicit in dismantling the legal rights of everyone.