Christian Law Association: An Insider's Perspective
- Antony Barone Kolenc
- 2014 14 Feb
This month’s column recounts my recent interview with attorney David C. Gibbs III, a tireless legal advocate on behalf of homeschooling families. Our discussion touched on a host of legal issues based on his experience with the Christian Law Association (CLA) and Homeschool Legal Advantage (HLA).
Tony: Thank you for speaking with me today on behalf of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine. Would you tell us a little about why you have devoted part of your legal practice to representing homeschooling families?
David: I’m a homeschool dad, so I know the life of a homeschooler. When I graduated from Duke University School of Law, I joined with my dad, David C. Gibbs Jr., in the ministry of the Christian Law Association. I had grown up watching thousands of cases where the right of parents to educate children consistent with their faith had come under attack. So I had a passion for this ministry even as a child growing up and knew that I was called to serve as a legal missionary.
Tony: How did Homeschool Legal Advantage (HLA) get started?
David: The Christian Law Association had always served homeschoolers, but a few years ago we launched HLA as a special outreach to homeschoolers to make sure their rights to home educate were protected, and also to make sure that their other legal needs were met, such as having a will.
Tony: You mentioned that HLA helps with drafting wills. Why should a homeschooling family have a will
David: A will empowers homeschoolers to decide what happens to their children when Mom and Dad are gone. Either the parents will decide what happens to their children by having a will, or the state where they live will decide for them. And to me, I would not want to have invested my life in my children and then, after an unfortunate accident, have them become wards of the state or placed in a foster care system or have relatives squabble over them.
Tony: What is the HLA model for helping homeschoolers?
David: HLA operates as a ministry, which means we do not charge for our services. Any revenues that we receive are merely suggested donations. In this tough economy this has been a real blessing for military families, widows, single parents, and other families. They know that somebody is on their side to make sure their rights are protected.
Tony: What are the most common types of legal questions that homeschoolers ask HLA?
David: A lot of people simply want to know if they can homeschool—if it is legal. And we have good news for them: Yes, you can, and here’s how. Other questions run the gamut: Am I following the law? Are my records good enough? How do I interface with different government agencies, such as getting a driver’s license or special needs services? I’m in a divorce or custody situation; what do I do in regard to homeschooling? Social Services is on my doorstep because there has been a complaint from a relative or nosy neighbor who doesn’t understand homeschooling—what do I do? Our ministry at HLA is there to stand with these families.
Tony: What is your most important legal advice for new homeschoolers?
David: Number One: Know the law in your state. Number Two: Follow the law. Number Three: Keep good records and document in writing what you are doing. If ever challenged, you must be able to verify what you have done. Finally, Number Four: Homeschool with excellence. If you do those four things, HLA should be able to win your case in all fifty states.
Tony: How long should families keep their homeschooling records? Forever?
David: Yes. They can be digitized, but certainly at the high school level you may need to produce those records for your child’s future career or graduate school, perhaps even fifteen years after graduation. So I advise parents to keep them.
Tony: In your opinion, is the legal climate getting better or worse for homeschoolers today?
David: It depends on the area. In terms of allegations of wrongdoing or child abuse, we unfortunately have a culture that quickly headlines those accusations, even when ultimately there may not be supporting facts behind them. But in terms of the actual battle for the right to homeschool, those complaints have quieted down, because homeschooling has gone more mainstream. So it is more understood in the culture that homeschooling is an option for parents who wish to do it.
Tony: How would you assess the current climate between homeschoolers and government agencies?
David: It depends on who shows up on your doorstep or who is assigned to your case. There’s a lot of judgment involved in these situations. Sometimes we have a very responsible official investigating a case, and sometimes we run into someone who is a little overzealous or even anti-homeschooling. But the facts of every case are the facts, so when there is an accusation, there is a system to work through those facts.
Tony: What has been the most difficult area for you in working with homeschool legal cases?
David: I hate to see divorce cases, because you have a marriage coming apart and a child is suffering. And when you go to court and the divorcing spouses can’t agree, judges have to get involved and may direct that a child go to public school instead of homeschooling. Remember, judges are government employees, so the safe choice for them is always to say to go with the government school system. If there is an allegation of abuse, judges may want to place the child in an environment with mandatory reporting. A lot of these judges are not anti-homeschooling; they’re just trying to do what they believe is in the best interests of the child. It is always best for divorcing couples to try very hard to agree on parenting matters, because if they don’t, the decision is taken completely out of their hands.
Tony: What has been most inspiring to you in your work helping homeschool families?
David: I like to see the look in the eye of moms or dads when they realize that they can legally homeschool—when they feel empowered. And I love to hear from those people we helped in the past. I had a man walk up to me one day and tell me how his dad faced going to jail over homeschooling, but the Christian Law Association had won the case for his family. Now he is an attorney who is home educating his own children because of that investment made years ago by attorneys from our organization.
Tony: Looking over the horizon, how do you view the legal prospects for future homeschoolers?
David: The track record of current homeschoolers will create the good precedent or nightmare that we’ll see in the future, as more graduates step into leadership roles in society. If a judge sees an illiterate homeschool graduate, that becomes his impression of what homeschooling means. But if you have a well-adjusted, productive citizen doing meaningful things and who proudly calls himself a homeschooler, that bodes well for increased freedom and less regulation in the future. We homeschoolers hold our liberties in our own hands. If we homeschool well, our freedoms will be protected. But if we homeschool poorly, then we’re inevitably going to see calls for increased legal regulation.
Tony: Mr. Gibbs, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Where can our readers go to find out more information about your organization?
David: It’s my pleasure to minister to the homeschool community. Families will find a wealth of information about HLA at our website, www.homeschoollegaladvantage.com. In fact, if your readers go to our website they can sign up with the code “TOS” for a free membership and free will.
Antony B. Kolenc (J.D., University of Florida College of Law) is an attorney, author, and speaker. He and his wife have homeschooled their five children for over a decade. He is author of The Chronicles of Xan historical fiction trilogy, as well as several legal articles. Learn more about him at www.antonykolenc.com.
Homeschool father of four children, Attorney Gibbs serves as General Counsel for Christian Law Association and Homeschool Legal Advantage. A graduate of Duke University School of Law, he is a dynamic speaker, author, and litigator. David encourages audiences that “the best way to defend your parental rights as a homeschooler is to avoid legal problems before they occur.”
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: February 14, 2014