4 Reasons We Won’t Be Joining HSLDA

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I have to admit that writing this post makes me very nervous. In many homeschooling circles/groups, to question HSLDA or to say anything negative about them is equal to heresy. HSLDA always has the best interests of homeschoolers at heart – right? Well, I disagree. And in many groups, when people come in and are new to homeschooling and they want to know where they start, often times, the first comment is referring them to HSLDA. And if it’s not the first comment, it’s within the top five. Of course, you need to make the best decision for your family, but in this post, I’m going to lay out the reasons that my family won’t be joining HSLDA.

But I suppose before I do that I should back up a bit and explain what HSLDA is, in case you are not familiar with them. HSLDA stands for Homeschool Legal Defense Association. They are a homeschool advocacy group. They state their mission as, “to bring together a large number of homeschooling families so that each can have a low-cost method of obtaining quality legal defense.”

So now that that’s out of the way, let’s jump in.

4 Reasons We Won't Be Joining HSLDA

I disagree with HSLDA’s fear mongering techniques.

I think that the reason that HSLDA is so popular is that they have really used fear to sell their product. I have even seen people who say, well, I don’t agree with a lot of what they do, but better safe than sorry. It’s viewed as a protection from the overreach of the government. Protection that HSLDA has convinced homeschoolers they need. Then those homeschoolers convince other newbie homeschoolers they need it. And so on and so forth.

And like I said in my opening paragraph, HSLDA is suggested to new homeschoolers extremely frequently. So, in the beginning, I too signed up for their newsletter. It was the best thing to do right? Well, if you’ve ever seen the inbox of my old e-mail (which at the time of this writing has over 230,000 unread e-mails – no, not a typo), you know that I rarely deleted e-mails.  And I also rarely unsubscribed from things.

So, this has left me a treasure trove of HSLDA e-mails from which to draw from to help describe their fear mongering techniques. They frequently use hosilte/aggressive words to describe school or government officials. Words like threatened or targets come up over and over again. I’m not there and I can’t say that they didn’t threaten. However, when it’s used in many instances, it starts to look like a pattern. Often times the cases they handle are misunderstandings between school officials and what’s actually required of the law and these are frequently cleared up with a letter or a conversation. Yet, HLSDA frequently continues to paint these interactions as malicious on the part of school officials. As if all school officials are out to get your children. It does sometimes happen that school officials overreach and ask for more information than is required by law, but saying things like “a chilling letter” and “dangerous education regulations” set a tone of fear and the bad guy boogeyman lurking in the closet.

If there’s a real problem, I will care about it. I’m the kind of person who does. But I don’t appreciate being made to feel like there’s a problem with scary fear mongering language. It’s not how I roll.

Your money does not guarantee help.

HSLDA takes a fee every year of (at the time of this writing), $120 or $1000 for a lifetime membership. I see this talked about in homeschooling groups as a for sure thing. That if you ever get into any legal trouble, that HSLDA will help as long as you’ve been paying the fee. It’s treated as legal insurance, even though they are definitely not. And many homeschoolers will say they have them “just in case” and “better safe than sorry.” However, they can refuse the case of anyone they choose. As it says on their website, “we cannot guarantee representation in every case.” And while they are just anecdotes, I’ve heard many stories of them doing just that. Especially for secular homeschoolers, even though they say they accept all faiths.

Additionally, what you may not know is that when you sign up, you are agreeing to keep records. This is to help in your legal defense, which is, of course, not a bad thing. I keep records and so do many others. But many states do not require record keeping, so in some ways, they are putting an extra burden on you. The irony of requiring you to keep records when many of their actions against the government are keeping the government from looking at those records is not lost on me.

I don’t always agree with who they help.

Additionally, as 501(c)(4), they are allowed to endorse candidates and campaign politically. I don’t want to send my money to them not knowing what candidates they will endorse or put money behind or what laws they will lobby for. Just like I investigate the other organizations I donate to, I would consider any payment to HSLDA to also be a donation of sorts. Even though they say member dues do not go to fund that, that is still their tax status and reality. They are a conservative organization – there is no doubt* about that – and anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I identify politically as a moderate/independent and not a conservative.

I don’t agree with what they did in the case of the Romeikes. (I almost wrote a blog post about this back when it happened, but couldn’t express what I wanted to say well enough). I believe that the Romeike family had other options. They could have immigrated within the EU to another member state where homeschooling is legal and because they are members of the EU, immigrating between countries, from my understanding, is easier. However, I believe that HSLDA chose to encourage them to come to the United States because they were trying to set up a court case to prove that homeschooling should be a human right. They were using this family as pawns, I believe, and I was not okay with that. If I paid dues, my money would have been used to help support that court case.

I also disagreed with their handling of the Cressy case. In this, they painted the state government in New York as being completely out of line. However, the Cressys failed to file their homeschooling paperwork for over seven years. Now, you can argue about whether or not the law in New York is too restrictive. I don’t feel it is, but some people do. Either way, as long as that law is in place, it needs to be followed. Say you didn’t do your taxes for 7 years and the IRS came after you. Would the IRS be in the wrong or would you be in the wrong? You would be, of course. I don’t want my money to be used to support people who were breaking the law. It feels like a slap in the face when I work so carefully to follow the law. I would say that it wouldn’t have been so aggravating to me if they hadn’t painted the government as being so atrocious. The government was doing their job.

Lastly, while I will say, first and foremost, not all HSLDA members are child abusers, they have defended some in court. I will tell you that this paragraph contains some disturbing accounts of child abuse. There’s the parents who were later convicted of child abuse after their children suffered multiple broken bones (including a fractured spine and skull) and failed to seek medical attention for them, among other things, – their HSLDA affiliated lawyer said they were just a good Christian family being persecuted. They defended the right for another family to homeschool after 5 children died in their care. At least two of those deaths were ruled homicides. This includes their six-year-old daughter who had bleach poured on her and then they never sought medical care for her. They successfully won the right for this family to keep homeschooling.

While, like I said, not all HSLDA members are abusing their children, if I paid into HSLDA, those funds are used to defend other homeschoolers. I don’t get to pick and choose which people my funds are used to help. I want to stress again that not all of the families they defend are child abusers. However, when they are, I can’t untangle my money from that after it’s gone from them. And I don’t want my money being used for that.

(Side note: I find, quite frequently, that whenever it comes out that CPS removed children from a homeschool family, it is often assumed that CPS is in the wrong and that, of course, they are a good homeschool family and CPS is just out to get homeschoolers. I remember a case in the last few years where several children were taken from a homeschool family and everyone was railing on CPS as the bad guys, but later it came out that they were living in basically a shack that only had walls on three sides and was completely open to the elements on the third side and if I recall correctly, there was no clean running water either. I remember listening to an interview with the mom that she posted online to try and prove how the police were persecuting them. I remember thinking, it really sounds like she is trying to bait the cop into shooting her. (I can’t find this interview again at this time.) This CPS and homeschoolers thing deserves a whole separate post which I will write some day). 

I trust my state organization more.

For a while, HSLDA had incorrect information on their website about how to homeschool legally in Wisconsin. They kept this information up for quite some time. This was despite being contacted by local state organizations here on the ground in Wisconsin. Eventually, they did change this. Regardless, I know our local advocacy group has a clean record. Furthermore, they live here and have a much better understanding of Wisconsin. Plus, they have a bigger investment here in a way that only other people who are homeschooling here can have. It is in their best interests to be honest and transparent because they also homeschool their children here. WPA did a lot of work in the state of Wisconsin and if I ever had trouble, I would turn to them. They’ve earned my trust.

Bottom line, HSLDA does not speak for me as a homeschooler. That is the main reason why I will not let them put my money to work for their agenda. Writing this post has made me nervous, however, like my vaccination post, I feel that there are not enough voices in the homeschool world speaking for those who are choosing to opt out. I am opting out of HSLDA and I will stand behind that.

Do you feel HSLDA provides a valuable service to homeschoolers? Or do you feel like me that this is an organization not worth giving your money too? 

*This article linked in this sentence is also a good article containing well-thought out criticisms of HSLDA.

Additional Sources:

Photo by Faustlawmarketing at Morguefile.com, text added by me. 

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