Texas prides itself today as being one of the most home school friendly states in the nation, but on Leeper Day we are reminded that it has not always been this way.
In the early 1980s, Texas home school pioneers Gary and Cheryl Leeper faced hostility from their families, friends, churches, communities and the state. In fact, the presiding Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox publicly stated that he did not believe parents were qualified to raise their children, much less teach them at home.
In 1981, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) banned home schooling. Consequently, 150 home school families were prosecuted by their local school districts. Many families lost their cases and some moved out of state so that they could continue home schooling. The Texas home schoolers of this era lived with very real fears of being prosecuted, going to jail, incurring fines and having their children removed by CPS.
The Leeper family is one such example. In Fall 1984, Gary and Cheryl Leeper had been home schooling their children for about three weeks when a truant officer knocked on their door inquiring what they were doing in their home school. Five days later, they received a letter from Arlington ISD threatening them with truancy and instructing them to place their children in public school. After researching to see if they were breaking the law, the Leepers discovered they were not.
In March 1985, the Leepers and Texas attorney Shelby Sharpe filed a lawsuit against the TEA and all 1,100 Texas school districts now known as Leeper v. Arlington ISD. If they had lost, the Leepers would have risked having their family name “crucified,” in Gary’s words.
Their family endured long days in court and many hours of media interaction. Cheryl later reflected: “I felt that I had to do anything that would make it more comfortable for not only myself, but others, that would make it easier to home school without fear of prosecution.”
The Leepers, Shelby Sharpe and the other representative families of this class action suit fought for home school freedom in the Texas judicial branch for nearly a decade. The state appealed the case twice and each time the courts ruled in favor of home schooling.
Finally, on June 9, 1994, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously upheld the lower courts’ rulings that parents were fully within their rights to educate their children at home. The state did not appeal again.
In 2015, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared June 9 as Leeper Day commemorating this watershed victory in Texas history. The Leeper v. Arlington decision not only affirmed a parent’s right to home school in Texas, but also had a significant impact nationally.
After the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling, home school prosecutions in other states came to a virtual halt. Leeper v. Arlington set precedent as one of the first published court decisions on home schooling in the country.
Today on the 23rd anniversary of the Leeper decision, my family and I celebrate that as Texans we have freedom to home school without government interference. We continue to reap the benefits of the Leepers’ effort on behalf of home schoolers of yesterday, today and tomorrow. We do not fear prosecution, jail time or truancy officers knocking at our doors. This is reality because of the Texas home school trailblazers’ sacrifices and their dedication to the cause of liberty for future generations.
We must remember that our home school freedom was won by the sacrifice and vigilance of others. The torch that was lit and carried by the pioneers before us is ready to be passed on today.