Texas case sees religious liberty, home-school rules collide

By By WILL WEISSERT 11.02.2015 news > US
Texas Supreme Court justices, from left, Don Willett, Paul Green, Nathan Hecht, and Eva Guzman listen as attorney Chad Baruch argues in a case for a home-schooling family in El Paso accused of failing to teach its kids anything because they were waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in Austin, Texas. The family says the kids were educated and that the El Paso school district is anti-Christian. The district counters that it should be allowed to investigate complaints learning isn't taking place. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The case of a home-schooling family accused of not teaching its children anything while waiting “to be raptured” reached Texas’ Supreme Court on Monday, a potentially landmark showdown between religious liberty and the state’s ability to ensure youngsters actually learn something.

Arguments center on the McIntyres, whose nine children were taught inside an empty office at the family’s motorcycle dealership near the El Paso airport. The case could have far-reaching implications. The number of home-schooled students nationwide is booming, and, by some estimates, Texas may have more than any other state.

Texas doesn’t require parents who home-school their children to register with state authorities. While they must meet “basic educational goals” in reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and citizenship, they don’t have to give standardized testing or otherwise prove student progress is made.

However, problems for the McIntyres arose after an uncle told the El Paso school district he never saw the children do much of anything educational and overheard one say that’s because they were waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The mother, Laura McIntyre, listened to Monday’s arguments before the state Supreme Court in Austin. She declined to comment to The Associated Press but told a group of supporters afterward that the reference to the rapture was “a lie told by my brother-in-law.”

After the uncle raised his concerns, the family’s eldest daughter, 17-year-old Tori, ran away from home so she could return to school. The district put her in the ninth grade because officials weren’t sure she could handle higher grade-level work.

The family sued after the district asked the McIntyres to provide proof that their children were being properly educated.

The district says it has no intention of interfering with home schooling, but wants to be able to investigate credible claims that learning may not be taking place.

The family says the district is anti-Christian and that its constitutional personal liberties were violated. It says the uncle who complained was biased because he was involved in lawsuits over the ownership of the motorcycle dealership, which is now closed.

Laura McIntyre has said she used a religious curriculum similar to one offered in Christian schools in El Paso. But Justice Paul Green noted Monday that the family didn’t give the school district any proof of that.

“We don’t know if the curriculum that was being used was adequate or not,” Green said.

The McIntyre’s attorney, Chad Baruch, said the district overstepped when it began its investigation by asking for such proof.

Anthony Safi, representing the school district, argued that officials deserved “a little leeway” amid “disturbing information” obtained from relatives, including the children’s uncle and their grandparents.

A state appeals court has already ruled against the McIntyres. The Supreme Court’s nine Republican judges aren’t expected to reach a decision for months.

In all, 24 states have rules that home-schooled children undergo some form of assessment, usually via standardized testing or portfolios of student work. But only nine mandate that parents provide test scores or other assessments to state authorities to ensure student progress is made.

Between 2003 and 2012, the number of home-schooled students nationwide jumped by about a third to 1.7 million, now estimated at more than 3 percent of all students, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Though there’s no official tally, the Texas Home School Coalition estimates 300,000 students are home schooled in the state — which would be more than any other.

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