Artillery for the Northern Ireland government's takeover of homeschooling, stockpiled by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), is being set to usurp the power of parents and hand it over to children and the state.
If the U.N.-based policy is implemented, government assessors will be directed to obtain the "opinion of the child" in order to determine whether homeschool parents are fit to teach their own.
"The proposed policy grants government agents sweeping power over homeschooling in Northern Ireland," says Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) staff attorney Mike Donnelly, who also serves as the organization's director or international relations. "The policy is a frontal attack on the rights of parents and families to be free from unwarranted and unreasonable government interference and shows how U.N. treaties are a threat to educational freedom everywhere."
Donnelly warns that the U.N.-crafted policy that's routed to take shape in Northern Ireland is something in which nations abroad should be very concerned.
"It reflects a dramatic departure from the policy in the rest of the United Kingdom, where parents enjoy the appropriate freedom to decide whether or not their children will be homeschooled without unreasonable state intrusion," he asserts. "The new policy involves prior and subjective approval of homeschooling, a database to register homeschooled children, and gives school officials the power to question homeschooled children and arbitrarily enter a homeschooler's home."
Five education and library boards (ELBs) are the agencies responsible for Northern Ireland's education policy. If the U.N.'s newly proposed policy isn't successfully challenged soon, many unwanted regulations will be enforced.
"Homeschoolers and fellow citizens have until June 27 to communicate their concerns before the policy could be implemented," Donnelly warns. "The ELBs have opened discussion on new regulations for home educators. Homeschoolers in Northern Ireland are actively responding to the threat to homeschool freedom and are asking for our help."
One organization responding to this threat is Home Education Northern Ireland (HEdNI), a homeschool group that is looking to depose the U.N. policy. It has outlined the following six intrusions homeschoolers in Northern Ireland can expect if action countering it is not taken soon:
- Access into the Home - Officials (ELB or local schools) will be responsible to access the homes of homeschooling families on at least an annual basis to inquire into their homeschool program.
- Questioning Children - Officials will have access to homeschooled children to obtain their opinion on the homeschool program.
- Approval and Curriculum Review - Officials will have authority to review homeschool programs and curriculum regarding "appropriate or otherwise" and grant approval to families who are homeschooling.
- Homeschool Database - Officials will "maintain a confidential electronic database" of homeschool students.
- Monitoring - Officials will be mandated to monitor the homeschool program on an annual basis.
- Delayed Withdrawal Process - Parents wanting to withdraw their child to homeschool will be encouraged to discuss their decision with the school principal and keep their child in school until their homeschool program is "in place."
The HSLDA attorney reminds homeschoolers of a previous battle against overregulation.
"In 2009, homeschoolers in England fought against a similar proposal recommended by the 'Badman Report,'" Donnelly notes. "The current policy being proposed in Northern Ireland appears to have been influenced by similar ideas that the state has the authority to intervene and determine how and whether children should be home-educated."
Even though the God-given and traditionally upheld right of parents to instruct their own children has been honored for millennia, Northern Ireland is currently witnessing that the tides might be turning.
"Northern Ireland law, as is true in the rest of the United Kingdom, currently requires parents to provide an education for their children either through a local school 'or otherwise,'" Donnelly reports. "The current law appropriately presumes that parents have the responsibility and the right to educate their children."
Ironically, despite the latest proposed measure borrowing from the UNCRC to usurp the rights of parents, the U.N. has documents proclaiming the very rights it is now looking to take away.
"Article 26(3) of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights explicitly recognizes that parents have the 'prior right to decide the kind of education that shall be given to their children,'" Donnelly states. "Other U.N. human rights treaties also recognize that parents have a right to ensure that their children's education is in conformance with their 'religious and philosophical' convictions.
HSLDA's international affairs expert points out that the newest U.N.-inspired policy on tap to be adopted by Northern Ireland just doesn't make sense – by both U.N. and national standards.
"The proposed Northern Ireland policy, influenced by the UNCRC, does not take into account these important qualifications," Donnelly insists. "Northern Ireland homeschool advocates say that the draft policy is an administrative move by the education boards which is not approved by law."
He points out that the law is on the homeschool advocates' side when it comes to the newly proposed policy.
"They say that the policy claims to have jurisdiction to make these changes based on the Education and Libraries Northern Ireland Order 1986, but that law does not give any statutory authority to the education boards to regulate homeschools, including monitoring and approving homeschool programs, visiting homeschooling families and questioning homeschool children."
To counter the attack on parental rights, HEdNI is campaigning to challenge the Northern Ireland Elective Home Education Policy by calling homeschoolers in Northern Ireland to participate in local ELB focus groups and voice their concern to politicians. HSLDA's online petition, "Hands off Home Education," is designed to defend the freedom of homeschoolers in Northern Ireland by providing a way for homeschool advocates worldwide to sign in their support.