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Frequently Asked Questions About Homeschooling

“They Are My children, Not My Employees”

...homeschooling family loses home over boys working with their dad in family business.

by Rhonda Robinson

Those of us who began homeschooling under the philosophies of early homeschool pioneers like Raymond and Dorothy Moore have come to consider a home business, cottage industry and apprenticeship as much a part of the homeschooling lifestyle as are the walls of bookcases that decorate our homes.

And yet, this traditional lifestyle has come under the scrutiny of excessive government control from the Department of Labor and Industries, which has targeted one homeschooling family in Washington.

The Doty family could be considered a stereotypical Christian homeschooling family. The Dotys believe their seven children to be blessings from God. They assume full responsibility for their children’s education, spiritual and physical growth and work ethics. Like many homeschoolers, the Doty family considers their home to be central to their faith and lifestyle. It is where they teach their children, practice hospitality, work, worship and birth their children.

For eleven years Jude Doty worked as a self-employed general contractor moving houses. Like most self-employed homeschooling fathers, Jude considered his work as an opportunity to spend time teaching his boys a trade and instilling Christian character.

However, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), has refused to see it that way. According to the department, these two boys, then aged 11 and 13, are considered to be an "edge" that allowed Doty to undercut his competitors. According to the L&I, it was part of their larger scope to "level the playing field."

And level it they did, by wiping out the Doty family business and taking their home. By declaring the Doty boys employees, rather than acknowledging them as their children working within a family business, the Department of Labor and Industries began imposing penalties.

$1000/day for the boys working during school hours; $1000/day for the boys working without an "order from a superior court judge." $1000/day for the boys working "more than ten feet above the ground level." $1000/day for the boys working "on a construction site" which was private property owned by the Dotys. $1000/day for the boys working "in the proximity of heavy equipment" (family owned). $1000/day for the boys operating a bulldozer and backhoe.

$1000/day for being their father’s "helper on a public roadway." $1000/day for "no valid Minor Work Permit." Perhaps the biggest affront to common sense and justice was the $1000/day for having "no Parent/School Authorization" form signed.

Ironically, homeschoolers in Washington are required by law to teach occupational education.

The L&I has been relentless in its pursuit to change the dynamics of the family, family-owned business and, ultimately homeschooling. Penalties totaling $30,900 are cited on the L&I website against Doty for multiple safety and health violations and various child-labor violations. According to the L&I website:

"We consider this contractor a ‘repeat offender’ who has tried to cheat the state’s workers’ compensation program and who has created an unfair business advantage in his industry in Central Washington. This action is part of L&I’s broader focus to create an environment in which honest employers aren’t at a competitive disadvantage to employers who don’t pay workers’ compensation premiums." "Failure to report worker hours enables dishonest contractors to underbid their honest competitors."

"We want a level playing field so that contractors who contribute to the fund and pay their fair share aren’t at a financial disadvantage," said Paradis. "We are determined to make sure that employers are meeting their obligations to the workers’ compensation system by accurately reporting worker hours and paying their premiums." [Emphasis added.].

Aside from the fact that the government is attempting to "level the playing field" in a free market, they are classifying Doty’s two children under the age of 16, as employees for the basis of all their fines and allegations.

Under the weight of the fines and back premiums in excess of $107,112 for not paying workers compensation insurance on his children, the Doty family has lost their home under L&I liens. Without a hearing, the L&I seized $130,000 in cash bonds, the bank account properties, business equipment and the family van. Losses have exceeded a million dollars, not to mention two years’ lost employment. The obvious question is how could this be? Unfortunately, there are many answers, some more complicated than others.

By their own admission, the Dept. of Labor & Industries considers families who "employ" their children and do not pay into the system on them to be "dishonest," giving them an unfair advantage with their competitors. "In these cases, the agency will use every means necessary to bring them into compliance." And so they have.

Children working within a family business have never been considered employees. On the family farm, they have been recognized as essential. In fact the necessity of children in agriculture has been recognized to such a degree that many of our child labor laws do not apply to children working on the family farm.

Children routinely operate large machinery; can legally drive tractors and combines and other equipment on the public roadways, long before they are old enough to get a license. Only in an industrial setting does child labor within the family business come under strict government regulation.

I did not grow up on a farm, and although we have raised our children in the country, I’m not sure that qualifies them as growing up on a farm either. Nonetheless, I feel blessed that I have been able to raise our children in the country. I have to admit, I did not move to the country so I could grow vegetables or raise animals. The truth is I wanted to raise my children in the country so they could learn to work.

I realize that sounds extremely foreign to most people, although the concept of children "pulling their own weight" has been a part of the American tradition up until, well probably, my generation, unless of course, you were raised on a farm.

Farm kids have always grown up working, never thinking a thing about it. One farmer told me that, although he was a special case, he began learning to farm at the ripe old age of four. He went on to explain that his father was missing a hand. So, from the age of four, he was quite literally his father’s right hand. Like most boys of that time, he learned a great many other things working beside his father. One thing farm boys learn early is to "just do it." I don’t mean play basketball in Nike’s- I mean work. Work -- just do it -- because it is expected. Just do it -- because it was needed. Just do it -- not for money, but because it had to be done.

I believe this has served young men well for generations as they stepped into adulthood. Work has helped them grow into strong men. Why don’t we value work enough to give it to our children? Ten- and twelve-year-old boys are the perfect age to learn how to work. There is no better time for him to work and earn something more valuable than a paycheck -- self-respect and manly character.

There is so much talk today about a child’s self-esteem. You can tell a child he is good, and he is strong and smart, but even a child knows -- talk is cheap. He must prove to himself he is strong, good and smart, before he will truly believe it. I have found no better way to instill confidence, self-esteem and a good work ethic in a boy than working alongside men of good character. Working in a field or on a building site -- the setting is not as important as sweat and exhaustion accompanied by a pat on a weary back by someone admired.

I am not suggesting we go back to the industrial revolution where children worked in dangerous factories. Nor am I talking about teens working at the local fast food joint for gas and date money. It goes beyond that. It is not about money. It is not about employment. On the contrary, it is about the pleasure of accomplishment and being mentored into manhood. Teenagers easily fall into trouble out of sheer boredom and lack of direction. Without realizing it, we have allowed children to gain a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of responsibility. We can overcome this by expectations of contribution.

Children who learn to work learn to overcome, to press forward and push beyond their comfort zones... life skills that are rare and vital in adulthood... concepts homeschoolers have employed with great success in preparing their children to enter the "real world." However, this is a foreign concept to most of society today. Jude Doty could have very well compromised his beliefs, paid the fines, and put his children in school...but he didn’t. Doty understands the cost of his compromise would be felt by family businesses and homeschoolers the most, and would mean squandering our American heritage, and his Christian responsibilities, a price Doty is not willing to pay. Jude Doty writes:

"The ramifications from redefining "to employ," to include an "appreciable benefit" between a parent and their minor child will be staggering on the family. L&I claims that if you "allow" your child to carry in the mail, for a family "enterprise" then you have "employed" them, requiring minimum wages. They will "determine employers [parents] who are eligible to employ [to receive an appreciable benefit from] young people." Labor contracts and wage disputes, standardized drug testing, privacy rights and myriads of employment laws and rights will all supercede parental rights. They’ve entered a report into evidence with "recommendations" stating that "the current distinctions ... in whether the minor is employed by a stranger or by a parent ... should be eliminated," and advocating certain minimum employment standards "to ensure the equal protection of children" including insurance and "the same level of OSHA enforcement," on family enterprises "including subjecting small farms." They acknowledge in this "landmark case," as they call it, that "family member employment relationships ...hasn’t been challenged to this degree." If they are successful, it will give them a precedent to look for "appreciable benefits" between the owners of the 700,000 Washington businesses and their children. Presently, 540,000 of the registered businesses are basically "ma and pa businesses" without employees, in which L&I has no jurisdiction, that is, unless they can redefine one’s children as employees...completely redefining the traditional family."

"They are my children, not my employees."

Press time update: March 31, 2005, I spoke with Mrs. Doty just before going to press. As we spoke on the phone, the Sheriff’s Department was there, hauling the family’s belongings out to the front yard in the rain. Locksmiths were there to change all the locks. The family was given 24 hours to remove their belongings from the front yard. The Dotys have requested prayer for their family as they continue to fight the L&I. Fearing the only thing they have left to loose is their children, "...and they know how important our family is to us."

Contact information:

judedoty@yahoo.com

Doty family website http://www.familiesthatwork.org

Wash Dept of Labor and Industries
http://www.lni.wa.gov/news/2003/pr031001a.asp

WorldNetDaily - http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=42670

The Seattle Times http://www.familiesthatwork.org/newsstories/seattletimes.html

http://www.across-the-fence.com/