Now local government under fire for attacking education alternatives

COVID-19 taught Americans a lot about education. For one thing, parents were suddenly able to see what agenda their public school classroom teachers were using on their kids.

And they found out that perhaps homeschooling wasn’t that hard at all.

What many parents have ended up with is a hybrid type of learning for their children, not all public school, not all homeschool. One example is in Cobb County, Georgia, where parents pool their resources and set up learning pods for their children in local churches.

But county officials there attacked, with a demand that every building being used have not only an occupancy permit, but “occupancy for education” permit.

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That’s a request too far, according to officials with the Institute for Justice, who have dispatched a letter to the county calling on its officials to stop weaponizing building and fire safety codes to harass educational programs.

The legal team explained, “During the pandemic, learning pods became a reliable way for parents to educate their children while traditional schools were closed. These pods are typically groups of children, organized by parents, who come together for instruction in a location such as a church or a home school setup to supplement either traditional schooling or home schooling. The programs are so popular that the Georgia Legislature, with help from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, passed a law in March of 2021 protecting these pods from overly burdensome regulations, including certain building codes and fire safety codes.”

The organization continued, “Despite that, Cobb County’s fire marshal recently informed several different hybrid learning co-ops that if the buildings they were using did not reapply for a different certificate of occupancy by Aug. 8 they would be saddled with daily fines of $1,000.”

“Cobb County’s proposed crackdown is a direct violation of the law protecting learning pods,” said IJ Attorney Suranjan Sen, one of the authors of the letter. “Officials should not be using building code laws to deny families the education they feel best fits their children’s needs.”

The IJ reported the pods involved all are using classroom space in various churches, which already have all the necessary “assembly” permits.

“Yet the fire marshal is using a burdensome building code law to say these churches must also receive certificates of occupancy for ‘education’ if they offer more than four hours of instruction per day. At the same time, the marshal is not demanding this of church preschool programs—further suggesting that the requirement is in fact unnecessary,” the IJ said.

The process is not easy or cheap.

“In order to reapply for the new permit, the churches would need to get an architect and submit site plans to the fire marshal, who would then inspect the buildings. After the inspection, the fire marshal could require the churches to make upgrades to their buildings that could total thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. One pod, Arrows Academy, already shut down because of the crackdown last week,” the IJ explained.