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California court threatens homeschoolers Update: Debate about the ruling's implications

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By Michelle Malkin  •  March 6, 2008 09:29 AM

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The war on homeschooling is a longstanding one. Parents who take their children’s education into their own hands threaten the creaking, bloated public school monopoly here at home and abroad. The HS community is buzzing about the latest salvo in the war–a troubling ruling in California that imposes credentialing requirements on parents:

Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves of fear through California’s home schooling families.

Advocates for the families vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Enforcement until then appears unlikely, but if the ruling stands, home-schooling supporters say California will have the most regressive law in the nation.

“This decision is a direct hit against every home schooler in California,” said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents the Sunland Christian School, which specializes in religious home schooling. “If the state Supreme Court does not reverse this . . . there will be nothing to prevent home-school witch hunts from being implemented in every corner of the state of California.”

The institute estimates there are as many as 166,000 California students who are home schooled. State Department of Education officials say there is no way to know the true number.

Unlike at least 30 other states, home schooling is not specifically addressed in California law. Under the state education code, students must be enrolled in a public or private school, or can be taught at home by a credentialed tutor.

The California Department of Education currently allows home schooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as small private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts while still teaching at home.

California does little to enforce those provisions and insists it is the local school districts’ responsibility. In addition, state education officials say some parents home school their children without the knowledge of any entity.

Home schoolers and government officials have largely accepted this murky arrangement.

“This works so well, I don’t see any reason to change it,” said J. Michael Smith, president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Assn.

From the court opinion (the full PDF is here):

“Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. “Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program.”

Homeschooling parents of more than 166,000 children in California could face criminal charges.

Government monopolies die hard.

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The Pacific Justice Institute is defending the homeschoolers. More here.

Details about the family:

The appellate court ruling stems from a case involving Lynwood parents Phillip and Mary Long, who were repeatedly referred to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services over various allegations, including claims of physical abuse, involving some of their eight children.

All of the children are currently or had been enrolled in Sunland Christian School, where they would occasionally take tests, but were educated in their home by their mother, Phillip Long said.

A lawyer appointed to represent two of the Long’s young children requested that the court require them to physically attend a public or private school where adults could monitor their well-being. A trial court disagreed, but the children’s lawyer appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The appellate panel ruled that Sunland officials’ occasional monitoring of the Longs’ home schooling — with the children taking some tests at the school — is insufficient to qualify as being enrolled in a private school. Since Mary Long does not have a teaching credential, the family is violating state laws, the ruling said.

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Homeschoolers point out that the ruling could have serious implications for families considering withdrawing from California public schools over SB777, which critics say is a mandate for left-wing sexual indoctrination.

Stay tuned.

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Update: Gabriel Malor says homeschoolers and bloggers like me are overreacting to the ruling.

The Home School Legal Defense Association, whose legal counsels have been battling the anti-homeschooling forces for decades, weighs in and sees plenty of cause for alarm:

On February 28, 2008, the California Court of Appeals issued a ruling in a juvenile court proceeding that declared that almost all forms of homeschooling in California are in violation of state law. (Private tutoring by certified teachers remains an option.) Moreover, the court ruled that parents possess no constitutional right to homeschool their children.

This family was not a member of Home School Legal Defense Association. They were represented by court-appointed counsel throughout the proceeding. Since it was by law a confidential proceeding, to the best of our knowledge neither HSLDA nor any other legal advocacy organization had any knowledge that the right of all homeschoolers in California was depending upon the outcome of this family’s case.

There are two appellate options at this time.

First, we have been told that the family is appealing this decision to the California Supreme Court with their California counsel.

HSLDA will file an amicus brief on behalf of our 13,500 member families in California. We will argue that a proper interpretation of California statutes makes it clear that parents may legally teach their own children under the private-school exemption. However, if the court disagrees with our statutory argument, we will argue that the California statutes as interpreted by the Court of Appeal violate the constitutional rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

HSLDA welcomes other organizations and persons to assist with the amicus process so that a full defense of home education, religious freedom, and parental rights can be given to the California Supreme Court.

The second appellate option is to seek to have this particular decision “depublished.” Depublication is a decision that can only be made by the California Supreme Court. If the Court determines that the decision should stand, regarding this family, on the facts presented, but that the general pronouncements of law for all of homeschooling should not be determined by this case, then the Court has the option of “depublishing” the Court of Appeal’s decision. This would mean that the case is not binding precedent in California and has no effect on any other family.

HSLDA will take the lead in an effort to seek to have this case depublished.

Homeschooling has offered a great opportunity for families to give their children a quality education with a moral and philosophical approach that is consistent with each family’s beliefs.

The ability to homeschool freely in California should not depend upon one family in a closed-door proceeding. All families should have the right to be heard since the rights of all are clearly at stake.

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