California Court to Reconsider Homeschooling

Published May 1, 2008

California’s Second Appellate District Court of Appeals touched off a firestorm when it issued an opinion that parents have no right to homeschool their own children–a firestorm so great that on March 25, a full month after issuing its decision, the court agreed to rehear the case, with a decision expected in June.

According to the February 28 decision, neither the U.S. nor the California constitution gives parents without teaching credentials the right to homeschool their children, and nothing in California law permits unregulated homeschooling.

Criminal Sanctions

Reaction to the decision was swift and strong.

“The scope of this decision by the appellate court is breathtaking,” said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento-based nonprofit legal defense firm that consulted on the case. “It not only attacks traditional homeschooling but also calls into question homeschooling through charter schools and teaching children at home via independent study through public and private schools.

“If it is not reversed,” Dacus warned, “the parents of the more than 166,000 students currently receiving an education at home will be subject to criminal sanctions.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) pledged to uphold parents’ rights if the judicial branch does not.

“Every California child deserves a quality education, and parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children,” Schwarzenegger said in a March 7 statement. “Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children’s education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts–and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights then, as elected officials, we will.”

The case, In Re Rachel L et al., began in juvenile court more than a year ago, when Los Angeles County social workers investigated a child abuse claim against Phillip and Mary Long of Lynwood. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services asked the state Superior Court “to order that the children be enrolled in a public or private school, and actually attend such a school.”

The Second Appellate Court, which ruled the Superior Court erred in failing to issue the order, also concluded the state offers parents no inherent right to homeschool their children.

Home Schooling Options

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a group based in Purcellsville, Virginia, California does not have a specific homeschool statute, but parents can homeschool legally. One option is for families to file paperwork with the state in order to qualify as private schools.

According to the state Department of Public Instruction, more than 18,000 students statewide currently attend private schools with five or fewer students.

Private schools in California are not required to employ certified or otherwise government-credentialed teachers. Private school organizers need only file an affidavit indicating qualified teachers are on staff, the instruction is in English, “several branches of study required in public schools are taught,” and attendance is kept.

Parents also can homeschool by using a qualified private tutor or independent study program provided by a public school, or by participating in a private school satellite program.

Union Applauds Decision

Homeschool advocates are working to protect the choice to educate at home, but a representative of the California Teachers Association (CTA) hopes the decision stands.

The CTA is “happy” about the decision, board member Lloyd Porter told the San Francisco Chronicle for a March 7 story.

“We always think students should be taught by credentialed teachers, no matter the setting,” Porter said.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said the decision sets a dangerous precedent.

“The court decision must still be overturned before homeschool freedom can be restored in California,” Farris noted.

The Long family is appealing the case to the California Supreme Court, and HSLDA plans to file an amicus brief in favor of the Longs and on behalf of the association’s 13,500 member families in California.

HSLDA also has posted a petition on its Web site asking California to “depublish” the opinion–meaning if it’s allowed to stand, it would apply only to the Long family.

Michael Coulter ([email protected]) writes from Pennsylvania.

For more information …

In Re Rachel L et al., California Second District Court of Appeals, February 28, 2008: