California Homeschoolers Are Encouraged by Court Case Dismissal

Published September 1, 2008

Homeschooling supporters received encouraging news in July when a state appellate court vacated a controversial decision from earlier this year nearly banning homeschooling in California. The court agreed to rehear the case.

In February, the court had ruled only parents holding government-approved teaching credentials can educate their own children at home. In late June, homeschooling advocates argued before the 2nd District Court of Appeals to overturn that decision. They were awaiting the results at press time.

The case began two years ago as a child-abuse complaint against a Los Angeles County homeschooling family, but in early July the family court that heard the initial arguments dismissed the case.

“The appellate court may decide that the issue is moot” because of the family court’s decision to drop the case, said Linda Conrad, founder of the Association of Home School Attorneys and former legal chair of the HomeSchool Association of California.

“However, since the dismissal has been appealed, the issue is not moot at this point,” Conrad continued. “Further, the appellate court has the discretion to consider the issue and write an opinion even though the case was dismissed below. It may decide that the issue is one that is capable of recurring and yet evades review, for instance.”

Original Case

“This is a significant favorable development toward preserving homeschooling freedom in California,” said Mike Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, the Virginia-based choice group that argued the case before the 2nd District Court of Appeals. “This case has the potential to change the face of homeschooling across this country” by setting a restrictive precedent against the practice other states might be tempted to follow.

The case arose when the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services asked the courts to require Philip and Mary Long to send their children to public school. The Longs had been accused of physically and emotionally mistreating two of their eight children. The lower court ruled the parents had a right to homeschool their children. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision, citing a 1953 appellate court decision requiring students to attend a public or private school or be educated by a properly credentialed tutor.

Murky Law

The opinion shocked the homeschooling community, particularly since California’s constitution doesn’t specifically address homeschooling. The court’s interpretation of the constitution concluded homeschooling parents must be government-credentialed to teach their own children.

Before February’s ruling, California parents had several homeschooling options, including filing paperwork to create a private school, hiring a credentialed tutor, or participating in an independent study program through a public or private school.

The appellate court, however, ruled parents could face prosecution if their children are not taught by credentialed teachers.

Uncertain Prospects

At this point, Conrad said, anything could happen.

“I cannot predict what the court will do. If the court wants to make a statement about homeschooling, it may use this case to do so. Or it may limit its decision to the unique facts in this case,” Conrad said. “If the case is not properly limited to the facts, there are some other legal options that the parties may consider, such as filing a petition for review in the Supreme Court.”

Beyond that, homeschooling groups can try to change the law.

“If, on the slim chance that the homeschool groups decide legislative action is necessary, I don’t believe there will be a fight,” Conrad said. “In my experience, the legislature has been very supportive of homeschooling, and the governor has also publicly stated his support for homeschooling.”

Both California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell (D) have said the court made the wrong decision. Schwarzenegger has pledged to take the issue to the legislature should the decision stand.

Christin Coyne ([email protected]) writes from Virginia.