I kept wanting to write a real post about this topic, but I got busy. I’ve been fielding a lot of questions offline, though, from concerned friends.By now I think most people have heard the background of the appellate court ruling that addresses the legality of homeschooling in California, but there is a lot of hyperbole and misinformation swirling around out there. There is cause for concern, but not panic. No laws have been changed. This court’s interpretation of state education statutes is dramatically different from the interpretation applied by thousands of homeschooling families for many years, in cooperation with the state Department of Education.
The case involves a family in which the father is accused of abusing the children. In the lower court, the children’s representatives sought a ruling that would require the family to put the children in school. The lower court ruled against this because of, according to the appellate court’s published ruling (link opens a PDF), “its belief that parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home.”
The children’s representatives appealed the case. The appellate court disagreed with the trial court’s interpretation of the law.
California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children….It is clear to us that enrollment and attendance in a public full-time day school is required by California law for minor children unless (1) the child is enrolled in a private full-time day school and actually attends that school, (2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught, or (3) one of the other few statutory exemptions to compulsory public school attendance (Ed. Code 48220 et seq) applies to the child.
Let’s come back in a minute and look in more depth at those “other few statutory exemptions” and the private-school option. But first some general words about the issue. It is the opinion of the appeals court that this family did not meet any of the conditions quoted above. As this court interprets the law (and it is important to note that the court based much of its opinion upon a 1953 court case, which is to say a case that predated the movement for freedom to homeschool by decades), no parents currently homeschooling under the “register as a private school” option are in compliance with state law unless the parent holds a “valid teaching credential for the grade being taught.”
The court’s interpretation of how families can work with Independent Study Programs (ISPs) also differs dramatically from the common understanding held and applied by hundreds (thousands? I don’t know the stats) of families across the state.
That’s why this case has caused such a furor. The appellate court’s ruling speaks not just to the situation of this particular family (and by all accounts it is a bad situation), but it makes a broad statement which would seem to apply to a huge number of families across the state who have been happily homeschooling with a good-faith understanding that we are in compliance with state law.
But there is no need to panic. The HomeSchool Association of California and the other state homeschooling associations (I’ll add links later) are working together with excellent legal representation to make sure the rights of parents to educate their children as they see fit are protected.
The best option appears to be petitioning the court to have the ruling “depublished” so that it is binding only for the family in the specific case but would be removed from public record.
The California Homeschool Network blog reports:
CHN and HSC are in contact with law firms who are interested in helping defend our freedoms in California. Because HSLDA has members in CA, they are also doing the same. Individual briefs will likely be written, and requests to “depublish” the report will be submitted. If the depublish requests are successful, it would be removed from public record, and would not be cited against homeschoolers. We think there’s an excellent chance that it will be successful, but if not, we’ll continue to defend homeschooling in other ways. All groups are opposed to legislation, unless there is no other option.
You may have heard that HSLDA is circulating a petition for people to sign in support of depublishing the ruling. While I hope the depublish request is successful, I do not encourage the signing of this petition, for reasons well articulated by homeschooling advocate and watchdog Larry Kaseman in his letter to Wisconsin parents:
HSLDA has gotten involved and is circulating and strongly urging people to sign a petition addressed to the California Supreme Court. WPA suggests that homeschoolers NOT sign the petition for several reasons, including the following:
– The major California homeschooling organizations, including those that are religiously based, have not called for signing the petition. In fact, there is concern about possible backlash if lots of people contact the court. WPA has consistently argued that homeschooling issues in a given state should be addressed by homeschoolers in that state and has opposed intervention by “outside experts.”
– Because HSLDA is not a party to the case, it does not have the authority to submit the petition and signatures to the California Supreme Court.
– HSLDA has a history of inserting itself into highly visible court cases. When the cases have been decided in favor of homeschoolers, HSLDA has tended to take undue credit. Many more of the cases have led either to a decision that limits or undermines homeschooling freedoms or one that leads to legislation that regulates homeschooling strongly and unnecessarily.
I heartily second the concerns about HSLDA’s involvement. As I said on Maureen Wittman’s blog, I would advise anyone to do a great deal of digging and research about the things HSLDA lobbies for before making a decision whether to give them money and support. This organization’s push for writing homeschooling into federal legislation could, many people believe, wind up having negative ramifications for all homeschoolers down the road.
As for all of us California homeschoolers, life is going on as usual for now. There was a flurry of panic last week, much of it fueled by the alarmist rhetoric of a WorldNetDaily article.
There is no reason to panic, but it is important to stay informed. Read the court documents and follow the updates at CHN.
One thing this case ought to do for all of us in this country, homeschooling parents or not, is provoke serious thought about exactly what compulsory education is and why we, as a nation, have written it into our laws. Do you know the history behind compulsory education? Do you know what your state laws are, and how they are enforced?
I’m glad to be a California homeschooler right now. I don’t think there’s going to be a fight, but if there is—if citizens are faced with defending their rights to make decisions about their children’s education—I want to do my part. For nearly a decade now I have been enjoying the freedom secured by parents who came before me, parents who fought hard to protect their right to educate their children at home.
I have lots more to add here, including links to other coverage and a look at the California Education Code, but my time is up for now. More later.
Good info at HSC.org.