Home-schooling ruling makes waves | SierraSun.com

Home-schooling ruling makes waves

Jim Porter

Here’s a bombshell. A Los Angeles Court of Appeal ruled that parents who home school their children must have a teaching credential. This case will be heading to the California Supreme Court where the Court of Appeal may get tutored in not ruffling feathers.

Eight children in Los Angeles were home schooled by their Mom and Dad. By all accounts the quality of their education ran from “lousy,” to “meager,” to “bad.” And that’s ignoring the abuse allegations.

Apparently there were lots of problems at the house and attorneys were appointed to represent two of the youngsters who sued the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services requesting to be enrolled in a public or private school.

The trial court ruled the parents have a constitutional right to home school their children.

Home School Law

The Court of Appeal unanimously overturned the trial court, determining that parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children. The opinion cites ample law to support their decision.

The Court of Appeal went further, ruling that attendance in a public full-time day school is required in California for minor children age six to 18 unless 1) the child is enrolled in a private full-time school and actually attends that private school, 2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught, or 3) one of several other exemptions not applicable to home schooling applies.

The court found that parents instructing their children at home are not teaching in a private full-time day school, leaving the only way to be home schooled is to be tutored by a person with a teaching credential.

Oops, that leaves out parents.

According to news articles there are somewhere between 50,000 and 166,000 home schooled students statewide. Very few are taught by teachers and none attend private schools, although some are able to meet the criteria by affiliating with a private (or public) school.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell immediately announced that the Court of Appeal case does not change anything in California, specifically saying, “Parents still have the right to home school in our state.”

While O’Connell has opined that the California Department of Education policy will not change as a result of the court ruling, you can be assured he is working the halls of the California Legislature as we speak.

And he is not alone. An organization called Home School Legal Defense Association, while arguing the decision does not deny traditional home schooling, is moving quickly to get the L.A. family’s court decision appealed to the California Supreme Court. It is also asking citizens to sign a “Petition to Support Freedom in California” asking the California Supreme Court to depublish the Court of Appeal opinion.

I was impressed with the home school group’s Web page and outreach, but was somewhat taken back by this quote in their materials: “We have seen God’s hand of protection on the home schooling movement for the 25 years we have been working together for this cause. There is no reason to begin to doubt God now.” But that’s my personal bias.

While the decision technically is only binding in the 2nd District Court of Appeal in and around L.A., it will be read by other judges and generally such an opinion is followed by other courts of appeal. However, this case will likely go to the California Supreme Court. Apparently, with the Governor’s support.

From what I have learned, home schoolers generally meet the home school legal requirements in one of these ways, 1) file papers that establish the home as a small, “private school” (rarely done), 2) hire a credentialed tutor (seldom done) or 3) enroll their children in an independent study program supervised by an established school.

But this case turns the traditional home school model upside down. So while the Superintendent of Public Instruction and school districts throughout California claim the decision changes nothing, it is causing ripples, waves really, and will likely result in better clarity and perhaps more defined requirements for home schooling. And that may not be a bad result.

There is an expression in the law that Bad Facts Make Bad Law, meaning that when there is an egregious case, like youngsters being abused and not educated under the guidelines of home schooling, those bad facts create bad law. In this case a Court of Appeal ruling aimed at those eight kids causes huge consequences throughout the state.

We will see how California responds to what appears to be a fairly straight forward law that home schooled youngsters must be enrolled in a private full-time day school or be tutored by a teacher.

It will be interesting, but I predict good will come out of the case of In re Rachel L. v. L.A. County.