Friday, March 14, 2008

Defending home school freedom in CA ... home school community is in this together

[Editor's Note: When the California courts ruled against home schooling families in that state, home school families nationwide banded together to fight for them, support them, and uplift them. The home school community is in this together. We are grateful to Mike Farris and HSLDA for their guidance and representation for all home schoolers.]

From Michael Farris, Chairman, Home School Legal Defense Fund

State Superintendent Supports Home schooling
On Tuesday, March 11, Jack O'Connell, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced that he believed that home schooling is still legal in California. O'Connell's statement is welcome news. Some might conclude that the statement ends the controversy. However, it is not the end of the matter; it is just an important step along the way.

His clarifying statement was probably the result of the massive public outcry against the February 28 decision of the California Court of Appeal which effectively ruled that home schooling is illegal in California unless conducted by a credentialed teacher and that parents have no constitutional right to home school.

O'Connell's statement is helpful, but the courts will undoubtedly take the position that their determination of the meaning of state law is final even though they should give serious deference to the position of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

It should also be remembered that local school districts make the decision about when to initiate prosecutions for truancy, and they are not officially controlled by the state agency on these matters. However, many local officials may be influenced by O'Connell's positive statement.

Did the February 28 Ruling Intend to Affect All Home Schooling Families?
Some have contended that the decision of the Court of Appeal in In Re Rachel L. only affects that particular family. While a court order can only direct one family to stop home schooling, the case clearly sets a legal precedent that will be binding against all other families if this case is not reversed. (Technically, the decision is binding only in the Second District which consists of Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties. However, other appellate
districts will normally treat it as persuasive precedent. If ratified by the Supreme Court of California, it formally binds all California counties.)

There are two basic issues in the case:
1. Does state law allow parents to home school without a state teaching credential?

2. If not, is this law unconstitutional?

Below are three short quotations from the case which give the clear answer:

"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 private school, (2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught."

"California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home."

"We agree with the Shinn court's statement that 'the educational program of the State of California was designed to promote the general welfare of all the people and was not designed to accommodate the personal ideas of any individual in the field of education."

In the first quote the court makes it clear that it believes that parents may not operate their own private schools. In the second they deny that a parent has a constitutional right to home school, and in the third they concur that California law does not accommodate parents pursuing their own education program for their children.

As you can see, the decision is categorical and was not written to be limited to just the facts of this case.

Due to the scope of the court decision, HSLDA is pleased to be working with other self-identified pro-home schooling organizations, including Christian Home Educators Association of California (CHEA), Home school Association of California (HSC), California Home school Network (CHN),and Family Protection Ministries (FPM) in order to oppose this ruling. We are all in this one together.

What is HSLDA's Immediate Plan of Action?
We plan to:

1. Support the family's petition for review to the California Supreme Court.

2. File an amicus brief on behalf of all our members, and others we represent, if the California Supreme Court accepts the case for review.

What Can California Home schoolers Expect in the Short Run?
We believe that it is highly unlikely that local officials will begin proceedings against home school families until this present case is resolved.

This ruling has obviously caused great concern among California home schoolers. We want to remind all California home schoolers that you should stay calm in the face of this decision. Please continue to operate your home school, because we believe that our interpretation of the law is correct and will ultimately prevail in the court system.

We must remain vigilant, however. If you are a member of HSLDA, and you are contacted by a school district, please contact HSLDA immediately.

Long-Range Solution
On another front, later today I am meeting with a half-dozen congressmen to plan a strategy to push for a constitutional amendment on parental rights. We have been receiving numerous calls from members of Congress wanting to respond to this decision.

Final Thoughts/Conclusion
The way the home school law has worked in California for the past two decades has been successful for all home schoolers. If we can keep what we have today that would be a significant victory for home school freedom.

We also understand that the current situation has caused much stress for California home school families. We are praying, and we encourage you to pray, that the threat we face will be swiftly removed and that home school freedom in California will be preserved.

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.

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