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Home-school advocates are scrambling to reverse or blunt the impact of a California appeals court ruling late last month that parents do not have the right under state law to home-school their children, drawing support from top California politicians and education officials.
“We believe that the court erred in ruling,” J. Michael Smith, the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said in a recorded message to parents calling the group’s Purcellville,Va., office. Urging parents not to “panic,” he notes that “this is how home-schoolers have been home schooling for over 20 years.”
The state education department has been barraged with calls from parents, and even picketed by protesters, in the ruling’s wake.
“It’s been nonstop for the last few days. They’re calling us all sorts of horrible names,” said Tina Woo Jung, a spokeswoman for the department.“We understand the concern and respect it.”
She said the department’s legal experts are reviewing the decision. State Superintendent Jack O’Connell also issued a statement, saying that he “supports parental choice,” including home schooling, as long as students are receiving a high-quality education.
Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger indicated in a press release March 7 that if the ruling is not overturned, he would push for legislation that would allow home schooling to continue.
“Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children’s education,” the statement says. “This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts, and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights then, as elected officials, we will.”
In its Feb. 28 ruling in a child-welfare case, the 2nd District Court of Appeal, in Los Angeles, said that a particular family’s homeschooling arrangement violates statutes requiring parents who home-school their children to hold a teaching credential or that the child be taught by a tutor with a teaching certificate.
The parents, Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, Calif., in Los Angeles County, who had been referred to child and family services, have been home-schooling their eight children, who now range in age from 8 to 23. Lawyers representing the two youngest children, who were elementary school age, requested that they be enrolled in public school so they could be more closely monitored. A trial court disagreed, so the lawyer appealed.
The parents said they also had enrolled their children at a private Christian school and that they took tests there, but that the children were part of an “independent study” program, court documents said. An administrator from the private school also reportedly visited the home four times a year.
Instead of leaning on the California Department of Education’s recognition of home schooling as a type of private school in making their ruling, the three-judge appeals court panel instead referred to 50-year-old case law.
“The parents have not demonstrated that [the] mother has a teaching credential such that the children can be said to be receiving an education from a credentialed tutor,” the judges wrote. “It is clear that the education of the children at their home, whatever the quality of that education, does not qualify for the private full-time day school or credentialed tutor exemptions from compulsory education in a public full-time day school.”
The judges also said the visits to the home from the private school administrator were insufficient.
The decision has outraged home-school advocates and conservative leaders across the country, such as James Dobson, the founder of the group Focus on the Family, who called the ruling an “assault on the family.”
Mr. Smith, of the Home School Legal Defense Association, warned that parents of home-schooled students might face truancy charges as school districts sort out what the decision means for families in their attendance boundaries.
His group, which has 13,500 members in California, has gathered more than 180,000 signatures asking the California Supreme Court to decide that the appellate court ruling applies only to the family involved in the case, and not to the parents of some 160,000 home-schooled California children.
The group is preparing an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief that a press release said will argue “that a proper interpretation of California statutes makes it clear that parents may legally teach their own children under the private-school exemption.”
If that argument is rejected, the association will say the court’s decision violates parents’ constitutional rights to direct the education of their children.
The other option is to ask the state supreme court to take action assuring that the decision is not binding on other families. The Long family also may appeal.
A version of this article appeared in the March 19, 2008 edition of Education Week