Deal W. Hudson
March 9, 2008
Panic spread among the estimated 166,000 homeschoolers in California for a week, and outrage grew around the homeschooling community nationwide. On February 29, WorldNetDaily broke the story of a decision by a California Court of Appeals ordering two homeschooled children from the Los Angeles area to be enrolled in public school.
Reporter Bob Unruh compared the ruling to Nazi Germany: “The words echo the ideas of officials from Germany, where homeschooling has been outlawed since 1938 under a law adopted when Adolf Hitler decided he wanted the state, and no one else, to control the minds of the nation’s youth.”
At first glance, it’s understandable why the language of the ruling caused consternation: “California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home-school their children,” wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in his opinion for the Second District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties.
A Los Angeles Times article ran with the following lead:
Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves of fear through California’s home schooling families.
Homeschooling parents threatened to leave California, while homeschooling organizations, such as the Home School Legal Defense Fund, vowed to see the decision overthrown on appeal.
Advocates of public education saw it differently. The president of the teachers’ union in Los Angeles, A. J. Duffy agreed with the ruling: “What’s best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger moved quickly to quell what was becoming a grassroots rebellion. On March 7, he issued a statement calling the Second District Court ruling “outrageous.” It would either be overturned by the courts, Schwarzenegger said, or “elected officials” would act to “protect parents’ rights.”
State Education Secretary David Long underscored the Governor’s words, saying, “The governor sees this as a fundamental right of parental choice.”
But the story that swept the newspapers, talk radio, and the blogs were actually based on a misunderstanding. Defendants Philip and Mary Long have eight children, who are all taught by Mrs. Long at home in Lynwood, CA. For religious reasons, the parents object to the sex and homosexuality curriculum taught in the public schools. One of their children reported physical and emotional abuse by the father, which was investigated by the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s and Family Services. (This was not the first time the Longs have been investigated for the abusive treatment of their children.)
The investigator discovered that all eight of the Longs’ children were being homeschooled at the same time they were enrolled in a charter school, the Sunland Christian School, where they would sometimes take tests.
An attorney acting on behalf of some of the children asked the court to order them placed in a public school for their benefit. The problem considered by the court was not the simple question of the legality of homeschooling, but whether, by exclusively homeschooling their children, the Longs were ignoring their arrangement with the charter school where their children were enrolled.
The children’s truancy from Sunland Christian School explains the reason the court questioned the “credentials” of Mrs. Long as a teacher: “The parents present no authority to the effect that a charter school can excuse the statutory requirement that tutors be credentialed if their students are to come within the tutor exemption to compulsory public school education.”
In other words, the enrollment of the Longs’ children at Sunland Christian School is not a form of homeschooling and, therefore, does not fall under the exemption in the California Educational Code allowing for parents to teach their children at home.
The Longs are required to educate their children according to the statutes governing charter schools. To argue that Mrs. Long is conducting “independent study” does not excuse the students’ habitual absence from classes at Sunland. The type of “independent study” allowed at charter schools “does not apply to a mother’s homeschooling of her children.”
As a result, homeschoolers in California are not at risk under this ruling, although at first glance the language does indeed appear inflammatory. Under California law, parents who homeschool have created a “public school” where they have to be “capable of teaching” the required courses offered in public schools. Parents also have to keep a record of enrollment and attendance, as well as file a yearly “private school affidavit” with the state.
The Longs’ case will undoubtedly be appealed, and following that appeal, whatever danger posed by the decision on homeschooling will be addressed. Perhaps this scare will provide opportunity and motivation for the homeschooling movement to push for legislation that will protect parents’ right to educate from future rulings by activist judges.