LOS ANGELES (BP)–In a huge win for thousands of Christian families in California and nationwide, a California appeals court Aug. 8 reversed itself and ruled that parents do in fact have a right to homeschool their children even if they lack teaching credentials.
The three-judge panel received nationwide attention and criticism in February when it ruled that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children.” It based its ruling on a nearly 80-year-old law by the California legislature. But in the decades since that law was implemented, the panel ruled Aug. 8, the legislature has implicitly accepted homeschooling as legal.
“We … conclude that California statutes permit home schooling as a species of private school education,” the justices wrote in their unanimous decision.
The February ruling said parents could homeschool their children only if they had a “valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught” — something that many if not most homeschooling parents don’t have. The panel announced in March it would rehear the case. The original decision drew criticism from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pledged legislation if it wasn’t overturned, as well as from State Schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell, who said he supported the rights of homeschoolers.
There are an estimated 166,000 homeschool students in California. More than a dozen organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the court to reconsider its ruling. Technically, the court case involved alleged abuse within a family who had homeschooled their children. But instead of simply ruling on that particular case, the court issued a broad ruling that covered all homeschool families in the state.
The latest ruling drew wide praise from homeschool organizations.
“This is a great victory for homeschool freedom,” Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said in a statement. “I have never seen such an impressive array of people and organizations coming to the defense of homeschooling. The team effort was remarkable.”
The original ruling was viewed as particularly troubling to Christian families because California’s public schools have some of the more liberal laws in the nation regarding teaching about sexuality and homosexuality. Many of those families see homeschooling as the only viable alternative.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization, was among the groups involved in the case seeking a reversal.
“Parents have a constitutional right to make educational choices for their children,” Alliance Defense Fund attorney Gary McCaleb said in a statement. “Thousands of California families have educated their children successfully through homeschooling. We’re pleased with the court’s decision, which protects the rights of families and protects an avenue of education that has proven to benefit children time and time again.”
The court Aug. 8 said that home schooling was amended out of state law in 1929, and that court rulings in 1953 and 1961 “confirmed” that children could be homeschooled only by a credentialed tutor. But since then, the panel ruled, the legislature has passed statutes which assume that homeschooling is legal.
“Under these circumstances, it is our view that the proper course of action is to interpret the earlier statutes in light of the later ones, and to recognize, as controlling, the Legislature’s apparent acceptance of the proposition that home schools are permissible in California when conducted as private schools,” the decision said.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.