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Calif. court to rehear homeschool case

LOS ANGELES (BP)–The same California appeals court that issued a much-criticized homeschooling ruling has agreed to rehear the case –- raising hopes in the homeschooling community that the justices will reverse their decision.

The three-judge panel announced March 25 it would rehear the case this summer and it asked several parties, including the California Department of Education, the Los Angeles Unified School District and several teachers unions, to submit friend-of-the-court briefs. The court’s Feb. 28 ruling asserted that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children” — alarming homeschoolers nationwide, despite the fact it was limited to California.

If it stands, the decision could have a dramatic impact on the state’s estimated 166,000 homeschool students. Soon after it was issued, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized it and pledged legislation if it wasn’t overturned. State Schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell also supports the rights of homeschoolers.

Attorneys affiliated with the Alliance Defense Fund were among those who had asked the court to reconsider its ruling.

“Another look at this case will help ensure that the fundamental rights of parents are fully protected,” Gary Kreep, who is allied with ADF and also affiliated with the United States Justice Foundation, said in a statement.

Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, called the court’s decision to rehear the case a “great first step.” His organization plans on submitting friend-of-the-court briefs.

“We are very glad that this case will be reheard and that this opinion has been vacated, but there is no guarantee as to what the ultimate outcome will be,” Farris said in a statement. “This case remains our top priority.”

The Feb. 28 decision was viewed as particularly troublesome by pro-family groups because California’s public schools have some of the more liberal laws in the nation regarding teaching about sexuality and homosexuality.

Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote the unanimous ruling in February for the panel.

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

California law, the court ruled, requires that children be enrolled and attend a public or private school or be “tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught.” Parents who fail to follow the state law could face criminal penalties.

“Because parents have a legal duty to see to their children’s schooling within the provisions of these laws, parents who fail to do so may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program,” the court wrote. “Additionally, the parents are subject to being ordered to enroll their children in an appropriate school or education program and provide proof of enrollment to the court, and willful failure to comply with such an order may be punished by a fine for civil contempt.”

The court’s ruling overturned a lower court decision that had ruled parents do indeed have a constitutional right to homeschool their children.

The case involved an unidentified family who had homeschooled their eight children. One of the children reported physical and emotional abuse by the father, leading to an investigation by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and eventually to the court case. Focus on the Family issued a statement after the Feb. 28 decision saying that the court should have limited the decision to the specific situation but instead “overreached” and applied it to all homeschooling situations.
Compiled by Michael Foust, an assistant editor for Baptist Press.

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