SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized a state appeals ruling related to homeschooling and pledged action on his part March 7 if it is not overturned.
The comments by the Republican governor referenced a decision that has sent shockwaves throughout the homeschooling community, not only in California but across the nation. The unanimous 3-0 ruling by the court found that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children.” It is being appealed to the California Supreme Court.
“Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children,” Schwarzenegger said. “Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children’s education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights then, as elected officials, we will.”
The decision was issued Feb. 28 but wasn’t widely noticed until picked up by the national media. Homeschooling organizations such as the Home School Legal Defense Association didn’t even know about the case until a ruling was released.
The case began when a child who was being homeschooled reported physical and emotional abuse by the father to government authorities, launching an investigation by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services which eventually led to the court case.
Pro-family leaders criticized the appeals court for issuing a decision with such broad reach. Their criticism contends that the ruling should have applied only to the specific family, but it instead applies to all of the state’s estimated 166,000 homeschool students. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the ruling “turned an isolated family incident into a broad indictment of the entire homeschooling community.”
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,” Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote for the court. “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.”
Compounding the offensiveness of the decision, conservatives say, is the fact that California’s public schools are under some of the more liberal laws in the nation regarding the teaching about sexuality and homosexuality.
Perkins said the decision’s implications “alarm me as a homeschooling parent.”
“This court is threatening to usurp a fundamental right of parents based on an interpretation of a 40-year-old statute that has never been construed as a threat to homeschooling,” he wrote in his Washington Update e-mail. “The panel is also creating a foothold for other courts and politicians to discredit school choice. This case could become a rallying cry to crack down on homeschooling everywhere.”
Parents, Perkins said, should be the decision-makers when it comes to educating their children.
“Whether they do so because of their religious and moral beliefs or because of the dismal performance of local schools, parents should be the ultimate authority on what learning environment is best for their children,” he said. “As long as safeguards are in place to ensure that students are keeping pace with the national standards and test scores, homeschooling should continue to be a viable option for all parents.”
The Home School Legal Defense Association is gathering petitions to ask the California Supreme Court to “de-publish” the opinion. If the opinion is de-published, it would have no authority, the organization said. The petition can be signed at the association’s website, www.hslda.org.
Compiled by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.