LOS ANGELES (BP)–In a decision that has alarmed the homeschooling community nationwide, a California appeals court has ruled parents have no constitutional right to homeschool their children and that those parents who do must be credentialed teachers.
The decision was issued Feb. 28 but wasn’t picked up by national media until March 6. The court case arose in juvenile court and the parties had court-appointed attorneys, meaning that even some of the nation’s leading homeschooling organizations, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association, didn’t know about the case until the ruling was issued.
But despite that fact it flew under the radar, it could have broad implications on the state’s estimated 166,000 homeschool students — and set a dangerous precedent for other such students nationwide. The decision is particularly troublesome, pro-family leaders say, because California’s public schools have some of the more liberal laws in the nation regarding the teaching about sexuality and homosexuality. More than five years ago Focus on the Family’s James Dobson said if he had children in California’s public schools, he would pull them out.
Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote the ruling for the three-judge panel, which was unanimous in its decision.
“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 appeals court’s decision is being appealed to the California Supreme Court.
The case involved an unidentified family that had homeschooled its 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 saying that the court should have limited the decision to the specific situation but instead “overreached” and applied it to all homeschooling situations.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a legal organization that defends homeschoolers, said the court made a mistake by relying on a California court ruling from 1953.
“If the opinion is followed then California will have the most regressive law in the nation and homeschooling will be effectively banned because the only legal way to homeschool will be for the parent to hold a teaching certificate,” the association said. “Parents should not have to attend a four year college education program just to teach their own children. California is now on the path to being the only state to deny the vast majority of homeschooling parents their fundamental right to teach their own children at home.”
HSLDA 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.
Another legal organization, the California-based Pacific Justice Institute, called the scope of the decision “breathtaking.”
“It not only attacks traditional home schooling, but also calls into question home schooling through charter schools and teaching children at home via independent study through public and private schools,” Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, said in a statement. “If not reversed, the parents of the more than 166,000 students currently receiving an education at home will be subject to criminal sanctions.”
The HomeSchool Association of California posted a statement on its website recommending that California parents “not change anything they are doing,” “support the groups who are handling this” and “don’t panic.”
“It is quite possible that we can reach a result that limits the impact of this case and makes legislation unnecessary,” the statement said.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said on his blog that the decision “demands the attention of all parents.”
“[I]f parents have no constitutional right to educate their own children, what other aspects of the parent’s choices for their own children lack protection?” he asked. “This question reaches far beyond educational decisions.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.