If you’ve been reading the papers for political stories that aren’t about the presidential campaign, you might have noticed a story that had a headline with a variation of the following: “California Court Declares Homeschooling Illegal.” Shock, outrage and disbelief seemed to be the emotions du jour after the story was published. However, many papers reported the story inaccurately, or highlighted portions of the Appellate court decision that were taken out of context.
Reporters look for “the sexy” in a story, and boy did they find a good one in this court ruling! On page one, paragraph two of the actual decision, the court provided the media with their money shot: “California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children.” However, if one bothered to actually read the rest of the decision, one would find that the court was quick to point out exceptions to this assertion. To wit:
Full-time public school education for persons between the ages of six and eighteen is compulsory under Californiaâ€™s compulsory education law (Ed. Code, Â§ 48200 et seq.), â€œand each parent, guardian, or other person having control or charge of the pupil shall send the pupil to the public full-time day school . . . and for the full time designated as the length of the school day by the governing board of the school districtâ€ (Â§ 48200). Exemptions to compulsory public school education are made for, among others, children who (1) attend a private full-time day school (Â§ 48222) or (2) are instructed by a tutor who holds a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught (Â§ 48224), or (3) one of the other few statutory exemptions to compulsory public school attendance (Ed. Code, Â§ 48220 et seq.) applies to the child. Because the parents in this case have not demonstrated that any of these exemptions apply to their children, we will grant the petition for extraordinary writ.
The court ruled on a case in which a child claimed the siblings in the family were being abused by their father. The state used statutes in the Education Code to prove that the parents were not complying with the laws set forth in the Code. The lower court disagreed and held that they did not have the authority to compel the parents to enroll the children in a public school. The Appellate court disagreed with the lower court ruling stating that, while parents are granted exemptions in the law when it comes to the education of their children, they (i.e., the parents in the case) failed to meet the standard of those exemptions (see above).
You can read the 18 page court decision HERE, but I think what this means in terms of homeschooling in the Golden State (and by extension, home schooling in the rest of the country) is that if there are violations of a child’s right to an education, as spelled out in state constitutions in the U.S., then you may see more courts ruling on laws protecting those rights be enforced. The possibility of this happening has many home school advocates worried.
Since 1983, the lawmakers, school districts, and even the courts have relaxed the enforcement of the “compulsory education of minors.” Why? Well, as the home schooling movement started to gain steam they had sympathetic allies with politicians who were part of the Reagan Revolution. These elected officials were ready to turn a blind eye to people opting out of public education for their children in favor of homeschooling. Do you remember how Reagan was very fond of saying that government was part of the problem? Well, to be blunt, state run education was part of the problem. “Give people choices and they will do what’s best in the interest of their children” was the new political mantra.
I don’t dispute that parents know their kids best, and if they are in a situation where their child is not thriving at a school, there ought to be options for helping that child in the most effective way possible. However, the buzz word “school choice” in this movement has, by and large, meant religiously based education that is separate and unequal to what is being taught in public schools. For every success story of a home schooled genius, there are, alas, other stories that involve power, control, and abuse of children by parents who defend their actions as their freedom to educate their children how they see fit. Those freedoms, however, are curtailed when harm is done to others — which is what the court had an interest in.
I’m not saying that home schooling is a bad thing. Indeed, I would argue that the California court is saying that in order to make home schooling more uniformly “good,” home schoolers must meet the minimum qualifications — like possessing a teaching credential, or educating their children at a private school that meets the definition of a school with set hours and teachers who are able to instruct children in a particular subject. The case the court ruled on demonstrates that abusive parents can use home schooling and private school to deny children their right to an education. Moreover, the courts have opened up a needed dialogue and debate on compulsory education, the rights of children, and its role in promoting and protecting the public welfare.
Those who are advocates of home schooling are not happy. They don’t want the government to put a spotlight on the niche they have been able to carve out and control for over 20 years. To do so could possibly highlight questionable curricula, teaching methods, and even financial corruption — and, as we all know, those hot button issues are supposed to be reserved for public institutions.