Friday, March 7, 2008

Ruling seen as a threat to many home-schooling families

State appellate court says those who teach children in private must have a credential.

By Seema Mehta and Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
March 6, 2008

Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves of fear through California's home schooling families.

Advocates for the families vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Enforcement until then appears unlikely, but if the ruling stands, home-schooling supporters say California will have the most regressive law in the nation.


"This decision is a direct hit against every home schooler in California," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents the Sunland Christian School, which specializes in religious home schooling. "If the state Supreme Court does not reverse this . . . there will be nothing to prevent home-school witch hunts from being implemented in every corner of the state of California."

The institute estimates there are as many as 166,000 California students who are home schooled. State Department of Education officials say there is no way to know the true number.

Unlike at least 30 other states, home schooling is not specifically addressed in California law. Under the state education code, students must be enrolled in a public or private school, or can be taught at home by a credentialed tutor.

The California Department of Education currently allows home schooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as small private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts while still teaching at home.

California does little to enforce those provisions and insists it is the local school districts' responsibility. In addition, state education officials say some parents home school their children without the knowledge of any entity.

Home schoolers and government officials have largely accepted this murky arrangement.

"This works so well, I don't see any reason to change it," said J. Michael Smith, president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Assn.

The appellate court ruling stems from a case involving Lynwood parents Phillip and Mary Long, who were repeatedly referred to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services over various allegations, including claims of physical abuse, involving some of their eight children.

All of the children are currently or had been enrolled in Sunland Christian School, where they would occasionally take tests, but were educated in their home by their mother, Phillip Long said.

A lawyer appointed to represent two of the Long's young children requested that the court require them to physically attend a public or private school where adults could monitor their well-being. A trial court disagreed, but the children's lawyer appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The appellate panel ruled that Sunland officials' occasional monitoring of the Longs' home schooling -- with the children taking some tests at the school -- is insufficient to qualify as being enrolled in a private school. Since Mary Long does not have a teaching credential, the family is violating state laws, the ruling said.

"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. "Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] 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."

Phillip Long said he believes the ruling stems from hostility against Christians and vowed to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"I have sincerely held religious beliefs," he said. "Public schools conflict with that. I have to go with what my conscience requires me."

Public schools teach such topics as evolution, which Long said he doesn't believe in. He said his wife spends six hours each day teaching their children reading, writing, math, science, health, physical education, Bible and social studies. Court papers say Mary Long's education ended at 11th grade.

It's unclear if the ruling will be enforced, given the likely appeals. Typically, these rulings take effect 30 days after they are issued.

Other organizations that plan to get involved include the Pacific Justice Institute, Home School Legal Defense Assn. and the Home School Assn. of California.

Meanwhile, state Department of Education's attorneys are reviewing the ruling.

Teachers union officials will also be closely monitoring the appeal. A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he agrees with the ruling.

"What's best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher," he said.

While many educators and officials remained unfamiliar with the ruling Tuesday, news about it has been sweeping websites and blogs devoted to home schooling. Organizations have been getting tense phone calls from parents worried that they will be targeted.

Families who home school includethose whose religious beliefs conflict with public schools and those whose children are in the entertainment industry or have other time-consuming activities that require them to study at an individualized pace.

Glenn and Kathleen, a Sacramento-area couple who requested that their last name not be used for fear of prosecution, home school their 9-year-old son Hunter because their Christian beliefs would be contradicted in a public school setting, Glenn said. He is troubled by the idea that his son would be exposed to teachings about evolution, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and sex education .

"I want to have control over what goes in my son's head, not what's put in there by people who might be on the far left who have their own ideas about indoctrinating kids," he said.

If the ruling takes effect, Glenn vowed to move his family out of state. "If I can't home school my son in California, we're going to have to end up leaving California. That's how important it is to me."

4 comments:

Paul said...

Yeah, that's a real danger to kids all right - requiring adults to meet educational standards to teach them.

You know, they do the same dumb thing at colleges - require the faculty to have these big deal "degrees" instead of just letting any parent who wants to get up and teach the student whatever they happen to believe from stuff they read in magazines, heard at church or on the radio etc.

We're losing our democracy!

Shannon said...

I don't have a problem with some educational standards for parents to homeschool. I do have a problem with the government making it mandatory that a parent have a teaching degree in order to homeschool their children.

I think common sense should tell you that if you haven't graduated from high school, then you probably shouldn't be homeschooling your child. I do think that this ruling is a bit over the line.

The law here in Tennessee states that you need a college degree in order to homeschool through high school. Since I am a few credits shy of receiving my degree, I may take courses at some point so that I have the ability to homeschool until my children graduate.

If my family lived in CA, I'm sure it wouldn't be long before we moved to a state that was more supportive of homeschooling.

John said...

Paul, my authority to train up my own child is given in the scriptures. Because of the seperation of church and state, they don't have the right to take that God ordained right away. I don't think a classroom setting with a teacher is necessary for learning to take place.

Missy @ It's Almost Naptime said...

That would be number 456976990 for me to move out of California.