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August 08, 2008

Followup on the California Homeschooling Case

In February the education blogosphere and parts of the political blogosphere went nuts after the California Court of Appeals held that parents did not have a constitutionally protected right to homeschooling and that California law requires that students who are homeschooled be taught by someone with a teaching credential. At the time, I was one of the few people to point out that the decision was not a danger to parents who homeschool their children under the private school exemption, a theory which had not been argued by the parties in the case. I wrote:

So, generally, parents have three options for educating their kids in California: (1) public school; (2) private school; or (3) credentialed tutor. This is not as bad for homeschoolers as it looks. To be a private school in California, all the parent has to do is be “capable of teaching” the required subjects in the English language and offer instruction in the same “branches of study” required to be taught in the public schools. They also have to keep a register of enrollment at their “school” and a record of attendance. Once a year they have to file an affidavit with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction with things like their names and address, the names of the students and their addresses, a criminal background check (since we don’t want unsupervised felons teaching kids), and their attendance register. That’s it.

In the Longs’ case, they attempted to claim that their children were enrolled in a “valid charter school” and that the school was supervising the mothers’ instruction in the home. It is unclear from the court’s opinion, but it looks like the parents tried to argue that the children were enrolled in a public school (since all charter schools in California are public schools). But since they obviously couldn’t meet any of the attendance requirements for public schools*, the court also examined the question of whether the parents were credentialed. Since they obviously aren’t, the court kicked it back to the lower court to order them to “enroll their children in a public full-time day school, or a legally qualified private full-time day school.” It looks like the parents never bothered to argue that they were running their own private school in compliance with § 48222.

Today, the Court of Appeals has released a new opinion (PDF) in the case which replaces and overrides the earlier one. Parents still have no constitutionally protected right to homeschool their children, which I continue to believe is the proper result. The Long's children may still be required to attend public schools if the trial court (on remand) determines it is necessary for the safety of the children. And the court comes to the same conclusion as I did about homeschooling under the private school exemption and the applicability to this case:

The remaining restrictions on home schooling in California, which are not at issue in this case, include: (a) home schooling parents must file a private school affidavit; (b) home schooling parents must be capable of teaching; (c) home schooling parents must teach in English and shall offer instruction in the subjects required to be taught in public schools; and (d) home school education must be a “full-time” school. (See also the extended discussion of the private school exemption at pages 19-21 of this opinion.) We express no opinion on whether any of these requirements have been met by the home schooling at issue in this case.

Most homeschooling in California takes place under the private school exemption. Those homeschoolers may now breath a sigh of relief (though, they were never in any danger, as I wrote). Unusual cases, like the Long's who fell in with the shady Sunland Christian School which purports to be a charter school, need to comply with the fairly straightforward requirements to operate as a private school. The requirements are not difficult to meet, certainly no more difficult than actually teaching your children. And as the new opinion discusses, the smallest of private schools have numerous special protections which were almost certainly intended by the legislature to apply to homeschoolers.

One Other Thing: The original, panicked meme that attached itself to this case was that the court of appeals had outlawed homeschooling without a credential. That was mistaken at the time, but it continues to be the general claim made about that opinion and is repeated in today's reporting of the case, for example at the San Francisco Chronicle and here at the California Homeschool Network.

Update for Clarity: Homeschooling in California does not require a teaching credential. (Just as I wrote in February.)

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 04:14 PM

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