Parents don’t have constitutional right to home-school kids

Saturday, March 8, 2008

LOS ANGELES — California parents without teaching credentials cannot legally home-school their children, according to a recent state appellate court ruling.

“Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in a Feb. 28 opinion for the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Noncompliance could lead to criminal complaints against the parents, Croskey said.

The parents in the case had argued that they had a First Amendment right to home-school their children, but the appeals court rejected that argument.

“The parents in the instant case have asserted in a declaration that it is because of their ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ that they home school their children and those religious beliefs ‘are based on Biblical teachings and principles,’” Croskey wrote. “[T]hose assertions are not the quality of evidence that permits us to say that application of California’s compulsory public school education law to them violates their First Amendment rights. Their statements are conclusional, not factually specific. Moreover, such sparse representations are too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to home school his or her child.”

The immediate impact of the ruling was not clear. Opponents said they would appeal.

An estimated 166,000 students in California are home-schooled, but it was unclear how many of them are taught solely by an uncredentialed parent.

To earn a five-year preliminary teaching credential in California, a person must obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and complete multiple examinations.

Until now, California allowed home-schooling if parents filed paperwork to establish themselves as small, private schools; hired a credentialed tutor; or enrolled their child in an independent study program run by an established school while teaching the child at home.

The state left enforcement up to local school districts, but there has been little oversight.

The old system “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 Association.

The ruling stems from a case involving Phillip and Mary Long, a Los Angeles-area couple whose eight children are enrolled or have been enrolled in Sunland Christian School in suburban Sylmar and occasionally have taken tests there.

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services intervened after the couple’s eldest child “reported physical and emotional mistreatment” by the father, court papers said. The department conducted an investigation and found that despite the couple’s assertion that their children were enrolled at Sunland, they were educated at home by their mother, who does not have a teaching credential.

An attorney appointed to represent two of the Longs’ young children asked the court to order that the children physically attend a public or private school. A trial court disagreed, and the lawyer appealed.

Under California law, children are required to enroll in and attend public schools unless they attend a private school, or are tutored by a credentialed teacher. The appeals panel found that the Longs did not adequately demonstrate that the exemptions apply to their children.

Attorneys for the state Department of Education were reviewing the ruling, and home-schooling organizations were lining up against it.

Phillip Long vowed to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

“I have sincerely held religious beliefs,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Public schools conflict with that. I have to go with what my conscience requires me.”

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