Monday, August 11, 2008
Court Backs Away From Broad Anti-Home School Ruling
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
California law permits parents to school their children at home, but also permits a juvenile court to order that dependent children be placed in a public or traditional private school over parental objection, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled Friday.
Div. Three, on rehearing of a much-criticized Feb. 28 ruling, said that home-schooling parents may comply with the state’s compulsory education law by filing the affidavit required of all private schools, setting forth such basic information as the names of the teachers and their qualifications.
In its original ruling, the court said parents do not have a right to home-school their children under the California Constitution, and may not do so as a matter of statute unless they are credentialed teachers.
Friday, however, the court avoided broader constitutional questions and said that ambiguous Education Code provisions should be construed to allow home schooling, while suggesting that lawmakers revisit what the court called “a near absence of objective criteria and oversight for home schooling.”
The court, emphasizing that its role was to interpret the law and not to endorse or reject home schooling, again ordered reconsideration of Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Stephen Marpet’s order denying a motion by court-appointed attorneys for two children of a Lynwood couple to require that the children be sent to a traditional school.
Where abused or neglected children are concerned, Justice Walter Croskey wrote, the government’s compelling interest in protecting the children from further harm may override the parents’ right to decide what type of education the children receive.
The attorneys, with Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, had sought the order with respect to the youngest two of the Lynwood family’s eight children after an investigation by the county Department of Children and Family Services of reported physical and emotional mistreatment by the father revealed that none of the children had been educated in a public or private school, but had instead been instructed by their mother, who had an 11th grade education.
Placing the children in a traditional school setting, the lawyers argued, would assure that they had regular contact with persons who were legally required to report signs of child abuse to the authorities. The children were subject to dependency jurisdiction because the father was found to have abused two of the older children.
California’s compulsory education law mandates, with few exceptions, full-time public school education for persons between the ages of six and 18 unless they attend a private full-time day school or are instructed by a tutor who holds a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught.
In his original opinion for the panel, Croskey noted that the California Supreme Court had previously held the compulsory education law to be constitutional in People v. Turner (1953) 121 Cal.App.2d Supp. 861, and that an appeal from that ruling was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court for want of a federal question. He also cited a similar ruling by the Court of Appeal in In re Shinn (1961) 195 Cal.App.2d 683.
Following the original reaction to its decision, the court granted rehearing and invited a number of public officials and organizations to submit amicus briefs. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Attorney General Jerry Brown, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, as well as a number of groups that support home schooling, urged the court to reconsider its holding.
Friday, Croskey concluded that the decisions cited in his original opinion are no longer controlling in light of subsequent statutory changes that, while not expressly overruling the cases, suggest that the Legislature considers home schools to be lawful private schools.
The justice cited a 1991 law exempting “private schools with five or fewer students” from specific recordkeeping requirements, a 1998 law exempting “a parent or guardian working exclusively with his or her children” from the requirement that applicants for school employment be fingerprinted, and a law dealing with services for disabled students that references home-schooled pupils.
On remand, however, the lower court must consider “the history of abuse in the family, the father’s continued refusal to accept that he abused his children, the parents’ ongoing lack of cooperation with investigating social workers, and any further relevant factual matters which have developed since the time the motion was originally considered,” the justice said.
The court’s ruling Friday drew generally favorable reviews. Schwarzenegger said it “confirms the right every California child has to a quality education and the right parents have to decide what is best for their children.”
Leslie Starr Heimov, executive director of the CLC, said she was “pleased that the court narrowed its opinion” and focused on “protecting that small group of children whose families are not able to protect them.”
Michael Farris, a Virginia attorney who heads the Home School Legal Defense Association and represented it as amicus, issued a statement calling the ruling “a great victory for homeschool freedom.”
United States Justice Foundation Executive Director Gary Kreep, who represented the father of the Lynwood children, also praised the ruling:
“We’re extremely gratified that the court has upheld the right of California parents to homeschool their own children. This unanimous ruling is a complete reversal from the court’s Feb. 28 decision to criminalize homeschooling. Parents now have the confidence they can homeschool their children without fear.”
The case is Jonathan L. v. Superior Court (Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services), 08 S.O.S. 4827.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company