Monday, March 3, 2008
Court: No Constitutional Right to Educate Children at Home
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Parents do not have a right to home-school their children under the California Constitution, and must comply with the state’s compulsory education law even if they profess religious objections, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
Holding that a couple who had “enrolled” their children in name only in a private school while keeping them at home to be instructed by a parent who was not a credentialed teacher had violated the compulsory education law, Div. Three on Thursday ruled that Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Stephen Marpet erred as a matter of law when he declined to order the parents to send two of the children to a public or private school on the grounds that the parents had a constitutional right to home-school the children.
The court directed the juvenile court to order that the children enroll in, and attend, a public or private school other than the school that had participated in the parents’ “ruse.”
The Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles had sought the order with respect to the youngest two of the couple’s eight children after an investigation by the Los Angeles 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 was not credentialed as a teacher.
Compulsory Education Mandated
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.
However, Marpet—despite finding that the home schooling the children were receiving was “lousy,” “meager,” and “bad;” and despite concluding that keeping the children at home deprived them of situations where they could interact with people outside the family who could provide help if something was amiss in their lives and the opportunity to develop emotionally in a broader world than the parents’ “cloistered” setting—ruled that the parents had a constitutional right to home-school the children and declined to issue the order.
The youngest two children’s attorney then petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ directing the juvenile court to order the children to be enrolled in, and to actually attend, a public or private school, and the court granted the request.
The parents maintained their argument that the state Constitution guaranteed them a right to home-school their children, but the court, in an opinion by Justice Walter 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.
Pointing out that the Legislature had not amended the substantive aspect of the compulsory education law analyzed in the two cases, Croskey said that that there was “no reason to strike down the Legislature’s evaluation of what constitutes an adequate education scheme sufficient to promote the ‘general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence,’ which Article IX, section 1 of our Constitution states is ‘essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.’”
Compliance Argument Rejected
The parents also argued that the mother had complied with the compulsory education law because she had instructed the children in conjunction with the Sunland Christian School, where the children were “enrolled,” even thought the children never actually received instruction at the school itself, and that their religious beliefs entitled them to refuse to send their children to school under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
But Croskey similarly rejected these arguments, writing that the parents’ failure to demonstrate that the mother held a teaching credential made it “clear that the education of the children at their home, whatever the quality of that education, does not qualify for the private full-time day school or credentialed tutor exemptions.”
He also wrote that the parents’ unsworn declaration that they had acted pursuant to their “sincerely held religious beliefs” was not the quality of evidence that would permit the court to say that application of the compulsory education law would violate the parents’ rights.
“Such sparse representations are too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to home school his or her child,” Croskey wrote.
Presiding Justice Joan D. Klein and Justice Patti S. Kitching joined Croskey in his opinion.
The children’s attorney, Cameryn Schmidt, was not available for comment, and a representative of the Los Angeles County Counsel’s Office declined comment.
Bruce Shortt, a Houston attorney involved with the Exodus Mandate, a group that is calling on California parents to remove their children from state public schools as a result of the recent passage of SB 777, which prohibits schools and teachers from “reflecting adversely” on gays and lesbians, criticized the decision as “arrogant” and “poorly informed,” and said that he was confident that the decision would not stand given the “federal issues” involved.
Saying that the decision, if upheld, would “reduce the choices of parents,” Shortt said that his group would continue its call to remove children from public schools and that the decision would merely cause the group to push in a “different direction.”
The case is In re Rachel L., 08 S.O.S. 1340.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company