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April 21, 2003

SB 950: Truancy as Child Abuse & Neglect

Note: HSLDA is posting the following updated alert from Roy Hanson and Jim Davis of Family Protection Ministries (FPM) for your information. It is being issued in California jointly by FPM and HSLDA. We have worked closely with FPM to develop both the language and the strategy for this alert.

Victory on Senate Bill 950! Click here for the latest information.

Author:
Senator Richard Alarcon

Summary:
A Child Protective Services (CPS) social worker investigation could start with an unannounced knock at your door. This bill is dangerous because you could ultimately lose custody of your children unless you meet all the conditions CPS and the Juvenile Court dictate, including enrollment in the school of their choice (not yours).

Status:
SB 950 is scheduled to be heard in the California Senate Health & Human Services Committee on Wednesday, April 30, 2003.

Amendments to SB 950 will not help.
The author's office is telling people who contact them that they are working with homeschoolers to amend the bill so that it will not affect parents who are legally homeschooling. Our work with the author's office is to have them drop any attempt to add truancy or any form of educational neglect as a new category of child abuse and neglect under Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) § 300. HSLDA is in full agreement with us on this approach and we are consulting with them regularly as we work on this bill.

  1. No exemptions for homeschoolers added to SB 950 will prevent the Department of Education's legal office from continuing to erroneously claim that private homeschooling is not legal. Some may try to get amendment language to attempt to exempt homeschoolers from the provisions of SB 950; however we do not believe this will be helpful for several reasons. One reason is because exemptions already exist. Currently, homeschoolers can establish a private school in their home or can enroll in an already existing private school, thereby exempting their children from compulsory attendance in a public school under Education Code (EC) §§ 48220, 48222, and 33190.

    Any attempt to add or further define exemptions to compulsory education in SB 950 will necessarily raise more questions about who should be legally exempted from attendance in public schools. In the political climate at the state capitol, attempting to change the current legal exemptions could ultimately end up narrowing the exemption language rather than extending it.

  2. Any amendment language that is offered is likely to be amended itself during the legislative process. Even if there were an amendment which we considered helpful, which is very unlikely, it is doubtful that such language would remain intact; last minute changes could be devastating to our freedoms.

  3. Amending SB 950 merely by removing references to truancy in the Education Code (EC) will also not help because it could be substituted with vague language such as "neglecting a child's education." This would still require CPS social workers to investigate and make determinations about allegations of truancy under WIC § 300. The responsibility for dealing with truancy should be left with the school system which knows more about education issues than CPS.

  4. No exemptions in WIC § 300 will prevent the initiation of a CPS investigation if SB 950 passes. Acknowledgment of the applicability of any added exemptions to a particular family would not occur until after CPS had begun investigating the family, and may not occur until that family has been brought into juvenile court. Regardless of any exemptions that might be added to SB 950, many innocent children and parents would be investigated by CPS-traumatizing them and overloading CPS.

    In conclusion, SB 950 may be well intended, but the method it proposes is unnecessary, unworkable, and a dangerous misuse of an overstressed CPS system that will put our children in harm's way. SB 950 must be stopped!

Position:
Strongly OPPOSE - amendments cannot help

Requested Action:
None at this time.

Background Information:
SB 950 adds subdivision (k) to Section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, making habitual truancy a new classification of child abuse and neglect. Section 300 specifies conditions under which a "Juvenile Court ... may adjudge [a] child to be a dependent child of the court." The new classification under SB 950, would state that a child could be made a dependent child of the court if "the child comes within the definition of an habitual truant ... as a result of the willful failure of a parent, guardian, or other person having control or charge of the child to ensure that the child attends school as required by law."

No amendments will help solve the problems with this bill.
Reasons to Oppose SB 950:

  1. SB 950 will jeopardize home educators' freedoms. Section 300 of the Welfare & Institutions Code gives the juvenile court jurisdiction over parents accused of abusing and neglecting their children. SB 950 would add a new subsection defining "habitual truancy" as child abuse and neglect. An habitual truant is a child who is reported to be absent from public school five or more times. Since abuse and neglect are investigated by CPS, public school officials could simply refer a privately homeschooled pupil to CPS on the basis of the child's absence from public school. CPS would be obligated to investigate the referral, making personal contact with the home educating family. Should the CPS social worker think it is illegal for parents to teach their children at home pursuant to the private school exemption, they could file a petition in juvenile court alleging the children are dependents of the court. Should the juvenile court agree, it could take jurisdiction over the child and make decisions regarding the childıs education, including terminating the home education program.

  2. SB 950 will discriminate against the poor. This law would discriminate against poor families who cannot afford an attorney. SB 950 would force many parents into a courtroom situation in which they would need to hire an attorney. In contrast, current law prescribes a system of due process, which ensures each parent the right and opportunity to have hearings with school officials to work out attendance problems without the necessity of hiring an attorney, going into a court setting, or involving CPS. This current system historically has been protected by bipartisan support in the Legislature.

  3. Current truancy laws are adequate. The Education Code clearly defines truancy. It provides for due process mechanisms such as school attendance review boards (SARB) and truancy mediation programs to deal with both parents and truant minors. Current law in California specifies sanctions, without CPS involvement, for both parents and minors who do not comply with compulsory education laws. Provisions in the Education Code, Welfare and Institutions Code, Vehicle Code, and Penal Code are more than adequate in stipulating procedural remedies and penalties for truants and their parents.

  4. SB 950 will increase the workload on Child Protective Services (CPS). Under SB 950, lack of enrollment or attendance can be treated as equivalent to physical abuse; sexual abuse; lack of food, clothing, or medical treatment; etc. Children alleged to be "habitually truant" could be reported to CPS. Many innocent parents, including those with children enrolled in education programs other than traditional 9-month public schools, will be swept into the CPS system. CPS, with their limited resources, is already overworked with reports of abuse and neglect without adding "habitual truancy." CPS in Sacramento County alone already receives 4,000 calls per month. Currently 50-60% of cases alleging abuse or neglect prove to be false. How many more families will CPS have to investigate under SB 950? How many truly abused children will be at risk unnecessarily because of stretching the overburdened CPS system too far?

Family Protection Ministries (FPM) is coordinating work at the capitol in Sacramento through meetings with legislators and other parties, and testifying in committee hearings. We are providing written testimony to all of the committee members. We ask our members to coordinate all verbal testimony at any hearing through Roy and Jim by calling them at 916-786-3523. This is necessary to ensure that adequate time is available for testimony from key witnesses. FPM will be at any and all hearings on this bill as they routinely testify on any legislation that might be of concern to the private homeschool community. We and FPM jointly continue to monitor this and all other legislation of significance to private homeschoolers in California.