Corporal Punishment: Is It a No-No?
The number of Home School Legal Defense Association member families who are contacted by social workers continues to rise. Contacts are based upon either anonymous or identified individual complaints alleging that the families are abusing and/or neglecting their children. One constant theme throughout the complaints is that the type of discipline the parents administer to the children is abusive (i.e. spanking).
Many people do not believe any child should be disciplined with corporal punishment. But despite the fact that most social workers regularly tell parents that they do not have a right to spank their children, or that they can only spank their children with their hand, this is not the law in California.
The law provides that reasonable, age-appropriate spanking cannot of itself be considered abuse or neglect of a child. There is nothing in the California statutes that prohibits a parent from using an object, other than the hand, to administer the corporal punishment.
It must be clearly stated, however, that any abuse to a child which occurs during administration of corporal punishment will be presumed child abuse by the child protective industry. The burden will be on the parent to demonstrate otherwise.
In light of the above, here are a few suggestions advocated by child psychiatrists and pediatricians for parents who use corporal punishment as one of the means of disciplining their children:
- Do not spank your children or anyone else's children in public or outside the confines of your home. The windows and doors of your home should be secured when administering corporal discipline. Spanking should be done in private.
- Avoid spanking someone else's child unless you have clear written authority to do so.
- Do not administer corporal discipline when angry. A spanking is most effectively administered immediately after the child's offense.
- Use corporal discipline only for clearly understood and intentional disobedience.
- Clearly explain to the child why corporal discipline is being administered.
- After the discipline, always affectionately express your love for your child. A verbal review of the offense and verbal reassurance of the parent's unconditional love for the child should be conveyed.
- Spanking should always be administered with regard for the child's age and development.
School Districts Assert Authority
Public school districts continue to attempt to assert authority over private schools that they simply do not have. For example, one school recently sent out to private/home schools an "Application for Exemption From Attendance at a Public School." The application required pupil information, including name, address, date of birth, and grade; and parent or legal guardian information.
The cover letter requested the private/home school administrator to indicate what exemption the parent/administrator is claiming, i.e., the tutorial exemption, the private school exemption, or the independent study exemption. The application asked the parent to provide information regarding the tutor, the private school, or the public school administering the independent study program.
It is true that California law does give public school districts the authority to verify that a child not enrolled in public school meets one of the attendance exemptions. However, that verification is to be initiated by a complaint that a parent or guardian does not have his child in a legal exemption from public school attendance.
Some school district officials view home schooling as legal only through the tutorial exemption-which means instruction is done by a certified teacher. If the private school affidavit lists six students or less, these districts presume it is a home school and send a letter accompanied by a form for the parents to complete and return.
In most cases, the public school does not know the names, ages, or number of children who are of compulsory school age in the family. The form is simply a "fishing expedition"-without the names and ages of the children, the public school does not have sufficient information to pursue a truancy complaint.
HSLDA continues to inform such school districts that the private schools will not respond to this type of inquiry and that the form exceeds the authority of the school district as pronounced in the California Education Code.
Lucia Mar Unified School District Requests Proof of Certification
The Lucia Mar Unified School District, a school district in San Louis Obispo County, sent a letter to all the small private schools that had filed private school affidavits indicating that the only legal way to home school was under the exemption which requires the tutor to be a certified teacher. The parents were told that if they did not send a copy of their teaching certificate to the district by March 3, 1996, their private school affidavit would be referred to the School Attendance Review Board (SARB). The implication of this threat is that the school district would challenge their right to home school under the private school exemption. The school district indicated that the letter was sent at the instruction of the State Department of Education. The letter also urged parents to attend a meeting for the purpose of learning about the independent study program the school district is planning to launch in September 1996.
Michael Smith told HSLDA members not to attend the meeting and assured the parents that their private school legally exempts their children form the requirement of being instructed in a public school or tutored by a certified teacher.
In addition, Vice President Smith forwarded a letter to the Assistant Superintendent informing the school district of its incorrect interpretation of the law in California as it relates to home schoolers. The letter advised the school district that the SARB did not have any authority over private schools, only over students alleged to be truant. The students in attendance in the private schools which received the letter are exempt from public school attendance. Therefore, the SARB has no authority at all over the students enrolled and receiving instruction in the private schools.
The school district responded by letter to the families, canceling the scheduled independent study program meeting and apologizing for any misunderstanding the letter may have created. However, there has been no indication whether the Lucia Mar Unified School District will turn over the home educating families' private school affidavits to the SARB. Stay tuned for further developments.
Los Angeles County Assesses Processing Fee
HSLDA has been informed by home schoolers in Los Angeles County that they have received phone calls from the LA County Board of Education informing them that their private school affidavits have not been properly filed because they failed to pay the $25.00 processing fee. The school official informs the parents they are not "legal" and tells them where to send the processing fee.
HSLDA instructed our member families not to pay the processing fee and to forward their affidavits directly to the department of education in Sacramento via certified mail with a return receipt requested. Member families who filed their affidavit and received the return receipt need not be concerned about receiving such a call. Simply inform any caller from the Los Angeles County Board of Education that you have filed the affidavit with the Superintendent of Public Instruction as required by the private school law (Ed. Code § 48222) and you have a certified mail return receipt as proof that it was received and properly filed with the State Board of Education.
There is nothing further you need to do. However, any member family who receives further contact by telephone or letter should immediately contact the HSLDA legal department for guidance.