In re Rachel L. Sparks Concern and Care
“When the California Second District Court of Appeal Rachel L. ruling was made public in February 2008, the news spread like wildfire across the United States,” said Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka. The story quickly cropped up in nationally recognized newspapers and magazines, including USA Today, Time Magazine, Education Week, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.
As HSLDA attorneys travelled to homeschool conferences, answered phone calls from members, and conversed with callers on radio programs, homeschooling parents expressed concern on two fronts: that the case would influence their own state legislatures to further restrict homeschooling, or that their state would ban homeschooling altogether.
“Because California is a large state,” said HSLDA Attorney Mike Donnelly, “it does influence the way other states handle legislation and policy matters.”
“The Rachel L. decision could fuel the legislative forces that are skeptical of homeschooling to regulate it more severely,” Klicka added. “Some states, like Idaho, even considered amending their state law to avoid the possibility of a decision like California’s.”
The Rachel L. ruling captured national attention. This March 9, 2008 USA Today article was the first coverage in a national paper.
The ease with which a juvenile dependency case became a homeschool case, the fact that the proceedings were unknown to the public until after the decision’s publication, and the striking resemblance between other states’ education statutes and California’s, all suggest the possibility that homeschooling could be outlawed suddenly, even subtly, across America.
The nationwide reaction of concern and fear from homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike grew into a strong sense of solidarity. “The unity was expressed in the outrage we heard from our members all across the United States,” said HSLDA President Mike Smith. In response to the court decision on February 28th, HSLDA invited people from all 50 states to sign a petition for the California Supreme Court to depublish the decision, which would prevent it from being used as precedent in California or from affecting any other family.
“One of the things that testified to this solidarity was the fact that, in 10 days, we were able to collect 250,000 signatures on the depublication petition,” Donnelly said.
Recognizing the potential large-scale effects of the Rachel L. decision, 37 organizations joined to file 12 amicus briefs supporting homeschooling under the private school exemption. The list of amicus filers (see the July/August 2008 Court Report cover story for complete list) reveals support from groups representing different states, religious denominations, and government positions.
Those who could not be involved in supporting the California homeschoolers through the legal arena found other ways to help. Mary Schofield, vice president of Christian Home Educators Association
of California, received numerous calls from homeschoolers in other states: “The leaders were telling us that they were praying for California. That outpouring of prayer support was a great encouragement.”
Klicka described how “family after family” expressed concern for California homeschoolers. He added, “One family in Nevada even opened their home to Californians who might need to cross the state line and seek temporary lodgings.”
“Homeschoolers have a strong common bond, and when that bond is threatened by anyone, anywhere, they tend to respond sympathetically. The California Rachel L. case elicited a national response and unity in defense of homeschool freedom,” Donnelly said.