The Washington Times
April 15, 2008

Washington Times Op-ed—California Case Jeopardizes Gains

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

On Feb. 28, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District found in the case of In re: Rachel L. that a homeschooling family involved in a juvenile court proceeding did not have a right to homeschool in California unless the children’s teacher held a California teaching credential. That decision sent shock waves through the homeschooling community.

The ruling was shocking because it returned the homeschooling debate to the 1980s, when many states asserted that homeschoolers had to be “teacher certified” by the state to homeschool legally. The battle over who could teach children raged for years, both in the courts and the legislatures. With the help of the Home School Legal Defense Association, state homeschool organizations and dedicated homeschool families, 36 states since 1982 have enacted statues or regulations that allow parents to teach their own children freely. Because of these efforts by homeschoolers, no state today requires parents to be “teacher certified” before they can homeschool.

With the rapid growth and acceptance of homeschooling and with all states acknowledging the legality of homeschooling for the past 15 years, it should not have surprised anyone that the In re: Rachel L. decision caused so much reaction and opposition.

Homeschoolers were not the only ones who cried foul. California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued the following statement: “I have reviewed this case and I want to assure parents that choose to home school that California Department of Education policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling. Parents still have a right to home school in our state.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement condemning the decision: “This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights, then, as elected officials, we will.”

Homeschooling in California is conducted primarily through the private school exemption from public school attendance. For the past 25 years, homeschool families in California have followed the private school requirements, which include filing an affidavit each year with Mr. O’Connell’s office, under penalty of perjury, verifying that the school is in compliance with private school requirements.

Fortunately, the California situation could improve soon. The Court of Appeal granted a petition for rehearing, which has the effect of making the original decision null and void at this time. The court has requested responses from all interested parties and plans to conduct an in-depth review of its decision.

HSLDA plans to file a friend-of-the-court brief asserting that the original decision failed to account for recent enactments by the California legislature that clearly show the legislature understands that homeschools operate as private schools. We also plan to argue that the court did not adequately address the constitutional consequences of its ruling when it undermined parental rights by insisting that parents must have state-issued teaching certificates.

Homeschoolers are united against teacher certification requirements. In just one example of the absurdity of teacher certification, a homeschool leader in California recently informed me that a student enrolled in that leader’s support group achieved a perfect score on the PSAT. Under the court’s original ruling, because the student’s mom is not a certified teacher, the student would not be able to finish high school at home.

For the sake of the future of homeschooling in California let’s hope the court reconsiders its decision.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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