August 10, 2004

Controversy Rages Over Homeschooling in Bakersfield, California

The Northwest Voice, a newspaper focusing on Northwest Bakersfield recently addressed the issue of homeschooling. The article includes interviews with several homeschool families which present the positive aspects of homeschooling and a response by several public school officials.

The homeschool community is outraged by statements made by Kern County School District Assistant Superintendent, Bud Burrow. Mr. Burrow, when asked how many children in the county were homeschooled replied, "We wouldn't have a clue, because homeschooling is outside the legal and proper way of doing things. California is a compulsory attendance state, and it's illegal. It's either home or school – it's not meant to be both." The article goes on to state that the legal way to homeschool is through a public school independent study program, a charter school or via tutoring by a certified teacher.

Burrow's basis for stating that private homeschooling without a teaching credential is illegal originates from his interpretation that the private school exemption from public school attendance can only be met by a brick-and-mortar private school. According to Mr. Burrow the legislature intended that only students attending private school systems with property and staff, not single homes, were to be exempt from public school attendance. He is wary of any type of homeschooling that doesn't require a credential, in other words, has the state's stamp of approval.

Perhaps an even more troubling aspect of the article was an opinion expressed by Dr. Louis Wildman, Professor of Educational Administration at California State, Bakersfield. He stated, "It's my personal belief that a decision to homeschool a child is a mistake. Too often it is a cover for child abuse and violations of child labor laws. While the decision to homeschool a child may be part of a well-intentioned effort to shield that child from the sins of the world, a good home upbringing is the best protection a child can have against that."

To set the record straight, nothing has changed in California regarding the interpretation of the private school exemption which includes small private schools in the home. There is no requirement in the law mandating that a private school should have a certain number of students, or be conducted in a place other than a home. HSLDA's experience in representing families in California for over 20 years is that legislators are very aware that one of the legal options for homeschooling in California is through the private school exemption. Delaine Eastin, then Superintendent of Public Instruction tried in August of 2002 to persuade the legislature to pass a law regulating homeschooling. The California legislature rejected this request.

There is no indication in the article that Mr. Burrow intends to pursue homeschoolers with legal action. However, it's clear that he believes that homeschooling outside public school oversight is illegal and that if he had the resources to investigate private homeschoolers, he would. "There are 35 million people in this state and we simply don't have the resources to go in and inspect every home to make sure they are doing what they say they are – it's just unworkable," said Burrow.

The position of the California Department of Education against private home education has softened since the departure of Delaine Eastin as Superintendent of Public Instruction. However, many public school administrators have not changed their position that homeschooling should come under the regulation of the state and/or the local public school district. Because of the loss of revenues to the local school district and failure to impose ideological controls over private homeschoolers, the opposition to home education will always be present. As a result, there will always be pockets in California where public school officials attempt to flex their muscles via threats of prosecution against homeschoolers.

The promise that we can make to the homeschooling community in California is that as long as HSLDA exists, we will resist any effort to reduce the freedom of home educators in California. We will continue to work in conjunction with Family Protection Ministries and CHEA to make sure that no law passes through the legislature to reduce our freedom. And, we will continue to defend each member family's right to teach your children at home free from government oversight and control.

As school begins, this will not be the last of the saber rattling that will take place by public school administrators. A reminder to our members, if you are contacted by your school district regarding your home education program, please contact our office immediately so we can intervene on your behalf. In the meantime, keep providing your children with the best education a child can have, one that is fashioned around their individual needs.