May 18, 2007

Administrative Rulings Support Right to Homeschool

Recently, two separate administrative rulings, one from the federal government and one from the state of California, have helped secure the legitimacy of the private-school option.

Home School Legal Defense Association has always maintained that California law allows parents to file a Private School Affidavit, and meet the other requirements of operating a private school, in order to legally educate their own children.

However, over the years, HSLDA has encountered many public school officials who deny our claim and insist that the private-school option is actually illegal in California. Most notably, former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Delaine Eastin, in 2003 wrote a letter to every state legislator seeking to regulate homeschooling. She claimed that the only way parents could legally teach their own children in California was if they were certified teachers. Her letter prompted an outcry and was ignored by the state legislature.

Now, two other government entities have weighed in on this debate, and sided with HSLDA and California homeschool families.

The first is the California Department of Social Services which ruled in an administrative hearing that a child who had been denied benefits through the CalWORKS program should have those benefits re-instated. Under that program, when a child turns 16 years old, she must provide verification that she is “in regular attendance” at school to remain eligible.

HSLDA member Maria Gomez* is the legal guardian for her granddaughter, Teresa. When Teresa turned 16, Mrs. Gomez verified that Teresa was in full-time attendance at the private school she had created several years earlier. Mrs. Gomez also provided DSS with a copy of her private-school affidavit. The county DSS denied the benefits based on the argument Delaine Eastin had made a few years before. The county argued that Mrs. Gomez could not legally establish a private school and that she could not teach legally Teresa because she was not a certified teacher.

HSLDA appealed on Mrs. Gomez’s behalf and HSLDA litigation counsel Jim Mason appeared at an administrative hearing in March of 2007. He demonstrated that the family had indeed met all of the requirements for operating a legally recognized private school in California. The administrative law judge ruled in favor of Mrs. Gomez and the Director of the California Department of Social Services agreed with his ruling in May.

In his written opinion, the administrative judge carefully dissected the California law and concluded that the county’s argument was wrong. “Counties have been delegated authority to determine what constitutes ‘regular’ school attendance. . . . Counties, however, have not been delegated authority to determine what constitutes a ‘school.’ ” He concluded that Mrs. Gomez was in compliance with the requirements to establish a private school, including the annual filing of the Private School Affidavit.

The second case involves the Social Security Administration and whether a widow could continue receiving Social Security benefits for her son who was in attendance at her private school in the home. The SSA reached the same conclusion as the judge in the CalWORKS case. It ruled that benefits could not be denied because the claimant had met all the federal and state requirements of being a full-time student in a private school.

Neither of these cases directly challenged the right of parents to teach their own children under California’s private-school laws. But an adverse ruling in either could have had dire implications in future cases.

These results are important steps forward to secure your right to teach your own children. HSLDA will be able to use these cases to continue to defend the legitimacy of the private-school option in California.

* Name changed to protect family’s privacy.