Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Freedom to Homeschool In California

(B on our first day of the 2007/2008 school year)

On Monday I received a rather shocking e-mail alert from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), explaining that on February 28, an appellate judge in Los Angeles had handed down a decision that, if applied to all home schools in California, would basically make home schooling illegal in our state.

Here's the "update" from HSLDA, and at the bottom is the 17-page decision itself which can be read with Adobe Acrobat.

This case started off with a Child Protective Services report that the father of the family was physically abusing the oldest child. As CPS looked into the case, they discovered that the mother was educating all eight children at home. Why CPS didn't just remove the children (or at least remove the father from the home) is something I do not understand. CPS and the juvenile court apparently ordered some of the children back into the public school system; the parents took the case to court, and the judge upheld their right to educate their children at home. The case was appealed to the Second Appellate Division in Los Angeles which handed down a decision against the legality of home schooling in California. I'm sure that HSLDA will further appeal to the State Supreme Court, especially as the recent ruling against homeschooling was based on cases in the 1950's while more recent cases do uphold the right to home education.

Home educators in California have been home schooling in several ways: they can file for their own private school by filling out a certain form with the state and submitting this form annually in October, thereby making their home school a private school of one or a few students, depending on the number of children in the family. Home schoolers may also join a private Independent Study Program (ISP) which will keep all records, make certain demands for accountability as they see fit, and will consider all students to be pupils of this private school (the ISP). Some private ISP's are part of a private school's physical school campus; others have no physical campus but just an office from which the administration of the school does their work, and all students are taught at home.

The private ISP is our preferred method of homeschooling, and we have been with Heritage Christian School in San Diego for over ten years. Although the state of California makes very few demands on private schools (must be taught in English, must cover seven essential subjects, must keep an attendance log), our ISP requires annual testing in grades 4-11, quarterly progress reports of work accomplished in each subject for each student, and quarterly report cards with grades given by the parent that the school then prints up into an official report card. They also provide high school transcripts and a high school diploma as well as keeping the students' cum files, vaccination records, etc.

In our ISP, co-op classes (called Class Days) are available for preschool through honors high school, and are taught every other week in several locations around the county. Our ISP also has sports teams, high school formals, yearbook staff, a nationally-renowned choir and debate team, high school counseling, SAT prep classes, etc. At Class Day, students can take classes that are either elective or academic. I teach high school (college prep and honors) expository writing courses while other teachers instruct in biology and chemistry labs, film making, drama, debate, Spanish, literature, science, math, and other academic courses. Students also have the option of taking art, P.E., cooking, scrapbooking, chess club, choir, guitar, and other electives.

So for our family, the ISP option provides a rich educational experience, with Class Days for student socialization as well as academic and elective course options. However, this was the option that the apellate judge most strongly cut down, declaring that a private school MUST be a school with a dedicated campus for the students to *physically* attend each day. In fact, his decision stated that the children in question could not even attend the same private school with a physical campus as they had also provided the ISP for these children and therefore were not trustworthy in providing a legal education.

The other legal options for homeschooling that the judge did NOT strike down are: 1) Use a public charter school as an ISP (which technically makes the homeschooled student a public school student) with all public school requirements being met, meeting with a certified teacher in the home every week, etc., and 2) Use a certified tutor to teach children at home. The latter requires that the parent teaching the student(s) MUST be certified for each grade being taught in the home school. That means that as I have elementary, junior high, and high school students in my home, I would have to have current elementary AND secondary credentials. Now, I do have a Master's Degree and have taught at the university level, but that fact simply doesn't "cut the mustard" as far as the certified tutor option is applied.

So I am sincerely hoping that this court case will be appealed by HSLDA, which I am sure that it will, and that more recent case law will be used to demonstrate that homeschooling under the private school exemption is indeed a viable option under California law. I believe that home educators in approximately fifteen other states also use the private school exemption as the legal basis for homeschooling. Some people have suggested writing to our state legislature to request them to propose pro-homeschooling laws that will settle the question legally once and for all. However, with our very liberal legislature that has tried to outlaw homeschooling in the past, the chance of obtaining laws favorable to home education from the California assembly and senate seems slim to none.

But overall, I keep reminding myself that this ruling was not a surprise to God (even if it was a surprise to HSLDA), and we'll just keeping praying "the prayer that never fails," according to Father Tim of the Mitford books. "Thy will be done" will always provide the best answer, even if it is a hard answer.


Little Toe said...

It sounds like CA law is (or should I say 'was'---ahhh! nothing like judicial fiat, but I digress) almost exactly like CO law. That decision makes me very nervous as CO elected a very liberal legislature last time around. We've also been following what's happening in Germany. It's heart-wrenching reading the blogs of mothers who are preparing to emigrate to Canada just so that they will be able to homeschool. I'm praying that God will have mercy on us all.

BTW, we love the Jan Karon books too!

Rachel in CO (on Sonlight)

Serendipity said...

I read that - always felt that California was not as home school friendly as so many other states.

Looks like we both moved to Blogger for the new year!!

Let's catch up soon!


Douglas said...

"1) Use a public charter school as an ISP (which technically makes the homeschooled student a public school student) with all public school requirements being met, meeting with a certified teacher in the home every week, etc.,"

Just FYI, you don't need to meet with a certified teacher in the home every week if you homeschool in a public charter. Different charters are run different ways and some may meet more frequently, but for instance for CAVA (California Virtual Academy) you only meet with a teacher once a quarter, plus you have one phone conference per quarter and turn in a work sample of each subject each quarter. It's not very restrictive at all, and in fact in the case of CAVA it's pretty much like your private ISP, with "Community Day," etc.

Re a comment, until this ruling CA was extremely homeschool friendly, one of the least restrictive states in the country, insofar as parents simply had to form a private school (if they are not using an ISP, charter, or teacher). No requirements for testing or any other accountability.

Hope this helps "fill in the blanks" a bit on this topic. Like many homeschoolers, I am avidly following the news on this disturbing court ruling. Given what the court said about ISP's, I don't know how that particular Court could accept homeschooling in a charter is legal, either. The ruling seems wildly in conflict with other existing state laws and is "making law" -- hopefully it will be stopped in its tracks.

Best wishes,


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