California Superintendent: Parents Have Right To Homeschool

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Extra Credit
Court: School-Sponsored Homeschooling a 'Ruse'

Judge H. Walter Croskey of the Second District Court of Appeals published an opinion Feb. 28 that described private school-sponsored homeschooling programs as a "ruse of enrolling [students] in a private school and then letting them stay
home and be taught by a non-credentialed parent."

Both public and private schools and districts offer programs to support parents who choose to homeschool their children, which can include part-time class attendance, evaluation of work by credentialed teachers, and online learning resources.

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--D. Nagel

Saying that public schools might not be a good fit for every student in California, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell released a statement this week supporting the rights of parents to homeschool their children, despite the Feb. 28 Second District Court of Appeals ruling to the contrary. The statement comes on the heels of a pledge by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to support homeschooling by fighting against the court ruling either through the courts or through other political means.

"I have reviewed this case, and I want to assure parents that chose to home school that California Department of Education policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling. Parents still have the right to home school in our state," O'Connell said.

The case in question was a child welfare trial in which the court published an opinion with implications far beyond the scope of the case itself, stating that parents do not, in fact, have a right to homeschool their children--not independently, not as part of a distance learning program, and not as part of district-sponsored charter programs or other types of programs. The court said that, legally, only full-time, in-person instruction from a credentialed teacher/tutor could satisfy the state's legal requirements for full-time school attendance for minors. Without either a full-time, credentialed tutor or a full-time teacher in a classroom setting, students would be considered truant and parent liable for prosecution.

"Every child in our state has a legal right to get an education," O'Connell said in response, "and I want every child to get an education that will prepare them for success in college and the world of work in the challenging global economy.

"As the head of California's public school system, I hope that every parent would want to send their children to public school. However, traditional public schools may not be the best fit for every student. Within the public school system there are a range of options available. Students can take independent study classes, attend a charter school, or participate in non-classroom-based programs. But some parents choose to send their children to private schools or to home school, and I respect that right."

Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals ruling and opinion are on the books, and subsequent administrations might not be as sympathetic to the homeschool cause as Schwarzenegger administration has proved to be. (O'Connell himself is in the second year of his second four-year term as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.) For this reason, one homeschool advocacy group, the Home School Legal Defense Association, is seeking to have the opinion "depublished" so that it can't be used as case law in future cases.

"We are encouraging all homeschoolers and anyone who wants to support parental rights and educational freedom to sign a petition on our [Web site] that calls for the depublishing of the opinion," said Michael P. Donnelly, staff counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), in an interview with THE Journal over the weekend. "This is a proper procedure in [California] that would essentially confine the ruling of this case to the factual circumstances and prevent the case from being used as precedent in other courts in the State."

That petition now has about 230,000 online signatures, up from about 160,000 Monday.

Gov. Schwarzenegger released a statement March 7 also decrying the court's opinion.

"Every California child deserves a quality education, and parents should have the right to decide what's best for their children," he said. "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts, and, if the courts don't protect parents' rights, then, as elected officials, we will."

O'Connell, for his part, added that while he supports homeschooling and the individual choices of parents, he wants to ensure that any choices parents make are for the best for their children.

"I admire the dedication of parents who commit to oversee their children's education through home schooling," he said. "But, no matter what educational program a student participates in, it is critical that the program prepares them for future success in the global economy. I urge any parent who is considering or involved in home schooling their children to take advantage of resources and support available through their county or district offices of education."

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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