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Home-schooling gets put in state cross-hairs

The Orange County Register

This is almost too shocking to believe: The California Court of Appeal ruled Feb. 28 that it is illegal for parents without teaching credentials to home school their children. Violation of that law can lead to fines and criminal prosecution. The court even warned that such violations would subject parents to the juvenile court system, which "has authority to limit a parent's control over a dependent child." The threat is clear: Home-schooling families can end up in jail or even possibly lose custody of their children if they don't comply.

The decision will be appealed and may not be implemented immediately. Parents, however, will soon be subject to the whims of their local school districts. In recent history, some California school districts have declared home-schooled students "truants" and used police powers to force them into school. Most districts have been more tolerant of home-schooling, but if this decision stands, home-schooling parents without teaching credentials will be forced underground. And districts have a strong financial incentive to discourage home-schooling, given that their funding is based on average daily attendance numbers.

This is a chilling development, and one of the most totalitarian opinions we've read. "The scope of this decision by the appellate court is breathtaking," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which provides legal defense to some home-schooling parents. "It not only attacks traditional home-schooling, but also calls into question home-schooling through charter schools and teaching children at home via independent study through public and private schools. If not reversed, the parents of the more than 166,000 students currently receiving an education at home will be subject to criminal sanctions."

The decision, written by Justice H. Walter Croskey (an appointee of former Republican Gov. George Deukmejian), rejected a lower-court conclusion that parents have a constitutional right to educate their children at home. The justice made this point: "In obedience to the constitutional mandate to bring about a general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence, the Legislature, over the years, enacted a series of laws. A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as the means of protecting the public welfare."

It's hard to believe that such an utterance could come from an American court, given that the nation's Constitution is designed not to promote loyalty to the state or patriotism, but freedom. Few things are more fundamental to one's freedom than the ability to make choices about the education and upbringing of one's children.

Given the enduring problems in many state public schools, it's amazing that the courts would decide to focus their attention on home-schools. The appeals court decision took place in Los Angeles, and one only needs to bring up the name Los Angeles Unified School District to understand our point here.

On Thursday, Mr. O'Connell's press office told us that the superintendent "continues to support parental choice when it comes to home-schooling." It might help calm the nerves of home-schooling parents if he sent a letter to school districts asking them to be equally respectful of that increasingly popular and successful education movement. Home-schoolers have understandably been reluctant to encourage the Democratic-controlled Legislature, with its alliances with the California Teachers Association, to consider a legislative fix, but there's no reason not to pursue a "right to home-school" initiative.

This is a fundamental freedom issue - not just a debate over education - that cannot be left unaddressed.


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