California Resists Home School Ruling

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Bridget Besaw Gorman / Aurora / Getty

A young boy studies on his way to an island homeschool in Maine.

The parents of some 200,000 home-schooled kids in California were stunned last week when they learned that a judge had declared home schooling illegal unless conducted by a licensed teacher. For the moment, though, those parents can breathe a sigh of relief. Yesterday, Jack O'Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, released a statement saying that the California Department ofEducation will not go after parents who do not have teaching credentials: "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 aresult of this ruling," O'Connell said in his statement. "Parents still have the right to home school in our state."

On Feb. 28,the Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles released a ruling that all children must be taught only by credentialed teachers. O'Connell's opinion makes it clear nothing will change right now — at least while the child abuse case that resulted in the ruling is pending appeal to the state Supreme Court.

However, home-school advocates are still hoping that the case will be overturned in its appeal. Otherwise it would set a legal precedent. "[O'Connell's is] an encouraging statement, and we think it will have important implications for the court decision," said Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "[But] until this decision is reversed, the legal cloud over home schooling remains dark and ominous."

Stephen D. Sugarman, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, said if the case is upheld in court, some home-schoolers may run into trouble. "Local school districts have their own autonomy and could sue people," he said. "Somebody could start bureaucratically making it more difficult for home-schoolers."

However, Sugarman said the fact that both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state superintendent have spoken out against this ruling means that, chances are, even if the case is held up in the California Supreme Court, uncredentialed parents will still be allowed to educate their children — that there is nothing that requires the state to aggressively go after people. Indeed, the education department (which is not involved in the lawsuit) will not want to waste their resources going after such parents, despite the "illegality" of their actions, leaving the Second District Court of Appeals opinion of the law unenforced. "This particular family [involved in the child abuse case] is going to be in jeopardy if they lose," Sugarman said. "But everyone else can go on their merry way."