Acton Commentary

Homeschooling and Parental Rights Under Attack in California


Declaring that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” the Second District Court of Appeal for the state of California recently issued a ruling that effectively bans families from homeschooling their children and threatens parents with criminal penalties for daring to do so. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) this court decision has made “almost all forms of homeschooling in California” a violation of state law. Once again our judicial system moves to restrict religious and personal liberties, severely limit parental rights, and significantly increase the power, scope, and control of the state over our lives.

There are approximately 166,000 homeschooled children in California. With the stroke of a pen the appellate court criminalized the lawful educational choices of tens of thousands of innocent families across the state, subjected them to possible fines, and labeled their children as potential truants. This activist court chose to bypass the will of the people and legislated from the bench based on anecdotal evidence and its own clearly biased and subjective opinions about the constitutionality of parental rights and the quality of a homeschooled education. This decision attacks the freedom of parents to decide on the best educational environment for their children, restricts their religious rights to practice their faith without governmental interference, and violates their freedom to raise their offspring as they see fit without the ideological pollution and atheistic/leftist indoctrination so prevalent in our public school system.

In a state that allows minors to have abortions without parental notification and consent, having the court complain about the welfare and safety of children who are homeschooled is laughable. The court also conveniently turned a blind eye to the increasing levels of violence and murder in many California public schools, as well as the abysmal quality of education in those very same schools. With California ranking near the bottom in the quality of its public education system, a state-wide illiteracy rate of approximately 24 percent, and drop-out rates hovering around 30 percent, the California public education system is not the shining example and standard the courts should be applying and measuring against.

Case history

The appellate court reviewed the decision reached by a juvenile court regarding the quality of education provided to homeschooled children of the Phillip and Mary Long family. The children were homeschooled by Mrs. Long with assistance from the Sunland Christian School (SCS), a private religious academy in the Los Angeles area. According to its website, SCS “is a private school in the State of California and is an accredited home school program offering independent home schooling study, correspondence home schooling and online home school.” The Long children were enrolled in the independent study program at SCS. While the lower court had concerns about the quality of the education received by two of the eight children, the trial court did not order the parents to enroll their children into a private or public school, and stated in its opinion that “parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home.”

Rather than confine its ruling to the specifics of the Long case, the court of appeals instead chose to considerably broaden the scope of its decision, further strengthen state power over individuals, and deny California parents the right to homeschool their children. In his written opinion, filed on February 28, 2008, Justice H. Walter Croskey, joined by the other two members of the appellate panel, categorically asserted that: “parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children.” Furthermore, in the section ominously named “Consequences of Parental Denial of a Legal Education” the judge states:

Because parents have a legal duty to see to their children’s schooling within the provisions of these laws, parents who fail to do so may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines... Additionally, the parents are subject to being ordered to enroll their children in an appropriate school or education program and provide proof of enrollment to the court, and willful failure to comply with such an order may be punished by a fine for civil contempt.

“Breathtaking” judicial activism

The totalitarian impulses of the court were further evidenced by the arguments it used to justify its decision: “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 a means of protecting the public welfare.” As someone who has lived and suffered under a communist regime (I grew up in Romania), the “good citizenship,” “patriotism,” and “loyalty to the state” justifications have struck a little too close to home. These were precisely the kinds of arguments the communist party used to broaden the power of the state, increase the leadership’s iron grip on the people, and justify just about every conceivable violation of human rights, restrictions on individual liberties, and abuses perpetrated by government officials.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute , got it right when he said that the “scope of this decision by the appellate court is breathtaking. 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.” The sentiment was echoed by Michael Smith, president of HSLDA: “California is now on the path to being the only state to deny the vast majority of homeschooling parents their fundamental right to teach their own children at home,” he said. This is exactly what the judges have done and the precedent they have set for California and possibly for the rest of the country.

Homeschooling effective

The appellate court also chose to ignore the many studies and solid research data showing that homeschooling is a well-established and exceptional method of education that overwhelmingly produces superior academic results and well-adjusted individuals. According to David Barfield’s review of the available data on home education “dozens of studies have yielded the consistent result showing home educated students average 15-30 percentile points above the national average. Research demonstrates that, unlike their public school counterparts, the performance of home educated students bears little correlation to family income, the degree of state regulation of homeschooling, teacher certification, the educational level achieved by parents, sex, or race.” In another study by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) he shows that “home educated students excelled on nationally-normed standardized achievement exams. On average, home schoolers outperformed their public school peers by 30 to 37 percentile points across all subjects.”

Similar studies documented by the HSLDA also confirm that the poor “socialization” objection by the court is a red herring. Numerous studies have shown that homeschooled youngsters have excellent social skills, are active in groups and community activities outside the home, engage in many extracurricular activities and sports, are exceptionally prepared to deal with the real world, interact better with adults and a variety of age-groups, and take their civic duties more seriously than their public school counterparts.

Pushing back

Fortunately the people of California and homeschooling associations across the country, outraged by these latest developments, are taking steps to proactively deal with and redress the situation. Many homeschooling families are determined to fight for their parental rights and countermand the court’s decision. The HSLDA has followed a two-prong approach to help. It has advised the Long family to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court and it will file “an amicus brief on behalf of our 13,500 member families in California” arguing that the proper interpretation of California statutes allow parents to teach their own children under the private-school exemption. The HSLDA will also seek to have this decision “depublished,” which can only be done by the California Supreme Court. According to them, depublishing the case “would mean that the case is not binding precedent in California and has no effect on any other family.”

Even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has issued a statement in full support of homeschooling families. "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," he said.

It remains to be seen if reason and common sense will prevail in this latest battle for the individual God-given liberties and freedoms of American families. The relentless march towards full government control of all areas of our lives must be halted. The people must push back. Our children’s lives and their future are too precious to surrender to government bureaucrats and teacher’s unions. For their sake and ours, freedom must prevail.

Chris Banescu is an attorney, entrepreneur, and university professor. He is an ethics and business management specialist, and manages the conservative Web site and blog at OrthodoxNet.com.