A February 2008 opinion issued by California’s Second District Court of Appeal has raised questions about the legality of homeschooling practices of thousands of Californians, and caused concerns that the decision to teach a child from home might lead to severe consequences for homeschooling parents
Under California’s education laws, a full-time public school education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18. Exceptions exist for children attending a private full-time day school or being instructed by a tutor who holds a valid state teaching credential for the child’s grade level.
In re Rachel L., the Court of Appeal determined that a mother and father who were homeschooling their children were doing so in violation of the state’s compulsory education laws. Although the parents had enrolled the children in a private Christian school, it was undisputed that the children were educated at home, by their mother, who did not possess a valid teaching credential.
The court determined that the children’s enrollment in the school was not itself sufficient to bring the parents in compliance with education laws. It explicitly rejected the school’s periodic monitoring of the mother’s home instruction as constituting attendance at the private school. Examining the regular practices of the family and school, it concluded that the children were not receiving an education which exempted them from attending a full-time public school.
This case is distinguishable from cases such as Cassidy v. Signorelli, a 1996 case where the divorced parents of a child disagreed about whether the child should attend private school or be homeschooled. Applying the Family Code, rather than the Education Code, the appellate court in that case affirmed an order that it was in the best interest of the child to be enrolled in public or parochial school, rather than be homeschooled.
The Rachel L. decision has created such a firestorm that Gov. Arnold Schwazenegger has weighed in, calling the ruling “outrageous” by penalizing parents “for acting in the best interests of their children’s education.” The governor called for the ruling to be overturned by the courts, and vowed that the legislature would protect parents’ rights if the court refused to do so. There surely is more to come on this issue.