California Court Says Religious Claim Doesn't Grant Homeschooling Right
A California appellate court ruled last week that a family's religious convictions do not guarantee a right to homeschool their children.
"California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey for California's Second District Court of Appeal.
The parents, identified in court papers only by the last initial L, but identified by several news organizations as Phillip and Mary Long, told the court that their religious beliefs for homeschooling "are based on biblical teachings and principles." But that's not enough for an exemption from California education requirements, the court ruled February 28.
"Such sparse representations are too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to homeschool his or her child," Croskey wrote.
The court ruled that minor children must attend a public school unless the child attends a private school or is taught by a teacher with a valid state teaching license.
"This case probably sends that kind of chilling message for people who are trying to homeschool legally," said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center.
Mike Smith, president of the Virginia-based Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), estimates that 60,000 families who homeschool in California could be affected by the decision, because many parents do not have teachers' licenses.
"Ten percent or less would be able to homeschool under this interpretation," Smith said. "If a school district got hold of this opinion, they could attempt to drag a family into court."
Families who homeschool their children in California are required to file a private school affidavit with state regulators or to enroll their children in alternate education programs such as private school satellite instruction or independent study.
Last week's court ruling may tighten the requirement further. The court ruled that the state's education law allowing for independent study "does not apply to mother's home schooling of the children." The children in the case had been enrolled in Sunland Christian School, an institution that coordinates independent study programs for homeschooling families.
Smith said California is the most restrictive state in the country for homeschooling families. He said the family was not a member of the HSLDA, but the organization hopes to appeal the case by arguing for the family's constitutional rights to homeschool.
The case came to the attention of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services after one of the family's eight children reported "physical and emotional mistreatment by the children's father," according to the opinion.
An attorney for Children and Family Services asked a juvenile court to order that the children be enrolled in a public or private school. The trial court refused, citing the parents' right under the California Constitution to homeschool their children.
Despite its refusal to issue the order, the juvenile court gave the "opinion that the homeschooling the children were receiving was 'lousy,' 'meager,' and 'bad,'" Croskey wrote. The lower court also said that homeschooling the children deprived them of ways to interact with people outside the family, that other people could provide help if something was "amiss" in the children's lives, and that the children could develop emotionally in a broader world than the family's "cloistered" setting.