Saturday, March 8, 2008

Parents: No Rights to Homeschool?


You may have read this in the news recently, or even read about it over at Albert Mohler's blog. In summary, it's been reported that the law in California says that the education exemption for children does not include a home education if the parents do not have an official teaching credential.

This is huge news for the reported 160,000 homeschooling families in the state of California. It should be. What that could mean, is that if this law is enforced, every parent who does not have an official teaching credential that is currently homeschooling, could be charged with violating the law. What does that mean? See here:

"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 or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program. (§§ 48291 &48293.) 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. (§ 48293.) Jurisdiction over such parental infractions may be assigned to juvenile court judges. (§ 48295; Welf. & Inst. Code, § 601.4.) Further, under section 361, subdivision (a) of the Welfare and Institutions Code, the juvenile court has authority to limit a parent’s control over a dependent child, including a parent’s right to make educational decisions for a child, so long as the limitations do not exceed what is necessary to protect the child; and under section 362, subdivision (d) of that code, the juvenile court may make reasonable orders directed at the parents to ensure that the child regularly attends school. An order directing a child’s regular attendance at school in compliance with the Education Code’s provisions for compulsory education is a protection against the child being adjudged a habitual truant, while it also recognizes the child’s rights under California’s compulsory public education law." (source)
One of the things that stood out to me as I read this court decision (at the link above) that has thrown this issue into the public eye, was this:

"The attorney representing the younger two children asked the juvenile court to order that the children be enrolled in a public or private school. The dependency courtdeclined to make such an order despite the court’s opinion that the home schooling the children were receiving was “lousy,” “meager,” and “bad,” and despite the court’sopinion that keeping the children at home deprived them of situations where (1) theycould interact with people outside the family, (2) there are people who could providehelp if something is amiss in the children’s lives, and (3) they could developemotionally in a broader world than the parents’ “cloistered” setting."

socializedAs a homeschooling parent for the last 8+ years, I cannot even begin to count the number of times our own family has heard such ill-informed and illogical accusations as the three listed here. Homeschooled kids are deprived because they can't interact with anyone outside the family, they have no one to look up to or go to for help, and they cannot properly develop emotionally under such a restrictive environment. I love that, it's a such a load of hogwash and yet it's repeated over and over and over again. So much so, that it's just become one of those urban myths that people have come to believe about homeschooling. So much has been written about the truth of personal interaction and social/emotional development of homeschooled kids (here, and here, just to get you started) that completely blows this accusation out of the water, but folks don't know about that, and don't want to know about it. Quite frankly, it's a lot more (morbidly) entertaining to consider the idea that homeschooling parents are creating these social misfits that cannot function in society. Then, we have someone to point our fingers at when some horrible thing happens in a family that homeschools, and the mainstream media covers the tragic event and highlights the fact that [cue spooky music here] "they homeschooled their children". Forget about the fact that tragic events in families that do not homeschool far and above outrank tragic events in families that do homeschool, that isn't important! (Yes, our National Enquirer scandal-starved-society really does think this way, or doesn't think this through, as the case may be, and I think we all know that).

But... I digress on the socialization issue, because it's a lie I get sick of hearing, and had to address it. Ahem... okay, let's get back to the law.

The decision to homeschool is a big one. Saying that, in that way is quite possibly the understatement of the year, for those families who have gone through the process. There is so much involved in making an educated decision like this. There is much research into such things as the law in your state or province, materials and support available (and in an ongoing basis determined by age), much discussion (and often resistance) with friends, family, fellow church members, your pastor, etc. You weigh out the needs and the strengths and weaknesses you know your own child(ren) have, and you wrestle with a literal list (either mental or actually on paper) of all the pros and cons. You know that the decision you're making is a decision that will affect you and your children for life. The foundation we put in place for our children when they are small, determines so much about who they become and the way they view the world, for the rest of their life. For most Christian parents, this decision is never arrived at without countless hours of prayer and seeking the Lord's wisdom and guidance on your role as their parent. It is indeed, a very big decision. So big, that it's not at all uncommon for a lot of young married couples to begin researching education options even before they have children, or while the children are still toddlers.

When our family finally made this decision, it was after roughly three years of reading, researching, discussing and praying. Not unlike a lot of other families, we had one in highschool, one in junior high, one in grade school and two toddlers. There was a lot to take into consideration and the decision to homeschool didn't apply to all of our children, for a variety of reasons. One of the first things we did do, was research the laws governing education. What we learned was that in our location, children between the ages of 6 and 16 are exempt from compulsory attendence in private or public school if they are receiving an adequate education at home or elsewhere. That's the way the law is worded, and it's left to parents to decide (not the school boards) if that education is adequate. There are no teacher qualifications or mandatory testing requirements, for our location.

While doing this research, what I also learned very quickly is that education laws vary a great deal from state to state, province to province, and in some cases even from county to county in the same state or province. For Christian families that desire to follow the law, this is important.

While reading about this in the news my first thought was "what are the exemptions in the California education code?" I knew there were exemptions, there are in every US state & Canadian province. It's the way those exemptions are interpreted by school boards, lawyers and parents, that can sometimes be the sticky points. Clearly, public school educators & administrators will want to interpret those exemptions in their favor, concerned and dedicated parents will want to do the same, and the lawyers that often get involved just become the mouthpiece of the one who can afford the most clever lawyer.

One of the most comprehensive resources on this subject, is the HSLDA - Homeschool Legal Defense Association. According to their State Laws page, dedicated to equipping parents with the facts of the law where they reside, it states that for California there are 4 options to choose from.
Here is option #4:

Legal Option: Enroll in an independent study program through the public school
Attendance: As prescribed by the program
Subjects: As prescribed by the program
Qualifications: None
Notice: A de facto part of the enrollment process
Recordkeeping: As prescribed by the program
Testing: As prescribed by the program

"Home schoolers could enroll in a private school satellite program and take "independent study" through that private school. The private school "independent study program" (ISP) must comply with Cal. Educ. Code § 48222 Adm. Code Chapter 15 P 51745-517. Many home school families have organized these private ISPs which enroll anywhere from two to several hundred families.
Teacher Qualifications: None, if home school registers as a private school, or enrolls in an independent study program with a private school.
Certification is necessary only if the home school parent chooses to qualify as a private tutor."
So there it is. I would suspect there are many, many homeschooling families in the state of California that have opted for "option 4". I know if we were living in CA, this would be the option that would best fit our family, and we would comply with the law this way.

So what's the big deal here? According to the sources Albert Mohler posted at his blog, option 4 as quoted above is not an actual option in the state of California. The court document reads:

"It is clear to us that enrollment and attendance in a public full-time day school is required by California law for minor children unless (1) the child is enrolled in a private full-time day school and actually attends that private school, (2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught, or (3) one of the other few statutory exemptions to compulsory public school attendance (Ed. Code, § 48220 et seq.) applies to the child."

Not one mention of a private school satellite program. So the question is...

Is the information at the HSLDA correct? Clearly it's a critical matter to know this, for at least 160,000 California homeschooling families.

Here is section 48220, and the actual list of exemptions. If you're a homeschooling family in CA, you should be well versed on this section of education law.

Now, I'm no lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet, but it sure seems pretty clear to me that "option 4" as listed at the HSLDA referencing a private school sat program that is in full compliance with private school laws in CA, does in fact provide for an exemption from compulsory attendance in public school.

Of course, clever lawyers for the public education system in CA could, I'm sure, find all kinds of legal loopholes to say that this is not the case, if that's what they're being paid to do.

The bottom line for me on this one, is the same bottom line that Albert Mohler ends his post with:

"This is a controversy that demands the attention of all parents. After all, if parents have no constitutional right to educate their own children, what other aspects of the parent's choices for their own children lack protection? This question reaches far beyond educational decisions. We will discuss this issue on Monday's edition of The Albert Mohler Program. Stay tuned."
Indeed, I'll stay tuned. You should too, no matter if you homeschool or not. When the education system is prepared to step in and interfere with your rights and responsibilities as a parent, to the extent of filing a criminal complaint against you, forcing your kids to enroll and attend a school that violates your conscience, and sending your entire family down the stressful, demeaning, expensive, humiliating spiral of the court system that will limit your control and care for your child, the question remains, what's next?

And public school parents wonder why there is such a lack of confidence in the agenda of the public school system... gee, I can't imagine why we're not all so trusting of them. Afterall, they only want what's best for YOUR kids, even if they have to turn you into a criminal, and "protect" your child from YOU, to see that happen.