Friday, August 08, 2008
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Home-schoolers across California won't need to rush back to class themselves to continue educating their children.
In a highly unusual move, a state appeals court on Friday reversed its earlier decision and declared that home-school parents don't need teaching credentials.
The decision by the Los Angeles-based second district court of appeals had home-schooling advocates rejoicing in California — home of more than 160,000 home-schooled students — and across the nation.
The court's original ruling in February spawned an such an uproar among home-schoolers, parents-rights advocates, religious educators and politicians, that the same three-judge panel agreed to revisit the issue. This time, in sorting out conflicting laws dating back to 1903, the court concluded that home schools are essentially private schools, and thus are exempt from the state's compulsory-education law.
"It proves that people can learn," said Debbie Schwarzer of Los Altos, Calif. As co-chair of the legal team of the HomeSchool Association of California, she had immersed herself for five months in preparing briefs. "I cried" in happiness and relief, said Schwarzer, who has taught her two children, 13 and 10, for eight years.
"The result is infinitely better than any legislation" that Republicans were offering to introduce, Schwarzer said.
It's another step advancing home-schooling from a fringe practice further toward the mainstream. Although that's a small fraction of the number of California's students — 6.2 million in public schools and 500,000 in private schools — the home-schooling movement is growing.
"I told my boys, 'We're finally legal!' " said Kristine Konrad, the mother of three boys, 11, 9, and 3, whom she teaches at her San Leandro home.
"This is a major victory for the rights of parents over the education of their children," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represented a home-school program involved in the case.
Advocates loudly objected to the credentialing requirement, which had caught them by surprise because it arose from a closed trial in dependency court. The case focused on the health and safety of two children whose parents had been implicated in sexual and other physical abuse of their daughters.
The home-schooling issue inspired politicians, from Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Democratic state Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell, to weigh in on behalf of parents' rights.
Friday's ruling was praised even by those representing Los Angeles County, which originally sought to force the children to go to public schools.
"We're happy," said Los Angeles Assistant County Counsel James Owens, who represented the county's child welfare agency. The county didn't dispute all parents' right to home-school, he said. "Our issue was the kids' safety" in one particular case, Owens said.
The county, he said, seems unlikely to appeal.
Representatives of the California Teachers Association, which has argued that all children need to be taught be credentialed teachers, were not available for comment.
The overall victory for home-schoolers does not necessarily apply to the family who sparked the case. The court ordered a new trial to determine whether the two youngest children of Phillip and Mary Long of Lynwood in Southern California should be removed from home-schooling for their safety.
The parents had home-schooled their eight children through the Sunland Christian School in Sylmar, Calif. After authorities determined that the father physically abused the older daughters and the mother attempted to hide the children from authorities, an attorney representing the two youngest children asked the juvenile dependency court to order that they be enrolled in public or private school as a way to protect their well-being.
Because school employees are "mandated reporters," required by law to report suspicions of child abuse, Owens explained that county welfare authorities believed that the children would have additional protection from possible abuse by being in school.
"It is a very good decision and definitely a victory for home-schooling families in the state," said Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a Sacramento, Calif., couple who teach their 7-year-old at home.
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