7-March-2008 -- Catholic News Agency |

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California Ruling Could Put Homeschooling in Jeopardy

Los Angeles, Mar 7, 2008 (CNA).- A California court decision restricting two parents’ ability to homeschool their children could subject all California parents to criminal penalties for homeschooling, WorldNetDaily reports.

Allegations of abuse had been brought against Phillip and Mary Long of Los Angeles, who disciplined their homeschooled children with spankings. After the case was closed by the court, the two attorneys appointed to represent the Longs’ two youngest children filed a special appeal challenging the Longs’ right to continue homeschooling their children.

The Second Appellate Court in Los Angeles granted the attorneys’ appeal. Justice H. Walt Croskey, whose opinion was joined by two other judges, declared, "Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] 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."

The Long family’s children were enrolled in Sunland Christian School, a private homeschooling program. Judge Croskey, without hearing arguments from the school, said this was a "ruse of enrolling [children] in a private school and then letting them stay home and be taught by a non-credentialed parent.”

The appellate court confirmed a lower court’s finding that "keeping the children at home deprived them of situations where (1) they could interact with people outside the family, (2) there are people who could provide help if something is amiss in the children's lives, and (3) they could develop emotionally in a broader world than the parents' 'cloistered' setting."

The appeal’s ruling also said California law requires persons aged six to 18 to be in “the public full-time day school,” with exemptions only for those in a private full-time day school or those "instructed by a tutor who holds a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught."

Roy Hanson, chief of the Private and Home Educators of California, expressed concern about the way the ruling was issued.

"Normally in a dependency court action, they simply make a ruling that will affect that family. It accomplishes the same thing, meaning they would force [the family] to place their minor children into school," he said, according to WorldNetDaily.

Such rulings “done in the best interests of the child” are not unusual, he said. However, in this case the court went much further and ruled that the law did not allow parents to educate their children at home.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, described the decision as “stunning.”

"The scope of this decision by the appellate court is breathtaking," Dacus said. "It not only attacks traditional homeschooling, but also calls into question homeschooling through charter schools and teaching children at home via independent study through public and private school."

"If not reversed, the parents of the more than 166,000 students currently receiving an education at home will be subject to criminal sanctions," he said.

The Home School Legal Defense Association said that though the ruling "has caused much concern among California homeschoolers,” the court’s decision made no changes to California law concerning homeschooling.

The Longs have disputed with local officials over homeschooling and other issues for years. The Longs said that in at least two previous decisions, courts had affirmed their right to homeschool. They are considering appealing the court’s decision to the California Supreme court because of its impact on their family and because of the anti-homeschooling precedent it could set.

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