Mountain’s Home Schools Oppose State Intrusion

By Holly Van Houten, Frazier
Mountain Home School Parent

Mountain homeschoolers, like others all over California, strongly oppose the decision of the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District in Los Angeles on February 28 which calls into question the legality of homeschooling.

Mimi Spaulding of Pinon Pines homeschools her children through Golden Valley (a public charter school). She says she is outraged that "a state which currently places 48th in the nation in education could force homeschoolers to enroll in their failing system."

This ruling came as a surprise to the homeschooling community because it stems from domestic abuse charges involving a father of eight children who has a twenty-year history of legal challenges to his parenting, including allegations of physical abuse.

To put things into perspective, this is a dependency case which appears to rightfully fall under the welfare code. It is not a legitimate challenge to homeschooling or its effectiveness.

The decision, known as "In Re Rachel L." should have been made to protect the welfare of the two specific children directly involved, local homeschoolers say, but many worry it may now affect the hundreds of thousands of California students who are thriving academically and socially in their varied homeschools.

The October, 2007 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that many studies now confirm the effectiveness of homeschooling, a finding validated by recent changes to college admission standards to make it easier for homeschoolers to apply. Many are highly sought-after as university candidates.

If the decision of the three judge appellate court panel were to stand in this case, any form of homeschooling (other than with a credentialed teacher) would be outlawed, making California homeschooling laws the most restrictive of any state in the nation.

So wide-sweeping is this ruling that-if it were to stand-even those who homeschool through the public charter school system established by the state of California would be affected.

According to the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, even the lawyers who represented the welfare of the two children involved have stated that the purpose of this trial was not to change current California law, but only to ensure that these particular children would be "in a place daily where they would be observed by people who had a duty to ensure their ongoing safety."

Ironically, were this decision to stand, it might take children away from parents who, in normal circumstances, have the greatest interest in ensuring the "ongoing safety" of their own children.

Californians learned on Friday, March 7, that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees. He said: "…[P]arents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children. Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children’s education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights then, as elected officials, we will."

State homeschool organizations such as the California Homeschool Network (CHN), the Homeschool Association of California (HSC), as well as national organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Association have already taken steps to formally appeal the decision. They seek to have it "depublished" which will "limit the scope of this opinion to the family involved," according to Debbie Schwarzer, attorney for HSC.

Two well-established law firms have volunteered pro bono services to help defend the rights of homeschoolers. Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, of Palo Alto, will represent HSC, working closely with Baker & McKenzie, (a firm with 150 offices worldwide) which will represent CHN.

Whether local homeschool parents operate as a private school, are enrolled in a public charter school or work through a private independent study program, many report confidence that this ruling will ultimately have little impact.

Yvonne Riley, who lives in Pine Mountain and homeschools her daughter through CAVA (California Virtual Academy) puts it this way, "I’m not overly concerned. Homeschooling has become such a well-accepted and successful alternative these days that I find it very hard to imagine that this ruling could stand."

Though homeschoolers on the hill may worry that they are suddenly in violation of the law, CHN’s website reassures them that "the law in California has not changed. This is the opinion of one court. CHN strongly believes this opinion is incorrect, and homeschooling, by using one of the alternatives to public schools currently available under California law, remains legal."

-LaVonne Lewis contributed to this report

SIDEBAR: Homeschoolers-But Just How Many Are There?

Because of concern about living in a legal grey zone, many homeschoolers prefer not to participate in efforts to count how many such families there are. The 166,000 statewide estimate used by some media last week is viewed as absurdly conservative by many.

Per capita, the Mountain Communities may have one of the highest rates of homeschooling in the state, far above the national average of 2 to 4 percent, Holly Van Houten (author of the above article) said. Estimates range between 8 and 30 percent—somewhere between 100 and 400 children, she reports.—Editor

This is part of the March 14, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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