Homeschools Get Out of Detention

Mar. 19, 2010

By JOHN SEILER

In California, 2010 is the year homeschools got out of detention, to use education parlance. In the previous decade, twice it looked like they might be expelled.

In 2002, then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin tried to get the California Legislature to pass a law regulating homeschooling. The Legislature didn’t listen. Under California law, homeschools are considered private schools. Each year, parents need only file a private-school affidavit with the state.

Despite that rebuff, on July 16, 2002, her department issued a memo stating:

In California, home-schooling – a situation where non-credentialed parents teach their own children, exclusively, at home whether using correspondence courses or other types of courses – is not an authorized exemption from mandatory public school attendance.

She left office six months later and her successor, Jack O’Connell, reversed her policies.

On Feb. 28, 2008, the Second District Court of Appeal of California ruled that homeschooling is only allowed if it involves full-time, credentialed tutors. The ruling, by Justice Justice H. Walter Croskey, maintained, “Parents have a legal duty to see to their children’s schooling under the provisions of these laws.”

Homeschools immediately appealed. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed homeschoolers, as did O’Connell. The latter, learning from Eastin’s mistakes, even wrote: “Based on our review of the law, parents are allowed to qualify as a private school and to teach their children in their own homes as long as the children’s educational opportunities are being met.”

In a rare occurrence, the court reversed itself [.pdf]. Croskey again wrote the opinion:

California impliedly allows parents to home school as a private school, but has provided no enforcement mechanism. As long as the local school district verifies that a private school affidavit has been filed, there is no provision for further oversight of a home school.

The matter was reviewed at the time in an article by Steven Greenhut for The Freeman.

“Since that time it’s been a lot better for homeschoolers,” Mike Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, told me. “There has been a lot less hostility to homeschoolers.” Although the group is located in Virginia, Smith covers California, and long lived in this state.

He pointed out that the 2008 court ruling also generated support for homeschoolers from Attorney General Jerry Brown, the likely Democratic nominee for governor this November.

The Good News

And with 2010, homeschoolers won another victory. This year a new law went into effect making it easier for children in private schools – including homeschools – to get work permits for part-time jobs. AB66, signed into law last October by the governor, authorizes, according to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest:

the principal of a public or private school, subject to specified requirements and conditions, to issue, or designate another administrator in the school to issue, work permits to pupils who attend the school.

“Before AB66, you could only get a work permit from someone authorized by the local public school superintendent, Mary Schofield told me; she’s a veteran homeschool mom and author of The High School Handbook. “Now, private schools don’t have to do that. Homeschoolers are included in that. However, no one can issue a permit to his own child. They still don’t trust the parents. However, that just means you need another administrator to issue it.”

The administrator issuing the permit could be at a local public or private school, or through virtual schools that many homeschoolers sign up for to get curricula, tests and guidance. Schofield that parents have always had to co-sign a work permit, a policy that will continue.

She said the law has existed so that the public-school superintendent would make sure the students weren’t working in something dangerous, such as a sawmill or mine.

Homeschools today

Schofield said that there currently are 60,000 to 100,000 homeschoolers in California, “although nobody knows for sure. There isn’t a means of counting. But you could double that number if homeschools are included in the same category as public-school students on independent study, or charter schools in which parents oversee the students’ work at home.”

Homeschooling first gained traction in the 1960s and 1970s among hippies and other counterculture types, inspired by such books as the late Ivan Ilich’s Deschooling Society. Beginning in the 1980s, the Religious Right took up and dominated homeschooling as a way to avoid what they considered the secularism of public schools.

“Homeschooling is becoming more popular among the core constituency, religious parents, but also among secular parents too,” Lance Izumi told me; he’s Koret Senior Fellow in Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, CalWatchDog.com’s parent institute. “I recently attended a homeschooling conference. Speakers warned about the safety of kids at school and the quality of academics in the public school system. Homeschooling is going to get bigger because public schools are not getting much better. And it’s still difficult to start a charter school.”

Continuing controversies

Issues still crop up. Smith pointed to a case last June in Los Angeles, in which, as his group’s Web site describes it, two homeschool students

took the bus from their home to a local community college to sign up for classes. As they walked from the bus stop to the entrance of the college, an LAPD officer drove up and asked them what they were doing. Tom explained that they were homeschooled and that their school was not in session that day. He explained that they were using the time to enroll in college classes and pointed to the community college behind him.

The officer nevertheless ordered them into his patrol car and cited them for violating Los Angeles’s daytime curfew ordinance. He said they had to obey the ordinance even though they were homeschooled because L.A. public schools were still in session that day. He transported them to a receiving center where other children were being processed that day as part of a planned “truancy sweep.” The Miller teenagers were held at the center until their mother could pick them up later in the day.

HSLDA Senior Counsel James R. Mason filed a motion to dismiss the citation, which was granted at the initial appearance.

Given the Los Angeles Unified School District’s 50 percent dropout rate, it seems pretty obvious that there are more pressing problems than homeschoolers attending college.

I called O’Connell’s office to find his stance on homeschoolers today. I wondered if he was against homeschooling. “That’s totally incorrect,” Tina Jung, an information officer, was quick to reply. “He supports homeschooling – if that’s what the parents choose.” She pointed to O’Connell’s 2008 defense of homeschoolers.

With O’Connell leaving next January, homeschoolers will be eager to find out what the candidates running to replace him think about their schools.

And though this is the summertime of homeschooling in California, Izumi warned, “There’s a sizable portion of the education establishment that doesn’t like homeschooling. Depending on who is governor or superintendent of public instruction next year, they could get attorneys to view homeschooolers as being truant. My advice is: Remain ever vigilant.”

John Seiler, an editorial writer with The Orange County Register for 19 years, is a reporter and analyst for CalWatchDog.com. His email: [email protected].

Note: After she left office in 2003, Eastin became the head of the National Institute for School Leadership in Washington, D.C. Today she is Distinguished Visiting Professor and Education Special Assistant to the President at Mills College.

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