Homeschooling Under Scrutiny
It is estimated that as many as 2 million American children are home schooled. Parents of these children have decided to eschew traditional public education for a variety of reasons from concerns about safety to religious issues to dissatisfaction with the academics provided in their school systems. Home schooling is also an alternative for progressive education that may be less expensive than private, independent or parochial schools, and not all areas have charter schools or ?open enrollment? or ?schools of choice? where a parent or guardian can send their children to a public school in a different school district from the one in which they reside. For many, homeschooling is the apt choice for overseeing and providing their children with the best education that they see fit.
But in both California and Washington, D.C., recent events have homeschooling under fire.
The California Department of Education allows home schooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as small private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts while still teaching at home. But on Feb. 28, the California Second District Court of Appeal ruled that parents must have a teaching credential to home school their children. (The decision has not yet gone into effect.) According to Seema Mehta, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, ?The appellate court ruling stemmed from a case involving the Longs, who were repeatedly referred to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services over various allegations, including charges of physical abuse involving some of their eight children.?
Instead of the case being about the allegations of abuse, it turned into a case about homeschooling. (The Longs had a loose arrangement with an area private school, where the children were ?enrolled? but did not attend, instead their education being provided by their parents.) Mehta?s report continued, ?A lawyer appointed to represent two of the Long’s young children requested that the court require them to physically attend a public or private school where adults could monitor their well-being.? From that, the appellate court ruled that a parochial school’s occasional monitoring of the children’s education is insufficient to qualify as being enrolled in a private school, and because Mary Long does not hold a teaching credential, the court determined that the family is breaking state law.
A similar case occurred in our nation?s capital, where according to a recent Op-Ed in the Washington Times by Homeschool Defense League Association (HSDLA) president J. Michael Smith. In that case, a woman mistakenly identified as a homeschooler was charged with murdering her four children in January. The children had been enrolled in the public school system, but were truant. District of Columbia law requires homeschoolers to file notice with the District, and as a result of the case, the new Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has proposed some new homeschooling regulations in 5 DCMR Chapter 52 for District of Columbia residents in grades K through 12 for minors from the ages of 5 through 18. The proposed regulations include but are not limited to:
- Homeschooling parents providing written documentation to the OSSE within a specific time frame.
- Documents of hours of instruction and daily attendance that demonstrate the parent/legal guardian is providing regular, thorough home schooling instruction during at least the District?s school year.
- Parents must have a high school diploma or its equivalent.
- Parents/guardians must submit evidence in a form acceptable to the OSSE that the children have been immunized and received health and medical services required of the child?s peer group.
- Annual assessments of adequate home schooling instruction with the right reserved for the OSSE to make home visits if it is determined that the homeschooling is inadequate according to OSSE standards.
Many District homeschooling parents were outraged by these new proposals, finding them ?unconstitutional.?
Regarding the California appellate court decision, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was of a similar mind. On March 7, Gov. Schwarzenegger called for the reversal of the California appellate court decision banning parents from educating their children at home if they lack a teaching credential. If the state Supreme Court, which will be hearing appeals on the decision fails to act, the governor vowed to push through legislation guaranteeing families’ right to home school.
“This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights then, as elected officials, we will,” he said in a written statement.
The governor?s statement was commended by U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Senior Republican Howard P. ?Buck? McKeon (R-Santa Clarita). In a March 19 statement, he said: The decision by the California 2nd District Court of Appeal is a tremendous disappointment to those who believe in educational freedom and parental rights. That the Court would undertake this type of assault on the longstanding framework of the right to homeschool is an outrage. I commend Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the State Superintendent for Public Instruction, Jack O?Connell, for taking a strong stand in support of families, and I join them in their commitment to ensure parents retain the right to educate their children as they believe is best. This flawed decision will not be the final word on homeschooling in California. It has already been rejected in the court of public opinion, and I look forward to its rejection by our courts and in our laws as well.?
While the California court?s decision has left just three options: attending a public school, attending a private school, or having a certified teacher tutor the children, it has not deterred families from continuing to home school their children.
While in many states there are no such laws and regulations and it is easier for parents to home school where home schooled children thrive as much as their peers who are enrolled in traditional educational systems. New Hampshire too is placing homeschooling under the microscope with Senate Bill 337, which now requires homeschooling parents to provide additional reporting beyond what is required as per New Hampshire HB 406, which went into effect May 12, 2006.
As many states address the issue of ?no child left behind,? within their traditional school systems, other states may look to the results of what is occurring in California, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C to determine if they too should alter their own homeschooling regulations and requirements.
The Los Angeles Times
?Draft of DC Education Code for Homeschooling? at http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/laws/blDC.htm
March 17, 2008 Washington Times Op Ed at http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/washingtontimes/200803170.asp