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Four home-schooling families in a dispute with California’s
Berkeley Unified School District in Alameda County were referred to the district attorney’s office for criminal investigation.
The school district notified the parents of the referral by mail on June 8, saying the families will be investigated for truancy. The letters were signed by Alex Paulu, manager of student services for the district.
As reported in WorldNetDaily, the dispute began after a complaint was filed with the Berkeley Student Attendance Review Board against the families. During a May hearing, the SARB asked the home-schooling parents to submit evidence of their children’s school attendance. The board later modified the request to require information on the families’ curricula as well, refusing to extend the May 31 deadline.
Believing the SARB’s actions to be a violation of their constitutional rights, the families declined to submit the material. One week after the deadline, they were informed their case had been sent to the district attorney’s office.
“The families are living in a state of distress,” said attorney Will Rogers, who represents three of the four families involved in the dispute. Rogers told WND the parents fear involvement by Child Protective Services, which could use its authority to remove the children from their homes if the agency believes the children are being neglected.
“Home-schooling parents embrace a truth which is self-evident: a parent has an inalienable right to direct the education of his or her child,” Rogers said. “This right is inherent in the principles of liberty, privacy and the pursuit of happiness. It is equal to the right of a person to speak freely, to publish sentiments on all subjects, to associate and assemble freely, and to practice religion according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.”
“This fundamental right of a parent to direct the education of his or her child includes the right to refuse institutionalized education and, instead, to employ the parent’s own resources, in the privacy of the home and the chosen community, toward that vital and primary duty which is the education of his or her own child,” he continued.
WND asked Paulu to explain why these particular families are being investigated, but he would not answer the question and refused to comment on the case.
Alameda County Office of Education says it has no authority in the matter — the Berkeley Unified School District referred the case directly to the district attorney without involvement from the county.
Assistant District Attorney John Adams told WND he does not have enough evidence “one way or the other.” Adams indicated he understands why the SARB made the referral, saying Rogers “stonewalled” the case. However, he needs more evidence to prove truancy “beyond a reasonable doubt” — the benchmark for criminal proceedings.
Adams said he is referring the case back to the local police department next week, which will continue to gather evidence for the district attorney’s office. He noted investigators may use tools such as search warrants to obtain the evidence — including attendance records and other documents.
California’s massive education code considers any pupil “truant” that has been absent from school for three days during the course of one school year. All 50 states have compulsory education laws that require all children to attend school.
By asking the district attorney’s office to investigate the Berkeley families’ case pursuant to
California Education Code 48260.5, as referenced in the parents’ notification letters, the school district suggests the home-schooled students are truant.
The crux of the Berkeley case is over whether or not “home schools” are included in the state’s definition of “school.” For the last two decades, home-schooling parents have submitted affidavits with officials, which the parents say establish home-based schools as private schools. The same affidavit is filed by institutional private schools wishing to be recognized by government authorities.
Rogers believes parents should not be required by the state to put their children in institutional schools.
“The fundamental right of a parent to direct the education of his or her child is older than the United States Constitution; it is older than history,” he said. “It is so deeply woven into the fabric of what constitutes a family that to deny this right is to do violence to the sacred bonds which unite a loving mother and father to their beloved child.”
The attorney noted his clients are “acting consistent with a reasonable interpretation of statutory law.”
“The Berkeley public schools will be on trial as well as home schoolers who have been unjustly singled out due to their attempt to act on their freedom to find the best education for their children,” he added.
Paige Smith, president of the board of trustees for the
Homeschool Network, agrees that the Berkeley families are the targets of a campaign to make home schools illegal.
“Alameda County is using tax dollars to harass families who are only exercising their liberty to choose a creative approach to education that works — witness the recent spelling bee results — when those dollars could be educating children in their classrooms,” she said, referencing the fact that
home-schooled students took first-, second- and
third-place in a recent national spelling bee.
Jan Passama, liason to the student attendance review board for the Alameda County Office of Education, previously told WND, “We all have different feelings as to whether home-schooling is legal or not.”
The Berkeley district, as well as most other school districts in the U.S., allows home-schooling when practiced with school supervision.
According to the district’s
“independent study” information, “all students and their parents sign semester-long contracts and course agreements which outline the specific requirements for participation in the Independent Study program.”
Participating students must attend “regularly scheduled weekly appointments” with a supervising teacher. The teacher reviews the student’s completed work, serves as a resource and also “works with the parent to create weekly lesson plans and select appropriate materials for the student within the framework of state- and district-approved curriculum.”
But home schoolers often choose to educate their children independently because they disagree with state-approved curricula, which includes socialization information many parents find objectionable, based on their religious convictions.
California Homeschool Network publications chairman and trustee-elect Cathy Cuthbert challenges government officials to publicize statutes that make independent home-schooling illegal.
“Of course the bureaucrats tell you that home-based private schools are illegal,” Cuthbert said. “They’ve been saying that for years. But did you ask them to quote the code section making it illegal? The fact is, there is no such code section. [The term ‘home school’] doesn’t even appear anywhere in the code.”
“I will pay $1,000 to the first bureaucrat who can show me where in the law it says that parents are prohibited from filing the forms to establish a private school in their home,” she continued. “In the Soviet Union, everything that wasn’t expressly allowed was denied. I thought we had a different system of jurisprudence here.”
The Berkeley families are in consultation with their legal representatives regarding what actions they should take. California Homeschool Network has established a legal defense fund to help cover costs of the families’ ordeal.