Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
An attorney working on an appeal to the California Supreme Court of a ruling declaring homeschooling by parents illegal says the threat to such families is serious and immediate, especially if there has been a contentious previous relationship with authorities.
Ultimately, Brad Dacus, chief of the Pacific Justice Institute, told WND the ruling involving a Los Angeles family might even be used by “overzealous” school district officials and social workers to try to remove a child from a family.
“We are hoping enough common sense prevails for everyone to wait and see how this plays out before the state Supreme Court,” he said. But in California, such appellate level rulings are binding on lower courts when they are issued, he said.
The decision from the 2nd Appellate Court in Los Angeles granted a special petition brought by lawyers appointed to represent the two youngest children after the family’s homeschooling was brought to the attention of child advocates. The lawyers appointed by the state were unhappy with a lower court’s ruling that allowed the family to continue homeschooling and challenged it on appeal.
Justice H. Walt Croskey, whose opinion was joined by two other judges, then ordered: “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 question [now] is whether it’s going to be enforced,” said Dacus, who is working on the state Supreme Court appeal on behalf of the school in which the Los Angeles family’s children were registered. “It would be a criminal infraction less than a misdemeanor involving penalties of fines or community service.”
But he said that’s minor. In addition to the criminal penalties, the California legislature has adopted “education neglect” rules that could be used “as grounds for the removal of a child from a family.” Such cases usually are handled in juvenile court and by social services agencies.
“We are advising our homeschoolers to continue, but to keep both eyes open,” he told WND.
He said he doesn’t expect an immediate massive filing of cases against homeschooling parents, but the danger remains.
“I’ve been in court representing homeschoolers on such charges,” he said. “It’s not abstract. There are school districts and social workers who are overzealous.”
Should such cases start developing, he said, there are many families who simply will leave the state.
“I’ve talked to a number of families who say if this is enforced, they are going to another state where their freedom is respected,” he said.
The estimate of 166,000 children in such homeschool situations that he provided earlier, he said, was a tabulation of those children only who are being homeschooled under state procedures.
“That’s a conservative number. The actual number could be as high as a million. Many are completely under the radar for fear something like this could happen,” he said.
He told WND he’s assembling an e-mail list on his institute’s website in order to provide immediate updates to those who may be affected.
But Croskey, without hearing arguments from the school, opined that the situation
was a “ruse of enrolling [children] in a private school and then letting them stay home and be taught by a non-credentialed parent.”
Officials with the school said they asked Pacific Justice to work on the Supreme Court appeal because the organization “has been in full compliance with the requirements of the law for more than 23 years.”
“We’ve never been given an opportunity to represent our case in the Court of Appeal,” Terry Neven, the president of the school, said. “Consequently, we are excited that PJI will represent us before the California Supreme Court so that the rights of homeschooling families are preserved.”
The ruling itself raised warnings of the potential penalties, both criminal and civil, for parents. It said under a section titled “Consequences of Parental Denial of a Legal Education” that “parents are subject to being ordered to enroll their children in an appropriate school or education program and provide proof of enrollment to the court, and willful failure to comply with such an order may be punished by a fine for civil contempt.”
The school’s website notes it offers a homeschool/independent study program that is accredited. It began in Los Angeles in 1986 with 24 students and now serves more than 3,000 families.
“The future of homeschooling (both public and private) in California requires the reversal of this decision,” Neven said.
The appeals ruling said California law requires “persons between the ages of six and 18″ to be in school, “the public full-time day school,” with exemptions allowed 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.” Many homeschool families in California work either through a private school such as Sunland, or set up their own private school in their home, registering their children.
The Longs earlier told WND they also are considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court because of the impact of the order for their family, as well as the precedent that could be construed.
“We just don’t want them teaching our children,” he told WND. “They teach things that are totally contrary to what we believe. They put questions in our children’s minds we don’t feel they’re ready for.
“When they are much more mature, they can deal with these issues, alternative lifestyles, and such, or whether they came from primordial slop. At the present time it’s my job to teach them the correct way of thinking,” he said.