Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today blasted a court ruling that endangered homeschooling and homeschoolers statewide.
“Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children’s education.”
The comments came after a state appellate court ruling essentially concluded California state law allows no option for parents to school their children at home. Homeschool and legal experts have expressed concern that the move puts all of the parents of the estimated 166,000 homeschooled children in the state at risk of both criminal and civil penalties.
“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.
The governor’s office said the ruling from the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles concluded “all children ages 6 to 18 must attend public or private school full-time until graduation from high school or be tutored at home by a credentialed teacher.”
The ruling resulted from a case involving the family of Phillip and Mary Long, who earlier described for WND their concerns with the public school district’s advocacy for alternative sexual lifestyles and the promotion of a faith in evolution.
“The parent-child relationship existed long before any government and makes it the responsibility of the parent to educate the child,” Long told California reporters today. He said the responsibility includes issues such as protecting children from things that are hazardous “emotionally” as well as physically.
But the court had concluded that state law doesn’t allow children to be taught by their parents in their homes, a result achieved by many families by having the parents register as a private school, which exempts them from the requirement of having credentialed faculty.
He said his concern is that the ruling might 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 Los Angeles court decision 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. He said criminal infractions could involve fines or community service, and civil penalties could involve parental counseling.
But he said 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.
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.
Others were joining in the criticism, too.
James Dobson, founder of the Focus on the Family powerhouse Christian publisher, called it “an imperious assault on the rights of parents.”
“How dare these judges have the audacity to label tens of thousands of parents criminals – the equivalent of drug dealers or pickpockets – because they want to raise and educate their children according to their deeply held values?” he said.
“The case before them involved one couple – the ruling should have been confined to that one couple, not used to punish an entire class of people, the vast majority of them religious conservatives,” he said.
The Home School Legal Defense Association said it was setting up a petition effort to have the case ruling modified or limited in its impact.
The organization warned California is set to become the only state to deny the vast majority of homeschooling parents their fundamental right to teach their children at home.
“This is an all-out assault on the family,” Dobson continued, “and it must be met with a concerted effort to defend parents and their children.”
Candi Cushman, an education analyst for Focus, said the timing was horrible, because of new statutes facing school children in California, an issue which WND previously has reported.
“This takes away recourse from thousands of parents in California who want to escape the government-enforced indoctrination in public schools,” she said. “The Legislature recently passed a law that basically ensures that students get a one-sided, positive portrayal of homosexuality and same-sex ‘marriage.'”
WND broke the story of the ruling, which reversed a decision from Superior Court Judge Stephen Marpet, who said “parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home.”
As WND has reported, the Longs had their children enrolled in Sunland Christian School, a private homeschooling program.
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 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.