Confusion over California’s insistence that home-schooling is illegal has prompted the state’s superintendent of public instruction to call on lawmakers for help.
The development comes as a local district enforcer of the state’s mandatory school attendance statute says it plans to visit families who appear to be violating the law by teaching their children without a credential.
Citing a barrage of angry responses from home-school advocates, Superintendent Delaine Eastin said in an Aug. 27 letter to state legislators that “false charges” and “misinformation” leveled at her “make me believe that the situation cries out for a legislative solution.”
WorldNetDaily reported Aug. 19 that Eastin’s office issued a memo in July stating that parents without a teaching credential who home-school their children are “operating outside the law.”
Eastin’s letter last week to state senators began:
“Over the last few weeks, the Department of Education has been characterized in some circles as being engaged in a campaign to harass home-schoolers and to root out home-schooling in California. My staff and I have received dozens of angry telephone calls and written communications that unfairly assume that the department is misapplying the state’s compulsory education law in derogation of the rights of parents, and a handful of conservative publications have attacked our application of the law. None of these charges is true, of course, but the amount of misinformation, and passion, in these communications does make me believe that the situation cries out for a legislative solution.”
The July 16 memo from Eastin’s office, warning that home-schooling is illegal, is “deliberately deceptive,” charges the California Homeschool Network Legal Committee in an Aug. 22 letter to Joanne Mendoza, the deputy superintendent who signed the memo.
“You have slandered thousands of tax-paying, law-abiding citizens, some of California’s most dedicated parents, by labeling them as criminals, with no reference to California state education codes or cases,” wrote the legal committee’s Lindsay Danesi.
The letter was copied to California Gov. Gray Davis, Republican election opponent Bill Simon and WorldNetDaily, among others.
No mention in the law
Home-school advocates argue that California law makes no mention of home-schooling. They contend it has been accomplished legally under the education code’s provision for private schools, which requires that the instructor be “capable of teaching” – not credentialed – and the annual filing of an affidavit to the California Department of Education, or CDE, between Oct. 1 and 15.
The CDE maintains that the affidavit does not authorize a school to operate, but merely verifies, for record-keeping and other purposes, that it exists.
The home-school advocates insist they’ve been meeting state requirements.
“The law is clear as written, and it has not changed. Private schooling by families is legal,” asserted Danesi in a statement Friday. “Home-schooled children are receiving an excellent education. Delaine Eastin’s responsibility is to ensure the same for public-schooled children.”
But the CDE also bases its argument on the fact that home-schooling is not mentioned in the law.
Eileen Gray, a CDE deputy counsel, argues that the education code specifically mentions alternatives to public school that comply with the compulsory attendance law – including tutoring and independent study programs – and home-schooling is not one of those options.
“We live and die by what the law says, and the absence of mention, to me, is not an authorization,” Gray told WND.
Meanwhile, at least one local district says it plans to visit the homes of about 60 parents who appear to be home-schooling their children, based on affidavits filed last year.
Roberto Casas, director of child welfare and attendance for the Chino Unified School District in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, wrote a letter to these families earlier this year, obtained by WorldNetDaily.
The letter states: “If your school is conducting a home-schooling program in which children are being instructed exclusively at home by non-credentialed persons, using a correspondence course, or another type of curriculum, it is likely that your school is not in compliance with the requirements of the compulsory school attendance laws of California.”
Casas told the Chino Champion weekly newspaper in August that he plans to have someone from his office visit the families to make sure they are not in violation of California law. An assistant to Casas told WND that the visits have not been made yet, noting that public school classes were not under way.
According to the education code, “it is incumbent upon the local school district to go out and check up and make sure these kids are in fact going to school,” Sherman Garnett, coordinator of child welfare and attendance for San Bernardino County, told WND.
Garnett said the district will work with the parents to ensure their children are enrolled in an authorized program.
“The school districts in California are not out there to go out and hunt down home-schooling kids,” he said.
If a parent resists, Garnett said the case would be brought to his county office.
“We would then go out and exhaust all efforts,” he said. “We’re talking about six or seven months of trying to work with the parent,” he said.
“Prosecution is the very, very last thing we’re going to do,” Garnett added. “I’ve been in this position for five years and we have yet to prosecute a home-schooling parent.”
In August, the Chino district’s Casas sent out another letter to families who, according to their affidavit, appear to be home-schooling. He invited the families to “enroll in the district’s home-based independent study program, a viable alternative to classroom instruction.”
Among the benefits, he said, are “using state- and district-approved textbooks” and “being enrolled in an approved” program, school and district.
Michael Smith, president of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, says “home-schoolers who desire to continue with private home education have simply ignored these letters” that say home-schooling is illegal, but “join us and you’ll be fine.”
The letter from Casas, which quotes the CDE’s July 16 warning about home-schooling parents “operating outside the law,” says that, according to the education department, private schools with more than five students can file their affidavit on the Internet, while those with five or fewer should call the district directly to request the affidavit form.
Home-school advocates point out that this enables the district to “flag” home-schooling families.
An affidavit form for new schools and those with five or fewer students is now available online, however.
‘Politically loaded question’
The Department of Education continues to receive affidavits from families who appear to be home-schooling, according to Andrew Andreoli, a department administrator who oversees the recording of data on private schools.
Andreoli told WND that a full-time staff of five is handling inquiries on the issue, receiving many angry calls from parents who want to debate the legality of home-schooling. But he says his office tries to remain neutral.
“All we tell them is that they are free to file the affidavit, and it’s up to them to deal with local officials,” he said.
Andreoli said many of the complaints come from San Diego, San Bernardino and Sonoma counties, where education offices issued a memorandum referring to the state superintendent’s interpretation of the law.
“I guess if we were to take a political stance and interpret that it’s OK to do home-schooling, we would get as much flak from the California Teachers Association as we get now from the home-school associations,” Andreoli said of his office. “So we’re kind of in between. It’s a politically loaded question.”
Andreoli said, however, that, in his view, the state’s concern is that home-schools operating as private schools lack oversight to ensure that children are safe.
“Nobody writes stories about some of the complaints we get about private schools, about teacher abuse, about people working private schools that haven’t had criminal background checks,” he said.
Home-schoolers have no accountability, contended San Bernardino County’s Garnett.
“Who do they report to?” he asked. “How do you know if the child has actually received a high school education, which is required to get into a university?
In her letter to lawmakers, Eastin said if home-schooled children “were exempted from compulsory education laws by the mere filing of an affidavit … then there would be potentially thousands of children in California whose education would not be subject to any supervision whatsoever.”
Advocates, such as the Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s Smith, argue that parental supervision has worked well for home-schoolers across the country, who according to studies, tend to score higher than their public and private school peers on standardized tests.
In contrast, the Sacramento Bee reported Friday that just three of 10 California students meet the state’s language arts standards, according to test scores released Thursday. Four of 10 second-graders meet the state’s new math standards, with proficiency levels dropping in most subsequent grades. At the high school level, 21 percent of 10th-graders were proficient in geometry, and 24 percent proficient in world history.
The paper reported that despite the seemingly discouraging numbers, state education officials emphasized that California’s system for school accountability is still evolving. The testing, the Bee said, began as part of Gov. Davis’ pledge to make school accountability a pivotal focus of his administration.
According to a state Senate aide, Eastin’s request was not taken up by the Legislature, which adjourned this past weekend and is not scheduled to officially reconvene until the next session, in January. In the meantime, every State Assembly position is up for re-election in November, along with half of the Senate seats.
Lawmakers were not available for comment as they wrapped up deliberations, which did not conclude until early Sunday morning.
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s Smith believes that the law has worked well as it is and warns that “in nearly every state where a specific ‘home-school law’ has been passed, the new law has resulted in more regulation of home-schoolers than we have in California.”
Eastin’s letter to lawmakers indicates that restriction of home-schooling is her intent, Smith contends.
“She asks the Legislature to consider state authorization, ‘conditions’ to be placed upon the ‘quality of education being offered in a home school’ and delineating of ‘qualifications or resources that a parent needs’ to home-school his child,” Smith wrote in a brief last week.
“If the Legislature chooses to address Eastin’s concerns, we can be assured that there will be an attempt to put more restrictions on home-schoolers,” said Smith. “Eastin states these restrictions are needed in part to ‘ensure some level of quality and innovation.'”