A judge in California has ended juvenile court jurisdiction over two children in a family case that prompted an appeals court at one point to declare that parents had no right to homeschool their children in the state.

The opinion in the Rachel L. case when WND broke the story in February rocked the foundations of homeschooling in the state and across the nation, because of its implications that without such rights, parents could be liable for civil and criminal penalties simply for teaching their own children at home.

It especially outraged those who opposed California’s mandated advocacy for homosexual and other alternative lifestyles in public schools.

The court’s effectual ban on homeschooling in California later was dropped when the same panel agreed to rehear the case, and oral arguments on those issues were held last month, with parties ranging from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state’s fire marshals and superintendent of public instruction supporting homeschooling parents.

Now, however, the underlying juvenile court case that prompted the higher court ruling has been dismissed.

A statement from the Home School Legal Defense Association today confirmed, “the juvenile court judge terminated jurisdiction over the two young L. children in a hearing held on July 10, 2008.”

It was that family’s case that in February attracted the infamous order from the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles that was seen as banning homschooling. The family’s disputes had been elevated to that level by lawyers pursuing their plan of protections for the children, and they wanted the children ordered into a public school, to which the court agreed.

The juvenile case ruling yesterday doesn’t directly make moot the ruling from the appeals court, which is expected at any time, because it comes from an original case filed with the appeals judges

But HSLDA officials told WND they will provide the information about the end of the juvenile case to the appeals court.

“Mr. L.’s appellate attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund will be making the appellate court aware of this new development immediately. They will move to dismiss the petition pending in the court of appeal on the ground that the petition is now moot,” the organization said in a statement. “In other words, the children are no longer under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Therefore, any decision by the appellate court based on the two-year-old petition could not be enforced against the L. children.”


HSLDA chairman, Michael Farris

“This is a significant favorable development toward preserving homeschooling freedom in California,” said Mike Farris, chairman and founder of HSLDA.

The lead attorney on the appeal, as a representative for the father in the L. case, is Gary Kreep, of the United States Justice Foundation. He was unable to comment on the case directly because of the juvenile proceedings that are involved.

But the HSLDA officials said a petition to the appeals court describing the lower court’s actions will be delivered as soon as possible.

A spokesman for HSLDA said the county in the L. family case does have the option of appealing the juvenile court ruling, too.

It was late last month when the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles listened to oral arguments in the case.

At issue was the court’s decision from four months earlier, on which WND reported, that would have compelled the two children into a public or qualifying private school.

Farris was one of the lawyers appearing at the hearing, and he said the judges specifically asked about the legal support for homeschooling rights, which have been publicly supported in the United States by both members of Congress and President Bush.

Attorneys advocating homeschooling argued that when California in 1967 added the singular word “person” to the list of those that can operate a legitimate private school, it opened the door for homeschooling. “If a person can provide education, if one person can operate a school,” argued the attorneys, “then why not a parent?”

Farris said then he urged the judges to take into account the thousands of people who have implied from the 1967 law that homeschooling is permissible “and not willy-nilly overturn that practice.”

An estimated 166,000 children are being homeschooled in California, and their parents and advocates have expressed concern that the court’s original ruling would leave parents who educate their children at home open to criminal truancy charges and civil charges for child neglect.

Some grounds for that concern may come from the appeal court’s first ruling, where it said the trial court had found that “keeping the children at home deprived them of situations where (1) they could interact with people outside the family, (2) there are people who could provide help if something is amiss in the children’s lives, and (3) they could develop emotionally in a broader world than the parents’ ‘cloistered’ setting.”

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, which has been representing Sunland Christian School, with whom the L. children were working, was pleased.

“We are still digesting the full impact of this ruling, but it is a major development which should, for all practical purposes, end this case,” he said. “Again and again, the court-appointed attorneys for the L. children have relied on the oversight of the juvenile court as the basis for seeking a ruling that this family cannot homeschool. By terminating its jurisdiction, the court has severely undercut this position and yanked the rug out from all who have sought to use this case to criminalize homeschooling. We are hopeful that the Court of Appeal will follow suit and recognize that there is no longer any basis to rule against this family or our clients, Sunland Christian School.”

 


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