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Bill on home school rights urged

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Friday for the reversal of a recent appellate court decision banning parents from educating their children at home if they lack a teaching credential. If the state Supreme Court fails to act, the governor vowed to push through legislation guaranteeing families’ right to home school.

“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 in a written statement.

Schwarzenegger’s comments about the ruling came as home schooling families and national conservative leaders expressed increased concerns over the practice that they believe every parent has a fundamental right to exercise.

On Feb. 28, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that parents must have a teaching credential to home school their children. The decision has not yet gone into effect and it is unlikely to be enforced pending appeals to the state Supreme Court by attorneys representing Phillip and Mary Long, the Lynwood couple at the center of the case, and others.

The California Department of Education allows home schooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as small private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts while still teaching at home.

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California does little to enforce those provisions and insists it is the local school districts’ responsibility. In addition, state education officials say some parents home school their children without the knowledge of any entity.

The Pacific Justice Institute, which is representing a parochial school that is popular with home schoolers, including the Long family, plans to appeal the ruling.

The institute estimates that there are as many as 166,000 California students who are home schooled. State education department officials, whose Sacramento offices were picketed by home schooling families Friday, said there is no way of knowing the true number.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell spoke out about the ruling for the first time Friday at a news conference in Alameda in which he reaffirmed his support for parents to educate their children as they see fit while urging them to work with institutions to ensure that their children will be successful.

“Whatever works best for that family, he would support as long as the children are getting a good education,” department spokeswoman Pam Slater said.

“He wants home school parents to make sure they have partnerships with school districts or charter schools to make sure they have the right curriculum, everything a child needs to succeed and get into college,” Slater said.

Conservative leaders across the nation also weighed in on the matter, with evangelist James C. Dobson interrupting his “Focus on the Family” radio program’s regular programming to discuss the ruling.

“What has occurred is yet another egregious decision handed down by a California appeals court that strikes at the very heart and soul of families and their children,” he said Friday morning. “The court has assaulted parental rights again and this time with a sledgehammer.”

The Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Assn. also started an online petition to urge the state Supreme Court to “depublish” the ruling, meaning it would apply only to the family in question and not set a precedent.

Thousands of supporters from across the nation were signing the petition every hour, and by 6:30 p.m., it had more than 82,000 signatures.

In California, hundreds of worried home school families have been inundating the state Department of Education, the offices of the governor and state legislators as well as home school advocacy groups with phone calls and e-mails.

“We’re very busy” answering phones, said Susan Beatty, co-founder of the Norwalk-based Christian Home Educators Assn. of California. “Most of them are confused and just want to be reassured. There is some talk that home school is illegal after today, which is, of course, not true.”

Beatty said the group was telling parents, “There’s no reason to be afraid, they can continue to home school as they have in the past.”

The appellate court ruling stemmed from a case involving the Longs, who were repeatedly referred to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services over various allegations, including charges of physical abuse involving some of their eight children.

A lawyer appointed to represent two of the Long’s young children requested that the court require them to physically attend a public or private school where adults could monitor their well-being.

The appellate court ruled that a parochial school’s occasional monitoring of the children’s education is insufficient to qualify as being enrolled in a private school, and because Mary Long does not hold a teaching credential, the court determined that the family is breaking state law.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com


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