Countering a potentially precedent-setting appeals court decision that bars parents from educating their children at home if they lack teaching credentials, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell on Tuesday affirmed families' right to home school.
"There's no cause for alarm," he said Tuesday.
"I want to assure parents that chose to home school that California Department of Education policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling," he said in a written statement. "Parents still have the right to home school in our state."
O'Connell's statements stem from a Feb. 28 ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal that said 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 state Department of Education now allows home schooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as 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.
The education department does little to enforce those provisions and insists that it is the local school districts' responsibility. In addition, state education officials acknowledge that some parents home school their children without the knowledge of any educational entity.
O'Connell repeatedly refused Tuesday to rule out requiring parents to enroll their children in a formal program.
Once news of the court ruling became public, politicians, evangelists and others began weighing in. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called it "outrageous" and pledged to overturn it legislatively if the state Supreme Court fails to act.
On Monday, Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) introduced a resolution acknowledging the long history of home school in California and urging the state Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.
Anderson and his wife, Kate, home schooled their three children, including their eldest, Mary, who was recently accepted to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
"Exhibit one on the success of home schooling has been demonstrated by my own family," Anderson said in a written statement.
"Our hope is that the Supreme Court continues to allow other California children to continue to benefit from being educated at home."
Home schooling supporters cheered O'Connell's statement and Anderson's resolution, saying that it would help allay fears among the concerned parents of as many as 166,000 students in California.
"It's wonderful, and it makes me feel better," said Loren Mavromati, a Redondo Beach mother who home schooled her three children and serves as president of the California Homeschool Network. O'Connell "has made a public statement and school districts work for him and won't go against that."
But home school supporters added that the ruling must be overturned so it doesn't have precedent value.
"That is absolutely good to hear, but it doesn't fix the court decision," said Susan Beatty, co-founder of the Christian Home Educators Assn. of California. "That is still an issue that must be rectified."
O'Connell drew some ire from home schooling parents by urging them to become involved with some formal program, such as an independent study program at a public, charter or private school, so they are familiar with state standards, SAT test dates and financial aid deadlines.
"I've always encouraged these families who, for whatever reason choose this approach to educate these students, to remain involved and engaged. I want these students to be prepared for this new economy," he said.
Students involved in formal programs have a greater chance of success, he said.