California to parents: You're not qualified to teach your kids Update: LA Times misunderstood ruling?

Home-schooling families got dealt a blow by the California appeals court. They ruled that only certified educators could opt out of public or private schools, which will likely end home schooling as an option for parents who cannot afford the latter and detest the former. The judge ruled that parents have no constitutional right to school their children themselves:

The appellate court ruling stems from a case involving Lynwood parents Phillip and Mary Long, who were repeatedly referred to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services over various allegations, including claims of physical abuse, involving some of their eight children.

All of the children are currently or had been enrolled in Sunland Christian School, where they would occasionally take tests, but were educated in their home by their mother, Phillip Long said.

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. A trial court disagreed, but the children’s lawyer appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The appellate panel ruled that Sunland officials’ occasional monitoring of the Longs’ home schooling — with the children taking some tests at the school — is insufficient to qualify as being enrolled in a private school. Since Mary Long does not have a teaching credential, the family is violating state laws, the ruling said.

“Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. “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.”

Got that? If you choose to reject the government education monopoly and can’t afford a private school, you will face criminal prosecution. That will make the parents of an estimated 166,000 children criminals overnight.

Obviously, not every home-school situation benefits the child in question, but overall, home-schooled children perform at a higher level in comparison to the children educated at public schools. Differences in performance seen at public schools between genders and ethnicities tend to disappear with home schooling, and interestingly, parental education levels don’t have the same level of impact on performance at home as they do in public schools. Certification also has little impact on results, which strongly indicates that it serves no useful purpose.

Even if those results didn’t exist, though, should the state have the authority to deny that choice to parents? The allegations of abuse in this case complicates the complaint, but the appellate judge went far beyond the parameters of this specific case in his ruling. He essentially reduced the status of parent to in loco civitas rather than the state acting in loco parentis.

At the very least, the ruling presents a troubling precedent. During our nation’s history, the parent has always had the presumption of knowing what is best for his or her child unless evidence arises to the contrary. For that to remain, parents have to have the right to opt out of the state monopoly and educate their children as they see fit. This decision essentially puts the state in the position of making all children a ward of the government and presuming to override the wishes of the parent, with no evidence of harm, abuse, or neglect.

Californians have a referendum process to enact laws through direct democracy. I’ll bet that we will see a ballot initiative soon to restore parental prerogative in education.

UPDATE: Ace says that the LA Times misunderstood the ruling:

The short version: The LA Times got it wrong in the first sentence of their article. Parents without teaching credentials can still educate their children at home under the various exemptions to mandatory public school enrollment provided in § 48220 et seq. of the Cal. Ed. Code. The parents in this case lost because they claimed that the students were enrolled in a charter school and that with minimal supervision from the school, the children were free to skip classes so the mother could teach them at home. There is no basis in law for that argument. If only the parents had attempted to homeschool their kids in one of the statutorily prescribed methods, they would have prevailed.

Be sure to read Ace’s very detailed legal argument. I still think that there are a lot of hoops for homeschooler parents to clear, but it’s not impossible, as the Times indicated.

UPDATE II: It would be easier to read Ace’s entire argument if I linked to it… And Ace writes me to make sure I credit Gabriel Malor with the post, so mission accomplished!