Court reverses ruling against home school organizations

Legal News Line Aug. 11, 2008, 2:56pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Parents do not need teacher certification to teach their own children at home following a change of legal opinion issued by the California state Appellate Court on Friday.

The victory for home-schooling organizations reverses the court's previous opinion issued in February, which organizations viewed as a ban.

Supporters argued the ruling could seriously damage the growing business of home schooling, while impinging on a parent's right to choose the course of education for their own children.

The court's latest opinion on the subject states, "California statutes permit home schooling as a species of private school education."

With an estimated 166,000 children currently being home-schooled in California, the impact of the decision and the potential precedence for other states to follow suit posed a significant threat to the industry as a whole.

"This is a great victory for home-school freedom," said Home School Legal Defense Association Chairman Mike Ferris, who was part of the legal team that argued the case in court.

Friday's ruling seemed highly unlikely following the initial ruling, he said.

"It is unusual for an appellate court to even grant a petition for rehearing as this court did in March," Farris said. "But it is truly remarkable for a court to completely reverse its own earlier opinion."

After the court's March decision to vacate its February ruling, strident support from home-school organizations poured in.

California's three largest homeschool organizations -- California Homeschool Network, Homeschool Association of California and Christian Home Education Association - issued a joint brief to defend the right of all parents to home school. Numerous other private organizations too wrote briefs in defense of home education.

Further support came from the highest powers in the state, including Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell,a also a Democrat.

The California school system has allowed home schooling if parents filed proper paperwork establishing themselves as private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enrolled children in independent study programs.

"As head of California's public school system, it would be my wish that all children attend public school," O'Connell said. "But I understand that a traditional public school environment may not be the right setting for each and every child."

Schwarzenegger called the ruling a victory for California students.

"This decision confirms the right every California child has to a quality education and the right parents have to decide what is best for their children," he said.

The Attorney General offered legal support to the home-school legal team during the trial.

According to a United States Department of Education report issued in 2003, more than 1.1 million students are home schooled. With California comprising close to 20 percent, the financial threat of losing those students was significant for home-school organizations, particularly those that sell curriculum or provide online support on a fee basis.

While those celebrating the victory focused on the importance of choice, the business network associated with home schooling includes a vast network of organizations.

Most parents who home school have many choices of programs to choose from in the competitive marketplace.

They pay tuition, books and service fees to participate. Web sites like Home School Marketplace connect home school families with economic opportunities that can be pursued from home.

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