The LA Times has finally picked up the story, hitherto only reported, so far as I can tell, by WorldNetDaily. The good news is that the Pacific Justice Institute seems to have picked up the case, representing the Sunland Christian School, in whose independent study program the children had been enrolled.
The HSLDA is also involved, preparing to file an amicus brief in any appeal and circulating a petition in support of a legal effort to "depublish" the opinion, thereby depriving it of any precedential force.
I sent an email to a law professor acquaintance, posing the following questions:
*There are at least two different issues here, one having to do with the reading of the California law (where the state bureaucratic practice has been much more permissive than this appellate panel would be) and the other with the claim of a religious freedom-based right to engage in homeschooling. The second issue is one I find more interesting and on which I think I have a better handle, but it’s also less likely, I think, to provide the basis of a winning argument in the courts. (Am I right about that?)
*It looks to me like the courts have correctly interpreted the letter of the law (whose only provision for home education is through a credentialed tutor), but the bureaucracy has permitted homeschoolers to live by the more lenient standards available to private schools. Is the bureaucracy entitled to its interpretation of the law? Could he legislature affirm--or does it have to affirm--the bureaucracy’s administrative "modernization" of the law, already apparently upheld by two lower court decisions won by the HSLDA in the 1980s? Is a court likely to order the bureaucracy to adopt its understanding of the law, or would the more restrictive enforcement have to occur, if at all, on a case-by-case basis (either through the intervention of the child welfare bureaucracy or by estranged parents or grandparents seeking to compel institutional schooling of kids who are homeschooled)?
I welcome anyone else’s efforts to take a crack at these questions, and will post any responses I receive.
Update: This blogger has done some good digging and unearthed this old WorldNetDaily story, which shows that some time ago the California Department of Education took the position the court is now taking. But only a few sheriffs seemed to have the stomach for riding out after those menacing outlaw homeschoolers. You can read more about the old controversy here and here.
Another blogger (unfriendly to homeschooling) has dug up this court document in the current case. It paints a disturbing picture of that family’s home life. To put it mildly, they’re not the kind of people you want to have identified with a high-profile homeschooling case. They have a twenty-year history of encounters with child welfare authorities. Some might argue that catching up with people like this is a good reason to require kids to attend an organized school. I’d respond that these people attracted a lot of attention without having their kids in schools. There has to be some way of protecting children other than destroying an arrangement that seems to work quite well for the vast majority of families that use it.
Update #2: The Governor weighs in:
"Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children," the governor said in a statement. "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children’s education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights then, as elected officials, we will."
Someone should explain to the Governor that the problem is with the law, which should be fixed by the people responsible for making it, rather than by those who ought to have "neither force nor will, but merely judgment." If the law were written so as explicitly to acknowledge homeschooling, there wouldn’t have to be these subtle and complicated ways around the plain language of the statute.