Home Schooling and Child Welfare Law – CA Speaks (again)
Last Friday, the California Court of Appeals issued a decision legalizing home schooling. The case, Jonathan L. v. LA County DFCS, was reheard by the Court after an earlier panel declared home schooling illegal on February 28, 2008. The resulting outcry lead to a petition for rehearing bolstered by almost four pages of amicus curiae including the ACLU, Jewish Homeschoolers of Napa and Sonoma Counties, the American Center for Law & Justice, and Members of the United States Congress.
What is mostly lost in the public debate about Jonathan L. is that it was brought as a child welfare and not a public education case.
The family in this case had a history of dependency court proceedings involving charges of physical abuse, neglect, and failure to prevent sexual abuse. After the two youngest
children were declared dependent due to the abuse and neglect of their siblings, their
attorney sought an order that they be sent to private or public school, rather than
educated at home by their mother, so that they would be in regular contact with
mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect. The dependency court declined to issue
such an order, primarily based on its view that parents have an absolute constitutional
right to home school their children.
After the children’s counsel appealed, the Court held that: (1) California statutory law does not permit home schooling; and (2) this prohibition does not violate the US Constitution. The father quickly filed a petition for rehearing, sixteen amici responded to the call, and the Court ultimately reversed its initial holding.
The decision contains a fascinating legislative history of California’s long running consideration of this issue. In regards to home schooling, the Court concluded that “it is our view that the proper course of action is to interpret the earlier statutes in light of the later ones, and to recognize, as controlling, the Legislature’s apparent acceptance of the proposition that home schools are permissible in California when conducted as private schools.”
On the equally important, but oft ignored issue of the dependency court’s power, the Court found that “an order requiring a dependent child to attend school
outside the home in order to protect that child’s safety is not an unconstitutional
violation of the parents’ right to direct the education of their children.”
California, like many states, permit a dependency court to issue any reasonable orders for the care of a dependent child, including orders limiting the right of the parents to make educational decisions for the child. Just because the United States Supreme Court has held that parents possess a constitutional right to direct the education of their children, it does not mean that any restriction on home schooling is a violation of this constitutional right.