A Los Angeles appeals court has taken a chain saw to the notion that parents can home school their children. Though the parents in the case may have been woefully inadequate teachers, the court did not hold back on their discretion by limiting their ruling to the case in hand. If followed statewide, every parent who currently home schools their child is a criminal, guilty of depriving their “children’s right to a legal education.”
Last week in the court case In re Rachel L. the court ruled that to legally provide for a child’s education parents must do one of three things: send them to a public school, enroll them in a private school, or provide them with a state certified tutor. California's home school policy consisted of conducting inspections and approving a home school's curriculum, that inspection evidently is no longer relevant. If a parent chooses to educate their child at home, for religious or any other reason, and the parent is not a licensed tutor the parent is breaking the law.
Because the court decided to invalidate home schooling as a whole it is doubtful that this ruling will be the last one for this case. The case has already been appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the US Supreme Court may hear it as well because it involves freedom of religion. Whoever hears it next should overturn this opinion.
The opinion started to go awry on its third page when the court incorrectly asserts that state statutes may limit constitutional rights. A court may interpret and limit the application of a right granted in a constitution, but a court may not use a statute as the means of doing so. Here, the court held that parents do not have a constitutional right to educate their children because the state Education Code requires a child be enrolled in a public or private school, or be taught by a licensed private tutor. The Education Code should be subordinate to a parent’s rights, not the other way around.
In a case dealing with the Amish religion the Supreme Court ruled that children must be educated and a parent does not have a right to deny an education to their children. But in that case the court was silent as to how a child must be educated. Here the state court ruled that the only way to educate a child in California is exclusively through those means provided for in California’s Education Code.
The parents in this case may be bad parents. The case was originally brought because one of the children complained of abuse, and the trial court found that the teaching skills of the mother were “lousy.” But that does not justify a bad decision by overreaching. The correct decision would be for the court to acknowledge that there are minimum standards under both the federal and state constitutions regarding the education of children and to determine whether the parents met those standards. Hopefully one of the supreme courts will realize this.
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