LOS ANGELES The California Court of Appeal granted a motion on March 25 to re-hear the Rachel L. casegiving the homeschool community hope that the court will change its previous ruling.
The controversial appellate court's unanimous decision Feb. 28 outraged homeschool advocates. The court's ruling required that children be enrolled and attend a public or private school or be "tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught." Parents who fail to follow the state law could be criminally liable under California.
Justice H. Walter Croskey in a written opinion had said, "California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children."
The Court of Appeal's ruling overturned the prior opinion and the decision is no longer binding. If the court rules to let the earlier ruling stand it could have a dramatic impact on the state's estimated 166,000 homeschool students.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promised that the law would be fixed. "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 prepared statement. "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education."
State Schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell also supports the rights of homeschoolers.
"Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children," said ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb. "Because this ruling impacts all Californians, we believe the case deserves a second look. We look forward to presenting this case for rehearing."
The Court of Appeal has solicited a new round of briefings due in late April. It will likely take the court several additional months to hear oral arguments and issue another decision.
"This is a great first step," said Michael Farris, chairman of HSLDA. "We are very glad that this case will be reheard and that this opinion has been vacated, but there is no guarantee as to what the ultimate outcome will be. This case remains our top priority."
The case involved Phillip and Mary Long of Lynwood, Calif. who had homeschooled their eight children through Sunland Christian School in Sylmar. One of the children claimed physical and emotional abuse by the father, leading to an investigation by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and eventually to the court case.
Dr. James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, issued a statement after the Feb. 28 decision saying that the court "is guilty of an imperious assault on the rights of parents." He also stated that every effort would be made to help get the ruling overturned and to restore the basic rights of parents in California to determine how their children are educated.