Home-schooling advocates vowed Thursday to fight a Los Angeles court ruling they say could endanger parents' rights to decide what's best for their children's education.
Others said the controversial ruling, which favors only teachers with state credentials, does not apply to thousands of home-schooled students affiliated with private and charter schools in Stanislaus County.
"We don't see this ruling as having any impact on any type of public school," said Gary Larson, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association. Charter schools are public schools, he noted, and parents teaching at home are guided by credentialed teachers.
But the Feb. 28 ruling from the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles is sending shock waves through many families of the nearly 250,000 home-schooled students throughout California.
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Justice H. Walter Croskey stated that the only valid exceptions to California's compulsory education law are full-time attendance at a private school or in-home tutoring by a credentialed instructor.
"California courts have held that ... parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," Croskey wrote in a 3-0 decision about a couple attempting to justify keeping their eight children home by claiming religious freedom rights.
"Such sparse representations are too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to home school his or her child," Croskey wrote.
The order says nothing about charter schools, Larson noted, such as those presumed to educate the majority of home-schooled students in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
California Department of Education officials released a statement saying their attorneys are reviewing the ruling. A spokeswoman echoed Larson's view that it does not apply to public schools.
"State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell supports parental choice when it comes to home schooling," the statement reads, "but wants every child in the state to receive a high-quality education whether the setting is public, private or in the home."
The Home School Legal Defense Association says its attorneys will take legal action. They "will argue that a proper interpretation of California statutes makes it clear that parents may legally teach their own children under the private-school exemption," according to the group's Web site.
The attorneys also could argue that Croskey's ruling violates "the constitutional rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children," the statement reads.
Home schooling is not specifically addressed in California statutes. State officials have allowed home instruction if parents hire credentialed tutors, enroll their children in charter schools for independent study or submit paperwork declaring themselves small, private schools.
Five graduates at Stanford
If Croskey's ruling were to extend to all categories, parents would have to obtain a bachelor's degree and pass several examinations to receive teaching credentials.
"I imagine my phone will ring" as news of the ruling spreads, said Pat Golding, director of Hickman Charter School, founded in 1994 as a blend of home-schooling, classroom and online programs. Families of the 612 charter students are midway through registering for the fall school year, she said.
Home schooling allows high achievers to zoom ahead and low achievers to progress at their own pace, she said, relieving frustration for both groups.
"Hickman Charter School recently had five of our graduates at Stanford University simultaneously," Golding said. "Not many other elementary schools around can say that."
Christy Knott of Modesto said the state has no business "replacing the family as a parenting organization. We need to defer to parents as far as the upbringing of their children," she said.
Knott has taught her three, now in eighth, 10th and 11th grades, around the kitchen table since they were tiny, though the oldest two now attend most of their classes through a charter program at Whitmore Charter School in Ceres.
"I have a 3 to 1 ratio, instead of 20 to 1 or 30 to 1," Knott said.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.