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A high school district in Northern California has sent a notification to parents telling them that their homeschooled children are not lawfully being educated.
When the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) received word that all of its member families in the San Benito High School District (SBHSD) received a letter from state authorities declaring that they were illegally educating their children, attorneys from the nonprofit group were perplexed.
It was HDLDA’s understanding that the right to homeschool had already been firmly established in the state of California, but the letter parents received from the school district located east of scenic Monterrey, California, contradicted what was believed to be resolved years ago.
However, school officials insisted that parents within the district were acting illegally by homeschooling their children.
“[U]nder California Law, a home school is not a private school, nor is it a lawful alternative to public school …” the letter sent from SBHSD officials to homeschool parents read, according to HSLDA.
Making little sense
For decades, it has been established that homeschooling one’s children is a protected right of parents.
HSLDA President Mike Smith argues that home schools are every bit as legal as any private school throughout the state of California.
“The private school exemption has been used by California homeschoolers since the revival of the movement in the late ’70s,” Smith pointed out.
Even though homeschooling has been frequently contested by state officials in the Golden State, their attacks on the time-honored educational practice were consistently put to rest.
“Many school districts and the California Department of Education took the same position that the San Benito High School is now taking,” Smith continued. “But despite years of official opposition in numerous places in a variety of ways, HSLDA successfully advocated for many families whose homeschooling was challenged by school districts and other public agencies.”
Righting a wrong
However, less than a decade ago, the relentless attack on homeschooling prevailed in one California court — which delivered a ruling that was undetected by most.
Smith notes that the decision was unsettling — at best.
“Then in February 2008, in a confidential juvenile court case (subsequently known as Jonathan L.) that initially we were not made aware of, the Court of Appeals ruled that homeschooling in California is not legal,” the legal expert informed. “Because HSLDA was not involved in the underlying case, the appellate court was not properly briefed about the many ways the legislature had made provision for parents to teach their own children under the private-school option.”
Once HSLDA got word of the problematic ruling and the reasoning behind it, the Christian group of attorneys quickly sought to rectify the matter.
“When the court published its opinion, HSLDA led a large coalition asking the appellate court to reconsider,” Smith recounted. “In August 2008, the same three judges who had said back in February (before we were involved) that homeschooling was illegal now reversed course.”
All three judges soon issued the following declaration:
“California statutes permit home schooling as a species of private school education,” they stated, officially reestablishing homeschooling as a legitimate and legal form of alternative education to conventional schooling in the state.
Smith and his staff of attorneys are still amazed at how such a blatant error could be made by a school district without thoroughly looking into the matter — especially one that was resolved nearly a decade ago.
“We cannot understand or explain how a school district today, so many years after the decision in the Jonathan L. case, could still be sending official correspondence that is so clearly wrong,” Smith expressed.
His team of lawyers made sure that the misunderstanding was quickly cleared up — to the relief of many homeschool families in San Benito County.
“When we learned of San Benito’s letter, we quickly responded on behalf of our member families, explaining that homeschooling is indeed a legal exemption to public school attendance pursuant to the private-school exemption,” Smith recounted.
He maintains that even though HSLDA chalked up another victory in California, more challenges in the future are expected.
“This episode demonstrates the continued opposition to homeschooling by some in California,” Smith warned, encouraging parents to be wary of future attacks and gain an understanding of their legal rights as home educators in their state.
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