California homeschool advocates celebrate victory

California homeschool advocates are breathing a sigh of relief after the state education department reversed its former stance that home education is illegal.

The California Homeschool Network is spreading the news that a re-examination of California statutes and case law, made at the request of the new state superintendent of education, Jack O'Connell, prompted the reversal.

According to education deputy general counsel attorney Michael Hersher, school districts will receive notification that the earlier references that "homeschooling is not legal in California" have been removed from the California Department of Education’s website.

"Since most, if not all, of the truancy problems suffered by homeschoolers in the past several years have been a direct result of the [California Department of Education's] position regarding the legality of home-based private schools, this is a major victory," Linda J. Conrad, the Homeschool Association of California's legal chair, wrote in an e-mail announcing the "good news."

World Net Daily has reported the state's laws and education code do not address homeschooling. This prompts both advocates and foes to interpret the void as being in favor of their stance.<

Advocates contend homeschooling has been accomplished legally under the education code's provision for private schools, which requires that the instructor be "capable of teaching" not credentialed and the annual filing of an affidavit to the California Department of Education, or CDE.

The filing of this R-4 affidavit, which notifies the CDE of the creation of a private school, has become known as the homeschooling "loophole," by government authorities who consider homeschooling illegal.

Last July, the office of former Superintendent Delaine Eastin issued a memo stating that parents without a teaching credential who homeschool their children are "operating outside the law."

Holding this view, some local school districts have ignored the R-4 affidavits and attempted to prosecute homeschooling parents on the basis that they're not obeying compulsory-attendance laws.

"I think this is part of a concerted effort on the part of public-school administrators to bring homeschooling families back into the fold, so to speak, and re-institutionalize their children," explained attorney Will Rogers, who successfully defended three homeschooling familiesagainst criminal truancy charges instigated by the Berkeley Unified School District in July 2000.

As World Net Daily reported, Sandra Sorensen was threatened with jail by the Sacramento County district attorney's office after she formally withdrew her 10-year-old son from Carmichael Elementary School, where he was suffering harassment by his peers. Sorensen and her husband filed the affidavit to set up a private school within their home, but district officials determined the boy to be truant.

"Everyone deserves the right to choose how to educate their kids. It shouldn't be the government deciding," Sandra Sorensen maintained.

The district backed off the Sorensens following WND's report, which sparked public outrage. But Sandra Sorensen remained guarded.

"I don't think they're finished with me. I just don't trust them. Every time I think it's over, something else comes along," she said.

Fueling homeschoolers' nervousness, Eastin took her case to state legislators in August and urged them to intervene in the matter.

"Over the last few weeks, the Department of Education has been characterized in some circles as being engaged in a campaign to harass homeschoolers and to root out homeschooling in California," Eastin wrote in an Aug. 24 letter. "My staff and I have received dozens of angry telephone calls and written communications that unfairly assume that the department is misapplying the state's compulsory-education law in derogation of the rights of parents, and a handful of conservative publications have attacked our application of the law. None of these charges is true, of course, but the amount of misinformation, and passion, in these communications does make me believe that the situation cries out for a legislative solution."

Hersher said the department's current position is that only local school districts have authority to decide that a child who attends a private school is truant.

This leaves advocates on guard for continued resistance at the local level.

According to Hersher, the CDE now refers inquiries about homeschooling to state homeschooling organizations.