David and Goliath Revisited – Will California Outlaw Homeschooling?

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Homeschoolers
across the country were pleased to see another Scripps Spelling
Bee Contest won by one of our own. In fact, all three top place
finishers are homeschoolers. But in Alameda County, California,
where one of the runners up calls home, the pleasure was short-lived,
indeed.

The
legality of independent homeschooling, and therefore homeschooling
itself, is being challenged by the Berkeley Unified School District.
This is a serious situation for four families who were involved
in a recent truancy hearing even though they are either enrolled
in a home based private school or in a private Independent Study
Program. The families are complying with California Education Code,
which clearly states that private schools are not regulated by any
government agency in California. They have been requested to supply
attendance records and curriculum information as of May 31but have
declined to do so, supplying only evidence that they have enrolled
their children in private schools as prescribed by California
Education Code section 48222
. This case has been referred to
the District Attorney for possible prosecution of the children for
truancy in juvenile court, where the bright light of public scrutiny
is not allowed to shine, and possible prosecution of the parents
for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

"The
families are acting in accord with thousands of other families in
California. They are acting consistent with a reasonable interpretation
of statutory law," said Attorney William Rogers, who is representing
the four Berkeley families pro bono. "The battle is
shaping up. The Berkeley public schools will be on trial as well
as homeschoolers who have been unjustly singled out due to their
attempt to act on their freedom to find the best education for their
children."

This
is not the only challenge to homeschooling in the past few months.
In San Leandro, also in the same county, one family who removed
their child from public school was threatened with a truancy investigation
unless they enroll in the public school ISP. The school district
office, using taxpayer money to pursue law-abiding families, has
retained a law firm to back up their claim that homeschoolers establishing
home based private schools are truant. Earlier this year, San Leandro's
harassment of another homeschooling family resulted in the mother
being pepper sprayed in front of her 10 year old son during her
arrest. Also in Berkeley, Child Protective Services took custody
of twin boys from a single mother for the offense of "isolation
due to homeschooling." In Los Osos, in San Luis Obispo County,
a single mother on welfare has had her right to homeschool threatened
despite the child's attendance and successful record at the local
community college.

Clearly,
school district bureaucrats are increasing the pressure on homeschoolers
in an attempt to restrict independent homeschooling.

You
may wonder how school districts in California can accuse homeschoolers
of truancy when homeschooling is legal. Here is a nutshell explanation
of a rather complicated legal issue.

California
does not have a homeschool law. In fact, the term homeschool is
not found anywhere in the Education Code. The Code does, however,
outline the procedure for establishing a private school, which involves
annually notifying the state that the private school is operating,
maintaining various records and offering a specified minimum course
of study. Further, the Code does not confer the authority on any
state agency to regulate private schools. About 20 years ago, parents
reading the Education Code reasoned that they could open private
schools in their own homes. Nothing in the law forbids it. There
is no minimum size for a private school; there are no stipulations
on familial relationships between teachers and pupils. What school
could ever be more of a private school than a home based one? By
following the Code, any family, not just those who can afford a
tutor or who have a parent who is a certified teacher, can escape
the tender mercies of the public schools.

State
and local education bureaucrats, threatened by their loss of control
over homeschooling families, immediately, and have consistently
ever since, lied about what the law says with regard to homeschooling.
Showing themselves to be the bullies they are, they threaten a small
number of the most vulnerable families every year – welfare recipients,
single mothers, parents embroiled in custody battles – people who
generally lack the knowledge and wherewithal to fight off government
funded harassment. Usually these families either give in by sending
their children back to public school, or move out of the county.
But the bureaucrats have not challenged the legality of home based
private schools in the courts, knowing that their position is fallacious
and they may very well lose, setting a precedent they must avoid – an
unequivocal declaration of the legality of independent homeschooling.

They
have not challenged home based private schools until now, that is.
Berkeley Attendance Director Alex Palau has said that they want
to make this a test case, presumably to outlaw independent homeschooling
statewide.

Alameda
County Office of Education spokesman Jan Passama was quoted as saying,
"We all have different feelings as to whether homeschooling
is legal or not." This statement reveals the utter corruption
of a bankrupt education establishment. In the land of the free and
the home of the brave, it is not what the law says but what bureaucrats
feel that triggers the full power of the state to come crashing
down upon homeschoolers' heads. In the Soviet Union, everything
not explicitly allowed was denied. I thought we lived under a different
system of jurisprudence here.

The
Great Shell Game

If
you think that Alameda County must have showcase schools, allowing
them the luxury of being able to spend precious time, money and
effort on pursuing several thousand homeschoolers, you are dead
wrong. Alameda County schools are among the worst in the state,
23 having been enrolled in the State's Immediate Intervention for
Underperforming Schools Program for 1999-2000. Does it make sense
to squander money harassing law-abiding parents while the public
schools are so dismal? Only when it is realized that, just like
a huckster running a shell game, Alameda County's tactic is to divert
attention away from their abject failures by attacking homeschoolers.
California taxpayers are having their pockets picked as they gaze
in the wrong direction, duped once again by education bureaucrats.

What's
Truly behind this Harassment

The
Education Establishment says that their intrusions upon homeschoolers
are necessary to ensure that all children receive an adequate education.
Don't you believe it. Money is behind these ceaseless attacks on
homeschooling.

Schools
are reimbursed by the state depending upon their Average Daily Attendance,
or ADA. Targeting homeschoolers to force them into public school
programs would increase that ADA and therefore bring in more
money to the school districts' coffers. Of course, the more students,
the more teachers for public schools, and the greater the union
dues, which explains why the NEA
for the past decade has advocated the abolition of independent homeschooling
.
Fat budgets, more jobs, greater union dues: the magic combination
that relegates liberty to insignificance.

The
Truancy Crisis

In
1996, there were more bucks to be had, courtesy of Uncle Sam. The
federal Department of Education announced an initiative to reduce
truancy. In that year, the DOE shipped out propaganda packets "to
every school district in the nation" entitled a Manual
to Combat Truancy
– a screed that implies all
crime begins with truancy – and dangled $10 million in $300,000
to $500,000 chunks in front of local school districts to set up
truancy prevention programs. The directive, then, was sent down
from on high: crack down on truancy with zero tolerance and make
the parents pay.

In
California, the directive was heard loud and clear. Only three unexcused
absences can now land a parent in a humiliating and intimidating
meeting with the District Attorney where he will threaten, quote
dubious statistics such as 90% of all prison inmates are high school
drop-outs (which is supposed to fool us into thinking that 90% of
all drop-outs become prison inmates) and offer the "assistance"
of the cops in rounding up recalcitrant teens. Will it really take
more than this to convince parents that schools are no more that
juvenile prisons?

Here,
then, is the classic Ludwig von Mises case of a government created
problem being exacerbated by further government controls. Without
compulsory school attendance laws, truancy of course would not exist.
How do government officials deal with this completely artificial
problem of their own creation? They have the choice of allowing
children who don't want to attend public school a way out, either
by offering a variety of exemptions or by improving the public schools
to make them more attractive or both. Instead, in true Leviathan
fashion, they choose to crack down on those reprobates. This is
not a path taken by bureaucratic inertia, a polite fiction propagated
by government apologists that I just cannot abide. Although we may
not always be privy to such information, decisions have names and
faces associated with them. So do the extensions of those decisions
to include unintended victims. In Berkeley, Palau is the overzealous
hunter who has trapped homeschoolers in his truancy snare.

What's
Next for California Homeschoolers?

Homeschooling
parents have already discerned that America's schools are prisons
and have refused to sentence their children. Will the state now
force the issue? Will Berkeley bureaucrats really succeed in shutting
down homeschooling? They are certainly trying. We are facing the
possibility that with the stroke of a corrupt judge's pen, all homeschooling
parents will become criminals for choosing to educate their children
themselves. Yet, California bureaucrats would be wise to heed the
rage in these sentiments recently expressed by one parent:

They
would have to physically pry my children from my cold, dead hands
and even then I would probably find a way to fight. I know I am
not the only homeschooling parent who feels this way. Absolutely
not.

June
14, 2000

Cathy
Cuthbert is a wife, homeschooling mother and volunteer with the
California Homeschool Network. CHN has established a Legal Defense
Fund for the Berkeley families and other California families facing
serious challenges to their right to homeschool. For more information
go to http://www.cahomeschoolnet.org
or call 800/327-5339 (760/431-1027 outside California).

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