Back in February, a California court stunned the homeschooling families in the state when it declared that Mom or Dad had to have a credentialed teaching degree - or else their kids would be considered truants. The ruling affected approximately 200,000 children and raised protests from grass-roots activists all the way to the office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
On Aug. 8, however, the same judges made an equally surprising reversal of this decision. Judge H. Walter Croskey, presiding over the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles, wrote that as long as parents declare their home to be a private school, they may continue to homeschool their children, even if the parents do not have credentials.
"We're pretty excited about this," says Loren Mavromati, a homeschooling mother and president of the Hayward-based California Homeschool Network, which implored the judges on the court to reconsider their ruling. "They did pay attention; they listened, learned, read and re-evaluated their opinion," she says. "It does make you have faith in the justice system."
Schwarzenegger, who has been clear that he would fight for homeschooling, was pleased with the new ruling. "This is a victory for California's students, parents and education community," he said in a statement. "I hope the ruling settles this matter for parents and homeschooled children once and for all in California, but assures them that we, as elected officials, will continue to defend parents' rights."
Yet, this may not be the last California hears of homeschooling. In reviewing the case, Judge Croskey said that this cloudy territory is in desperate need of guidelines. "California impliedly allows parents to homeschool as a private school but has provided no enforcement mechanism. ... Given the state's compelling interest in educating all of its children ... and the absence of an express statutory and regulatory framework for homeschooling in California, additional clarity in this area of the law would be helpful," he said.
Rachel F. Moran, who teaches a course called "Education and the Law" at the University of California, Berkeley, says this series of rulings does indeed provoke some uneasy questions. Right now, all parents have to do is file paperwork stating they are a private school. No one checks in on the students to make sure they are logging in a certain number of hours or passing certain benchmarks. While homeschooling is a "wonderful alternative," Moran says, there is a need for checks and balances. "We want parents to have the freedom to homeschool, but we don't want children to become captives in a homeschool that doesn't prepare them for work or civic engagement as a functioning adult," she says.
In an ideal world, Moran adds, the state should implement a few safeguards. "Hopefully, a way to monitor progress rather than an adversarial reality will be an outgrowth of this decision," she says. For now, the parents of homeschoolers are happy to say that they are breathing a sigh of relief and don't anticipate any more regulations. "[This ruling] gives us a lot more confidence and a lot more sense of freedom," says Pam Sorooshian, an uncredentialed teacher of her three daughters in Las Alamitas, Calif. "We can get back to educating our children and not be distracted."