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Homeschool advocates are growing anxious over a recent state appellate court ruling that parents can’t homeschool their children without a valid state teaching credential. If upheld, the ruling could illegalize almost all homeschooling arrangements, homeschool advocates say.

Usually, parents who opt to homeschool don’t have a teaching credential, although some sign up for private, charter or school district-run programs that provide periodic guidance on curriculum, teaching methods and testing.

But the ruling’s scope — and whether it will be enforced — remain unclear. The Los Angeles Times reported on the case today:

The appellate court ruling stems from a case involving Lynwood parents Phillip and Mary Long, who were repeatedly referred to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services over various allegations, including claims of physical abuse, involving some of their eight children.

All of the children are currently or had been enrolled in Sunland Christian School, where they would occasionally take tests, but were educated in their home by their mother, Phillip Long said.

This private school arrangement is similar to the charter schools I wrote about earlier this week, which cater to homeschooled students by providing tests, counseling and elective classes to students who do most of their schoolwork at home.

The appellate panel ruled that Sunland officials’ occasional monitoring of the Longs’ home schooling — with the children taking some tests at the school — is insufficient to qualify as being enrolled in a private school. Since Mary Long does not have a teaching credential, the family is violating state laws, the ruling said.

“Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. “Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program.”

Curious how the ruling might impact the charter schools I wrote about, I called Cameron Curry, chief business officer of the Classical Academies in Escondido. Curry was underwhelmed by the ruling, saying it shouldn’t be applied broadly. He didn’t expect the ruling to impact his school.

“The case is about abuse and neglect of these children, and they didn’t fill out a private school affidavit,” Curry said, referring to a state document that many homeschoolers complete to withdraw from public schools. “The parents didn’t follow the rules to begin with.”

Others are less confident. Loren Mavromati, spokeswoman for the California Homeschool Network, said charters such as Classical could be at risk.

“This may fall within this court’s ruling,” Mavromati said, noting that many homeschool charters essentially treat parents as teachers aides who get guidance from the credentialed staff at the charter school. “If you can’t be a teachers aide at home unless you hold a credential — well, I’m not a lawyer, but they may be affected by it, too.”

EMILY ALPERT

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