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Education Reporter

Homeschoolers Hassled in California
State Education Department reinterpreting law
Margaret Genova
Margaret Genova
SAN DIEGO COUNTY, CA - When Margaret Genova received letters from California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Easton and the San Diego County Office of Education this summer, she was shocked to learn that, after successfully homeschooling her children for more than 10 years, she is now considered to be "operating outside the law." The letters state that "'home-schooling' - a situation where non-credentialed parents teach their own children, exclusively, at home whether using a correspondence course or other types of courses - is not an authorized exemption from mandatory public school attendance." In other words, the California Department of Education is trying to convince parents that homeschooling is illegal unless the parent is a certified teacher or using a public school independent study curriculum.

California law has not changed, nor have Mrs. Genova's teaching methods. Her eldest son is a sophomore at Hillsdale College and a scholarship recipient. He attended community college for a year and was a straight-A student before he was accepted at Hillsdale. Her second son will complete his high school work early and is taking junior college courses along with his high school lessons. She expects similar results for her youngest son, but the six-year-old may not realize the advantage of solid home instruction if the state has its way.

California is one of 12 states where homeschools operate legally as private schools. For 20 years, homeschooling parents in California have complied with compulsory education laws by establishing a private school in their homes. They file an annual Private School Affidavit, which exempts their children from attending public schools. What has changed is how state education officials choose to interpret the law.

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the California Department of Education has been "quietly" grumbling about homeschoolers since 1993, arguing that the filing of Private School Affidavits does not exempt children from the law. However, the Department "has no authority to regulate private schools nor does it enforce truancy laws; that is left to local school districts."

Education officials claim that allowing homeschools to operate as private schools "is contrary to legislative intent." But HSLDA points out that nothing in the text of [statute] §48222 "expressly or by implication prohibits parents from establishing a private school exclusively for the instruction of their own children. 'Private school' is not defined anywhere in the statutes, nor are private schools limited or described in terms of number of students, location, size of facilities, or relationship of students to teachers." The only requirement in the law is that the "owners" or other heads of private schools file an affidavit with the Superintendent of Public Instruction attesting "under penalty of perjury" that certain facts about the private school are true.

The Genovas and more than 14,000 other California families have been doing that for years. Some county education departments and some officials at the state Department of Education are refusing to issue the affidavits, although the forms are available from HSLDA and other homeschool-friendly organizations. As of September 4, a new Private School Affidavit is available on the Department of Education website. It contains "the same misleading information about 'home-schooling' that has been propagated by the Department for the past 10 years or so," states HSLDA. The difference is that the education establishment has stepped up its rhetoric and become more aggressive in its efforts to portray homeschool-ing as illegal.

Many parents are fearful of the future. Margaret Genova reports that the state is disseminating homeschoolers' names and addresses to local public school districts and that the districts are contacting parents to push public "homeschool" curricula so that students can "meet state standards." The Genovas received a flyer from the Vista Unified School District in San Diego County touting the district's public "homeschool" program.

"They know who we are," Mrs. Genova says, "and some parents are already so afraid of either being arrested or losing their children or both that they're throwing in the towel." But the HSLDA, the Pacific Justice Institute, the Capitol Resource Institute and other legal and pro-family authorities say this action is premature. "There is nothing illegal about home-based private schools or non-credentialed parents teaching in such schools," notes Pacific Justice Institute attorney Roger Ho. "The Department of Education's antagonism toward home-schools is longstanding, and it appears that they are simply using [local offices of education] to scare parents into putting their children into the public schools."

The California Homeschool Network agrees. Its president, Karen Taylor, told WorldNetDaily that homeschool families should file affidavits as usual, and that the state has put out false information "to intimidate people not to homeschool."

Many observers believe the true motive is money. When a student is home-schooled, the California public school system loses as much as $6,000 per year. Others speculate that the recent urging by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and radio talk show host Laura Schlesinger that California parents remove their children from the public schools is the primary motivator. Homeschool defender Gary Kreep, president of the U.S. Justice Foundation in Escondido, told WorldNetDaily that some education officials don't like homeschoolers because they escape the public schools' indoctrination. "If you're not in public school you can't be indoctrinated to think a certain way," he observed.

Despite the urging of the Department of Education, California lawmakers introduced no legislation to change the laws affecting private "homeschooling" during the legislative session that ended August 31. Renewed attempts are expected when the new legislature convenes in December.

Meanwhile, homeschooling organizations are urging parents to resume business as usual, since virtually nothing has changed. The Genovas plan to do just that. "We must stand up for our children and for what we know is right," Margaret Genova asserts. "The bottom line is that, as parents, we have a fundamental right to direct the education of our children."

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