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Was the California homeschool ruling ridiculous, or justified?

By Alice Bradley

A California appellate judge ruled that according to state law, homeschooling is illegal. Californian homeschoolers everywhere are surprised to hear that they’ve been flouting the law since the 1950s, but that, at least according to Judge H. Walter Croskey, is the case. Needless to say, this news is unnerving to homeschoolers in California—as well as the rest of the country’s homeschooling community, who fear that some kind of weird precedent is being set.
The news began with a single case of alleged child abuse. At least one of the eight children of Philip and Mary Long, residents of Los Angeles, filed an abuse complaint with the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. (I read elsewhere that two or more of their children claimed emotional and physical abuse by the father, but I’m not 100% on those sources.) DCFS found out that the kids were being homeschooled by their mother, who apparently does not have even a high school diploma, and was not able to educate her children at the appropriate level. So DCFS asked the courts to rule that the children must be enrolled in a public or private school. After the lower court denied the ruling, the case was appealed.
And thus it found its way to Judge Croskey, in appellate court. Judge Croskey took a close look at state law, and found that, by law, parents have to enroll their kids in a school or be state-credentialed teachers themselves. So in his finding, he took an isolated claim of abuse and turned it into a sweeping condemnation of homeschoolers. That’s the most galling part in all this: that instead of focusing on what’s best for this family, the judge has used the case to bring down an entire institution. And for what purpose? Forcing school on families won’t necessarily protect children. As Leslie Buchanan, president of the HomeSchool Association of California, states, “Public schools are not a solution to the problem of child abuse.” Certainly abused children can be found in every demographic and in any kind of educational set-up. I’m sure there are many cases of abuse where the child was a public-school student. Abusers have a way of isolating even the kids who aren’t kept at home to learn.
Most of all, I feel pity for Judge Croskey. You poor man. Of all the people to take on, you had to choose homeschoolers. Around 200,000 children are currently homeschooled in California. That means there are many many homeschooling parents angry with you right now, Judge Closkey, and you are making the wrong people mad. These parents have powers you couldn’t even fathom. Most average humans can’t teach their kids to operate a zipper, and these people are preparing their kids for college. The average parent falls to pieces at the end of a long weekend with the kids, yet these homeschooling super-beings have the intestinal fortitude to spend all day, every day with their (often numerous) children. And they’re organized. They have, like, associations, and leagues, and whatnot. Think they won’t start a letter-writing campaign? That’s their idea of recreation. You messed with the wrong people.
And don’t get me started on those homeschooled kids. You think the parents are trouble? The kids, they’re self-motivated. And they will get you. They will make the biggest marshmallow catapult you could imagine, and launch it right at your office. They will construct a Rube Goldberg device that can boil noodles, overturn your court decision, and give you an unflattering haircut before you even know what hit you. They will compose devastating Spenserian sonnets about your nonsensical ruling. Then they will construct a new court made entirely of popsicle sticks! And, hmm, insert another thing here that I imagine homeschoolers do!
So what’s next for California homeschoolers? With Schwarzenegger denouncing the decision and most state officials echoing his sentiments, the ruling seems unlikely to hold up. And even if it isn’t overturned, how are they going to regulate it? Who’s going to check on those hundreds of thousands of parents whose kids are being taught at home? Will they need to hire thousands of truant officers to deal with the logistical nightmare this decision seems to propose?
As always, your thoughts on this ruling, whether or not you’re a homeschooler, are welcome.

Published March 14, 2008. Last updated March 14, 2008.
Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Lisa T

    March 14, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    i would suggest everyone with an interest in this subject take the time to: (1) read the opinion (which can be found on-line if you google some combination of “in re rachel l” “judge croskey” and “homeschooling”), and (2) read the analysis of the opinion written by deborah stevenson with the national home education legal defense [nheld]). the opinion does not criminalize homeschooling; nor does it call for the imposition of regulations that do not already exist: california regulates the education of the children living within its borders already, including those who are homeschooled. the legal question (“am i, the parent, able to select, without any interference at all, the type of education my child receives, and from whom that education is received?”) has already been answered in the negative, by statute (specifically california education code section 48222) and by the u.s. supreme court.
    as ms. stevenson points out in her article, judge croskey’s opinion is binding only on the parties to the matter in front of him; and, in fact, what his opinion did was to send the matter back to the trial court for further review. specifically, if the parents of the kids in question could prove to the trial court that they were compliant with state law, they could continue to educate their children at home.
    homeschooling is a great option for many people. those who homeschool have a responsibility, however, to understand the legal system within which they choose to operate. that understanding has to include familiarity with the laws that govern (and that have governed, for decades) the manner in which we californians educate our children.

  • Marnie

    March 14, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    I do think the judgment was far too strict, not to mention a little on the ridiculous side. I know plenty of bright parents who don’t have teaching credentials but homeschool their very bright children who amaze me with their abilities.
    That said, quick story: My SIL, who dropped out of high school but got her GED, planned to homeschool her daughter because she “just couldn’t stand to spend any time away from my precious little girl.” (Warning sign #1) She was *outraged* that the stated required proof that she had graduated from HS or had her GED (warning sign #2). She got the approval, but bailed at the last minute when she realized that she had to submit a full curriculum plan, which she called a stupid thing to have to do (warning sign #3).
    I do think there should be requirements for homeschooling that are strictly adhered to. Those things should be a far better measure of whether a parent is qualified than simply having teaching credentials. I know plenty of credentialed teachers who shouldn’t be in a classroom.

  • chelle

    March 14, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Yeah, I can’t feel completely outraged at this. It does stand a test of reason that those teaching children, at home or at school, should be held to some level of credentials.

  • SuburbanCorrespondent

    March 14, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Lisa is correct – the family in question hadn’t followed the rules to be legal homeschoolers in the state of CA. California does not allow homeschooling, per se; it allows public, private, and umbrella schools. Generally, homeschoolers register their homes as private schools (this is legal in CA) in order to homeschool. Others, however, choose to go with an umbrella school (this is what the family in question did); but then they have to follow the educational requirements of that school (which this family did not do). Hence, the judge’s ruling that the children be returned to the public system.
    It is funny, though, how all those poorly socialized homeschoolers are able to organize so well, isn’t it? You’d think we would all be too busy being locked in our basements awaiting the apocalypse (all the while memorizing gerund and participial phrases) to be able to menace our lawmakers with such efficiency.
    Gotta go look up those instructions for the marshmallow catapult – sounds like a great physics experiment!

  • L

    March 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Before schooling was made compulsory, beginning in Massachusetts in 1852, most students were tutored or self-taught. There was no certification or regulation required for teachers. How well did they do? Here’s a partial list of some of the students:
    For a broad look at the educational system in the U.S., take a look at John Taylor Gatto’s magnum opus, The Underground History of American Education (available free online):
    Does anyone still remember, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

  • Fairly Odd Mother

    March 14, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    I can’t wait to see that Spenserian sonnet made into a music video and put onto YouTube. . .

  • MyTwoCents

    March 15, 2008 at 3:22 am

    Well, I am torn about this subject. I mean on the one hand, parents teach their kids how to walk, talk, dress, eat, and so on regardless of their credentials. But let’s face it, those are pretty easy, basic things to teach kids. As they get older, they need to learn more complex things and how do parents teach these things unless they know about them? I mean, it is kind of hard to believe that a mom that never even took chemistry can just get a book on it and start teaching her kid. Or that someone that has not written anything more than a grocery list the past 15 years can teach grammar.
    But wait, that is exactly what a lot of these homeschool parents say they do!! They learn right along with their kids and they get books on all kinds of subjects and just dig in together in learning. And they even say they re-discover their love of painting or writing or history as they see it through the new eyes of their children. I have heard homeschool moms say they have found teaching resources in the most unique of places – from the salesman at the local hardware store explaining how to build science experiments at home to the postman who can identify all the plants in the front yard. And their kids get to learn from many teachers in their community, in many formats.
    Of course, there are those that homeschool only for religious reasons or to protect their kids from the real world. But wait, what “real world” stuff are their kids really missing out on? Crime, sexualization at an early age, exposure to drugs? And even the less extreme troubles of cliques and bullies. As for religious reasons, the First Amendment rights we all share include freedom of religion and that’s what make the US so unique in the world.
    When I look out over the vast variety of kids and their experiences in public school, I see there is no “one size fits all” and yet so often, kids end up being treated that way by the very nature of institutionalized teaching. And there are many social ills perpetuated in schools. Yet no one suggests that we close all the public schools because of this.
    So why is homeschooling any different? Sure, there are some parents that aren’t doing the greatest job or not even a fair job of it. Maybe a few kids are too isolated or not getting as much education as they could. Shouldn’t those be treated as individual cases when you consider the vast number of homeschooled kids that are successful and productive and well educated? We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water!
    Just my opinion, of course. Oh wait, sort of like the judge!! : )

  • BC

    March 15, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    The codes surrounding PRIVATE education in CA are not the same as those for private or home education in other states. There are some out-of-state folks who feel that this does not have a possibility of affecting all families in CA. The reality is quite different. Because this ruling was _published_ it can be used as precedent against any other family in CA. And what happens in CA is all too often used to influence what happens in other states.
    Independent homeschoolers in CA create their own PRIVATE schools and follow the SAME codes as any other PRIVATE school in CA.
    There is also the option the Long family chose. Families may choose to enroll their children in an independent study program thru a PRVATE school which offers that option. The parent teaches the children at home under the oversight of that PRIVATE school. A PRIVATE school teacher does NOT need to be credentialled — the code reads “capable of teaching”. Many teachers in site-based private schools are NOT credentialed — PRIVATE schools must determine their own requirements and what they determine to be ‘capable of teaching.
    And then some families choose to utilize the ISP option of their local PUBLIC school district or a Charter school (Charter schools are PUBLIC schools in CA). THese programs operate very much like PRIVATE ISPs — the parents do the teaching under the oversight of the school. Some schools dictate exactly what curriculum, resources, methods must be use; most are more flexible. These programs assign an “Educational Specialist” (ES) to the family who vists/evaluates the family regularly (every 20 days seems to be most common).
    “Home Schooling” is not directly addressed in CA law — this is actually considered to be a positive thing because that has given families in CA who wish to educate their children in a home-based situation many options. However, there are indications within some of the codes that the intent of the legislature is that parents should be able to choose the educational option that is best for their own children, including ‘home schooling. A couple of those indications include an exemption from fingerprinting/criminal check for parents/grandparents working only with their own children/grandchildren, and no requirements as to size or location or composition of a PRIVATE school.
    Most home schooling organizations within CA do NOT want “home schooling” defined in law — reality is that any definition would not encompass ALL the various options and freedoms we currently have to educate our own children at home.
    For current information, you can look on the websites of the organizations serving homeschooling families in CA:
    CHN, HSC, CHEA & HSLDA are consulting and working together to ensure that this insane ruling does not adversely affect families in CA.

  • kat

    March 15, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    of course there will always be parents who should not be in charge of their children’s education, but that number is minute! that tiny portion of the homeschool community pales further in comparison to the number of people in the world who should not be allowed to raise children at all. think how often you see people with their kids & say “wow they should not be allowed to breed.” why should the homeschool community be any different?
    the average homeschool parent, is not an average person. they have a love of learning, & believe that learning should not end (nor begin) with ‘school.’ they either already have the necessary knowledge to pass on that learning, or they know how to aquire it as needed. they also believe so strongly in this, that they sacrifice much to bring this about. (gone are the days when the majority homeschool for religious reasons.)
    most children in the usa are in public schools. if having a credentialled teacher is the key to a great education, then why are the majority of americans not well-educated? why do we hear time & again how the schools are failing our children?
    i’m sure many will be able to list reasons they feel the students are not living up to their full potential, but it boils down to this… a credential does not stop this from happening.
    a dedicated, passionate, resourceful parent, (with access to a library, the internet, & a support group,) can, & is stopping it… in his/her own children.
    a person needs neither degree nor diploma to give a child an amazing education. it has been my experience that people who place great import on degrees in general either have none, & are convinced that those who do must be brilliant. or have them, & are convinced those who don’t are idiots. both viewpoints are extreme, & ridiculous, but there you have it.
    those who believe strongly in the need for credentials, think seriously… should your child decide he wants to learn about astronomy, do you really think you need to first take a college course, before you set about teaching him? or could you perhaps together read some books, watch a few documentaries, head over to the observatory, & sit out some nights to gaze at the sky? if you honestly don’t think you are capable of that; even at a higer level of learning; then i don’t think you are capable of deciding what i need to do/have in order to teach my child.
    (i would like to point out that teachers in california private schools need no credentials. the individual schools determine whether or not a teacher is qualified when they hire him/her.)

  • Ken

    March 16, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    As long as it is only binding on the case at hand, that is not quite as bad. Unfortunately it will probably be used as precedent not only in California, but across the country. From a public policy perspective, I don’t care if the kids were being beaten within an inch of their lives and only being taught to count backwards in Swahili. Focusing on the particular case is the only way to control that.
    In terms of the codes and regulations, I disagree with Chelle about it making sense that the parents have some level of credentials (particularly the specific teaching credentials required in California!). I also think that submitting a curriculum plan is silly. Homeschooling is fundamentally different than classroom education. Kids learn about math not only from books and sit down sessions, but from helping to balance the checkbook and going with Mom to the bank. The point is that to teach the puppies, you surround them with dogs instead of all other puppies within 18 months of their own age.
    What *would* make sense is testing every so often to see if the kids are learning what they need to learn. Even there, there should be flexibility – if the parents take a year off from math to focus on geography and civics because that’s what their child’s interests and learning style dictate, that should be fine. A test result that showed advanced levels of X combined with a lower level of Y shouldn’t raise eyebrows. Besides, often homeschoolers emerge with one really significant deficit: test taking skills (especially under time pressure).
    As for the social stuff, I know a ton of homeschooled kids and adults (because I married one), and that’s rarely a problem. Even when it is, it isn’t some grand-scale socialization problem, but rather that they don’t necessarily get along well with kids their own age, because they can’t relate to all the drama, cliques, backstabbing, and striving to be cool in self-destructive ways. With the world at large (adults and younger children) they usually are leaps and bounds ahead of their peers, because that’s who they have been dealing with for their whole life. They tend to be very at ease with authority figures, in interviews, situations like that. With time, they usually socialize fine at the college level.

  • Lisa T

    March 17, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    “legal precedent” is a term of art that has a very specific meaning in the practice of law. the rachel l decision is a california state appellate court decision: that means it only has precedential value to other california state courts, and only insofar as the facts/law in other cases line up with the facts/law before judge croskey. the decision, though published, has no precedential value (as that term is understood by courts/attorneys) outside of california.
    commenters have expressed concern that judge croskey’s opinion could be used, somehow, outside of california. legislatively, california does have a tendency to lead the nation: we try out envelope-pushing laws here, and other states (sometimes) follow suit. it doesn’t work that way with state courts. each state’s courts are bound by the decisions of the appellate/supreme courts operating in that state (i.e., california state courts are bound by the decisions of california state appellate courts and the california supreme court). while a state court may examine decisions reached by other state courts for guidance on particularly novel issues, they are not bound to act in any particular way by out-of-state decisions.
    if it makes anyone feel any better, if you read judge croskey’s opinion, there is absolutely no language in the opinion that could in any way be interpreted as an attack on homeschooling, as a wholesale condemnation of homeschooling, or as a questioning of the value of homeschooling as a concept. it’s a very dry, matter-of-fact, straightforward analysis of statutes already on the books, and prior supreme court rulings. it’s just honestly not the document it’s being represented to be.
    (and if anyone’s wondering why i’m writing this stuff, it’s because in seventeen years of practicing law, i have yet to see an accurate description of the contents of any appellate court opinion described accurately in the media. it’s enormously frustrating.)

  • SuburbanCorrespondent

    March 18, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    You know, maybe the problem with homeschooling parents is that they are so darned inarticulate.
    Ha. Joke. Don’t catapult a marshmallow at me.

  • Marla Janssen

    March 19, 2008 at 12:36 am

    All I can say is that the best public schools are often unsafe and filled with negative behaviors. If public schools were the answer, we wouldn’t have a growing crime rate, in-school fighting, making-out, teen pregnancy, drug use, smoking, and on and on. *I know as homeschooling parents, you can add a lot of other behaviors onto this thought.

  • Ally

    March 19, 2008 at 9:09 am

    As a social work student, I feel I should mention that if you are enrolled in public school, that means you’re surrounded by mandated reporters of abuse, who, if they’re smart enough, will be able to tell that little Jimmy’s black eye, broken arm, and two cracked ribs were not, as he describes, caused by falling off of his bike. So you’re likely to be a bit safer abuse-wise if you’re enrolled in an actual school.
    However, my friends who used to go to private school in California but then moved to Pennsylvania and enrolled in public school have informed me that the California public school system sucks. So I could go either way on this.
    I do think that parents who homeschool their children should at least get a homeschool teaching certificate or something, though, so that the state can verify that they’re qualified. But who am I to judge?

  • norm

    March 19, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Wellllllll … I don’t know.
    There’s a subset of homeschoolers (how big? I don’t know, but they are vocal and obvious) who are using homeschooling to teach religion (fine), racism, superstition, sexism, and intolerance (bad) because the public schools no longer provide said services.
    Should those people be encouraged? NO. Should responsible homeschoolers be encouraged? SURE. I don’t think this ruling will make precedent, though.

  • Sunniemom

    March 20, 2008 at 10:06 am

    ROFL! Very good!
    I am thinking of founding a secret society called Subversive Home Educators for World Domination. Anyone care to join? To pass initiation you must launch an educrat into space with nothing more than dry ice and a jar of peanut butter. :p
    In our society it seems intuitive to license and certify and credential to ensure quality and safety, but the evidence does not support this. Ditto the idea that oversight prevents or catches abuse. Most abuse takes place before a child is school-aged, and there is obviously abuse in schools by school officials and staff as well.
    Where there is vulnerability, there are predators. Period.

  • Trish

    March 28, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    According to ESEA (The Elementary and Secondary Education Act Section 9506 b, c, and d) the federal government feels home school is legal “whether or not a home school is treated as a home school or a private school under state law” (section b)* home schooled defined
    In California there are actually a few ways to home school(private tutor, Through ISP via private or public schools, through the Charters, “Underground”, or Being a private school)the last mentioned,through a Private School Affidavit, is really an underdog if that 200,000 number is correct. Over the years as a volunteer in book and curriculum set up and distribution for home educators I think I have seen at least double that in “Underground” homeschoolers.
    This state is just too broke to afford to teach the children they have enrolled now, considering they are handing out pink slips to some of the greatest public educators I have ever met here in NOR-CAL.
    Can you imagine the nightmare this one Judge will create for our already strapped state to get 200,000 to 600,000 students to some sort of bought and paid for accredidated schools?
    The man power to just find them, the influx of cases to an already burdened court system as they fight what ever charges may be laid upon us, hiring back those just handed pink slips plus more new ones to deal with this new student body, the court cases over 1st amendment rights of not having to sit through classes such as sex ed that promotes homosexuality, various current incompatable theories in the trends of evolutionary thinking, and what ever other philosophies of men parents may find remotely objectionable, AND the fact that many of us are already looking into leaving the state completely
    (When the IND. truckers did this we lost a tidy sum in cash flow into the state- The possible loss of 200,000- 600,000 thousand families who must have a desent cash flow themselves to afford schooling their kids at home is a pretty big tax base to loose if you ask me. Another mention on the fact that homeschoolers take their kids to more landmarks, museums, community functions and events that stimulate the economy- Makes you go Hmmmmmmm?)
    I am all for states rights, Don’t get me wrong, But All of the states agreed to be united and under Feds and the FEDs seem to understand the history of Education has always fallen to parents first and it is their choice on furthering higher education. Our Governor and the current State Super. seems to get that also-
    I do not see this state or many of the others economically able to handle an influx of actual students currently being educated at home, let alone handling all the law suites from the free thinking and Christian groups that are already pretty powerful lobbies- obviously Mr. Croskey and those like him have not thought this through as completely as humanly possible on long term problems or the actual virtues of butting out with the ruling and regulating of parents to death.

  • blog nerd

    March 30, 2008 at 8:17 am

    What purpose does this ruling serve?
    “Credentialing” is a business just like anything else–there is money to be made in testing, test preparation, and certainly degree programs of all types. Where does the money go? To the state, natch. And like most forms of social governance it inflates the power of the state at the expense of the individual, or in this case, the individual family.
    When it comes to homeschooling, credentialing is an invasion of the state into the private home. The only appropriate measure in this case would be some form of testing, not of the parents but of the students.
    My guess is your average homeschooled student will beat the public school kid hands down in any state issued standardized test.
    They won’t do THIS of course. How embarrassing would this be for the public schools?
    No, far better to interfere in private homes and disempower parents over their own children than to discover that the American public school system is a complete an utter failure.
    Ooo and what would happen if these families, along with private schooled families were offered vouchers? Can’t have that. We have a whole department of education that would fail. Then my buddy who runs the department would be out of a job.
    No. It’s much easier just to strip people of their rights. Civil liberties are too much hassle. Plus, how would we justify overtaxing them if we could no longer cry “But the SCHOOLS! The CHILDREN!”
    Prepare yourself, people. The Nanny State is here.

  • Susie

    March 30, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    I have a friend who works for the school district up in Tehachapi. She’s a credentialed teacher and her job is to oversee about 70 families who homeschool in that district.
    I was shocked when she told me that there is no minimum educational requirement, no test, no proof that someone is qualified to homeschool. They only have to teach the required material.
    However, this teaching is hard to do when you don’t know what a consonant is, as one of the parents who is home schooling their children complained about, specifically “how am I supposed to teach her what a consonant is if I don’t know”.
    What she finds is that a lot of these people who are homeschooling for religious reasons are completely unprepared to teach the curriculum.
    This concerns me because if children are not taught to read and write and think critically they will have hard time.
    How can you teach someone to read if you don’t know how to yourself?

  • Lipstik

    May 26, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I love what you put about homeschoolers and their parents. So true! I’m homeschooled (looking up the debate of homeschholers vs. CA for a research paper) and I bet, witha group of my friend, we could probably do everything you listed there. And don’t get me started about our parents. You are so right when you say they’re organized. Geez, it’s almost scary! But yeah, not ALL stereotypes of homeschoolers are correct, but most of thm actually are. Like, I’ve met many a homeschooler with a khaki jumper somewhere in their closet. Plus, most of my friends don’t have boyfriends, and the ones that do, the relationship consits of phone calls ’til 3 am and the occasional hand-holding session, although the latter is rare. =]
    Anyway, great article!