GOP legislators hold off on home-schooling legislation

Several conservative groups are discussing a possible recall of a California appellate court judge who issued a ruling that could place significant restrictions on home schooling. But the two Republican legislators most closely associated with the cause say they won't sponsor any bills on the subject until a legal challenge works its way through the courts.

The decision by the state's Second District Court of Appeal came out of a dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood. The department had accused the couple of abuse and neglect involving at least two of their eight children. In an event few in the home-schooling movement saw coming, the court ruled that home-schooled students must be taught by teachers certified by the state.

The conservative Pacific Justice Institute got involved Friday, when the Longs filed a petition to have the case reheard. The institute filed a motion in support of the rehearing, as well as a separate motion to intervene in the case. Matthew McReynolds, a staff attorney with the institute, said there are an estimated 160,000 to 200,000 home-schooled children in California.

"You've issued something that affects all of those people without them having had an opportunity to defend themselves," McReynolds said. "That's fundamentally at odds with our justice system. They need to be heard." Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, spoke at the institute's news conference and has home-schooled some of his six children at various times. But reached by phone, he said he wanted to wait and see what happened with the court case before he would consider carrying legislation to protect home schooling.

"The current environment for home schooling is a good one," Gaines said. "We'd just as soon let this work its way through the courts and see what the result is without changing anything dramatically."

Gaines said the case was particularly troubling because it wasn't really about home schooling. Rather, he characterized it as a "child welfare" case that had gotten out of control. The Longs had enrolled at least two of their children in an independent study program at the Sunland Christian School, a home-schooling program in Sylmar, in Los Angeles County. The school checked in on the children's progress four times a year, but the Longs themselves handled their schooling. The judge ordered that the children, ages 7 and 9, be enrolled full-time in public schools, ruling that the Longs had "no constitutional right" to home-school their children.

On March 10, Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, introduced a resolution in support of home schooling. ACR115 "would acknowledge the long and rich history of private home schooling in California and call upon the California Supreme Court to reverse the opinion." Anderson's chief of staff, Mike Spence, said that every Republican in the Assembly has signed on as a co-author, as well as a pair of Democrats: Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, and Jim Beall, D-San Jose. Anderson will also wait to see what happens with the legal challenge.

"We really haven't contemplated what type of legislation would be needed if something went really wrong," Spence said.

Spence and the institute's McReynolds both they had been in contact with people who want to start a recall campaign against the judge in the case, Justice H. Walter Croskey, but they were unlikely to take part.

"That's not the kind of thing we would be involved in," McReynolds said. "That would have to be a totally grassroots type of thing."

The institute is also circulating a petition to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling on him to support home-schoolers. As of Wednesday afternoon, 5,854 had signed on.

At least one board member of the California Teachers Association has spoken out in favor of the appellate court ruling. This could put the union on a collision course with Superintendant of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. Last week, O'Connell issued a statement seeking to reassure parents of home-schooled children that his agency's policies toward home-schoolers would not change. While he said he hoped most parents would choose public schools, he added that "the traditional public schools may not be the best fit for every student."

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