A Power Struggle in Homeschool Case

Washington Times reporter Cheryl Wetzstein wrote — on Thursday’s front page, not in the Op/Ed section of the paper — that at the heart of the recent Calif. Court of Appeals ruling outlawing homeschooling in In re: Rachel L. was abuse and neglect in the Long family, not homeschooling per se.

What Wetzstein failed to consider is the wording of the ruling itself.

Minor detail. The ruling begins by stating clearly: “In this dependency case, we consider the question whether parents can legally ‘home school’ their children.” And on page after page, the ruling cites cases (especially State v. Hoyt and Turner v. People of the State of California) involving the courts saying the state did not allow homeschooling. The document hardly mentions neglect or abuse in general, and when it briefly speaks of the family in the case at hand, it is mostly to sum up their homeschooling practice and compare how it measures up to the state education standards.

The ruling just grasps as much power as it can. As I wrote last month, the ruling cites People v. Turner: “[h]ome education, regardless of its worth, is not the legal equivalent of attendance in school in the absence of instruction by qualified private tutors.” This amounts to a court statement that “whether one form of schooling works or not, or whether it’s better or not, we don’t care. We just want our hand in it.”

The court should have stuck to the individual basis of the case — as conservative groups decrying the ruling have been saying all along. For example: Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, said “The case before them involved one couple — the ruling should have been confined to that one couple, not used to punish an entire class of people, the vast majority of them religious conservatives.”

Even Wetzstein’s point that the case would not affect California’s other homeschoolers gives away the intent behind the court’s decision: “State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said the state would not enforce the ruling on the state’s estimated 166,000 home-schooled children.” (Emphasis added.) One of the justices’ comments on the ruling, saying that parents should be charged as criminals for homeschooling their children, makes it obvious the ruling would have an effect on all homeschoolers if the state chose to enforce it.

Wetzstein is correct that the case began as an abuse and neglect case. As she wrote, the case involved parents who are accused of being domineering, neglecting the children allowing sexual molestation by a family friend, and using homeschooling as a façade for keeping the children dominated at home.

The case was one of neglect and abuse. There are laws already in place — and generally well-enforced — to deal with those crimes. Wetzstein pointed out the court decided the “homeschooling” taking place in the Long household was a sham. Again, if true, there are already laws in place to take care of that situation, on an individual basis. But the court didn’t opt to use them. Instead, its ruling was yet another sweeping case of unconstitutional legislation from the bench. Just read the ruling. It very clearly focuses on homeschooling in general as being unconstitutional.

It is a good sign that the court has agreed to re-hear the case. Perhaps instead of focusing on how the state can get more socialistic control over children, the law will be applied as intended this time — keeping the government’s meddling hands out of families and parental rights and focusing on an individual case of alleged sexual abuse and neglect.