SAN DIEGO — When a California court Aug. 8 reversed its own decision regulating home schooling, a lot of parents breathed a sigh of relief.

“Initially, there was some concern, and I actually took the trouble to read the original decision,” said San Diego resident Dean Gipson.

He was referring to the Feb. 28 ruling of California’s 2nd District Court that only credentialed teachers could educate their children at home.

“We were probably more concerned because most of our friends are former teachers who are either credentialed or could easily renew their credentials,” Gipson said. He said his wife, Lisa, was not a teacher. “In that sense, there was some concern. It was a relief that the court showed some levelheadedness.”

The Gipsons are Catholics who home school their five school-age children. A sixth child was born the day Gipson spoke to the Register.

California has some 166,000 home-schooled students.

The Aug. 8 ruling will not likely end the controversies that surround home schooling, but it does reassure California’s parents that they have that right.

Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in his ruling, “California statutes permit home schooling as a species of private school education; and the statutory permission to home school may constitutionally be overridden in order to protect the safety of a child who has been declared dependent.” That last statement serves as a reminder of the original case that resulted in the ruling that was reversed. Attorneys for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services sought to have the younger siblings in a home-schooling family of eight enrolled in a public school after their older sister accused their father of being physically abusive.

Was this a case of activist judges reaching beyond the scope of their case?

Jim Owens, an attorney with the Los Angeles County Counsel’s office who handles child abuse and neglect cases, said the original ruling requiring credentials for home-schooling parents was not what the case was about or what they were seeking.

“That’s really not our issue,” Owens said. “It may be the school district’s issue, but not ours. Under California law and many other states, schoolteachers and school employees are mandated reporters of suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. If injury occurs, presumably, they’ll tell a social worker. That’s where we were coming from. But initially, the court of appeals looked at the statutes and said, ‘Well, we don’t have to get to that because we think that home schooling as they’re doing it is illegal in California.’ It was not what anybody asked for. When they published the decision, various home-schooling groups got involved and asked the court to reconsider it, which they did.”

Twenty-four organizations filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in the appeal, including the Pacific Justice Institute. Its president, Brad Dacus, said that by reversing its previous decision, the court “makes clearer than ever the rights of home-schoolers in California.”

“On numerous occasions, we at the Pacific Justice Institute have had to fight school districts and social workers who have threatened home-schoolers, alleging that what they were doing was illegal.”

While happy about the decision, Dacus takes nothing for granted.

“Until the state Supreme Court decides otherwise, parents who are not credentialed teachers have the right to home school their children as long as they meet the minor restrictions required by law. I would imagine that the California Teacher’s Association [CTA] is strategizing right now on how they are going to overcome this decision. They would like nothing more than to force these students back into their public school system.”

Teachers’ Union

According to conventional wisdom, teachers’ unions like the CTA are seen as the mortal enemies of home schooling; however, CTA spokesman Dina Martin showed little interest in the ruling.

“This is really not our issue,” she said. “We submitted an amicus brief, because the court asked us to, but really, it’s not our issue, at least it’s not the most important issue for us. It never has been. As a matter of policy, we believe that people who are home schooling should be credentialed, but it’s not our role to do that — it’s the Department of Education that enforced that in the past.”

Meanwhile, Gipson found it curious that the court reversal didn’t get as much attention as the original decision.

“What I find interesting is that when the first ruling was issued, it was all over the papers, but when it was reversed a few days ago, it was buried on the fourth page of the local paper,” he said. “When the first ruling came, the guys at work all said to me, ‘Whoa, what are you going to do?’ But when I talked to them about it this last week, none of them knew that it had been reversed. It just goes to show how the media blows certain things out of proportion.”

Robert Kumpel is based in

Valdosta, Georgia.