National Catholic Register


Home Safe?

Home Schoolers Ponder Court Ruling



March 23-29, 2008 Issue | Posted 3/18/08 at 1:54 PM


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The recent California court ruling that home-schooling parents need a teaching credential sent shockwaves throughout the home-schooling community.

The case involved a home-schooling family of eight children, one of whom accused the father of being physically abusive. But the decision, issued Feb. 28 by a California appellate court, applies throughout the state and has reverberated throughout the nation.

As of 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 1.1 million children in America were home schooled. That’s about 2.2% of students. Although there has never been any formal survey, the Round Table of Catholic Home School Leaders estimated in 1994 that approximately 1% of all home school families in the United States are Catholic.

Catholic home schoolers keep their kids at home for a variety of reasons, especially concerns about their child’s safety, social indoctrination in public schools and declining orthodoxy in Catholic schools. Parents with such concerns are likely upset by the court’s ruling, but home schooling leaders are facing the decision with surprising calm.

Mary Kay Clark is the director of Seton Home Study School, the largest Catholic home school service in the United States, based in Front Royal, Va. She is confident that the court’s decision is temporary.

“It’s misguided, it’s unfortunate and it doesn’t hold any water. Home schooling is legal in California according to state law,” she said. “Even the California school system actually has charter schools where home schoolers come in once a week. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that parents have the right to teach their own kids. There’s just no way that this ruling is going to affect home schooling.”

Clark said that public sentiment supports home schooling, as well.

“There are more than 100,000 people home schooling in California,” she said.

The Home School Legal Defense Association has asked people to sign a petition over the Internet to ‘de-publish’ the ruling, which would mean that it would apply only to the case at hand, and not to everyone else who is home schooling. And it was a very narrow case. Within a few hours they had more than 50,000 signatures.

“It’s going to go nowhere because there’s too much going against it. It would be laughable if it didn’t make people worry,” she continued. “But anybody with a law degree or a legal background can see right away that it doesn’t hold water. Even the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, issued a public statement saying that parents had a right to educate their children and if the courts don’t fix this ruling, the legislators will. In fact, I suspect that they are going to move on it very quickly because there has been such an uprising.”

Law or Order

And she was right. On March 11, State Assemblyman Joel Anderson introduced ACR 115, a resolution denouncing the appeals court decision.

Yet J. Michael Smith, an attorney and president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, isn’t too excited at the idea of a legislative solution.

“We have got to win this case, get it reversed, do whatever we can, but stay away from the Legislature,” he said. “I am not confident that we can get anything good out of them.”

Smith fears that legislative solutions will result in incremental encroachments on the rights of parents.

“There are a few people out there, usually people with a lot of education and think they know a lot, that would like to see home schooling much more regulated,” Smith said. “They recognized that the horse is out of the barn. All the surveys show that home schooled students are scoring 20 to 30 percentile points above the public school kids and doing well in college. Sixty percent to 70% of their parents are college educated. It’s gone too far to try to stop it.

“But what they would like to do is regulate it. And by regulating it, it’s my concern that they will stop it. The genius of home education is individualized instruction, being able to fit the academic schedule and day schedule around one child. That child gets an individualized program. So when they start telling us how many hours and what courses and, ‘Oh, by the way, we want you to be tested,’ every few months or every school year — that’s a problem.”

The concern about standardized testing is rooted in the “social engineering” curriculum that home school parents wish to avoid.

“There was recently a bill introduced in Tennessee that would require home school students to take the same exit exams that public school students take,” Smith said. “Those exams are like the ‘No Child Left Behind’ exams. They are over a specific body of curriculum. They are criteria-referenced. We are seeing some of that, and some statements that ‘Well, this home schooling may be okay, but we don’t know that all the parents are doing a good job.’ We also hear, ‘They may be doing well academically, but there’s more to school than academics, and they need to be exposed to things other than what their parents are teaching.’ That’s all out there.”

Loyalty to the State

Christopher Ferrara is the president of the American Catholic Lawyer’s Association. His view of the decision is considerably grimmer than Clark’s or Smith’s.

“The court’s stated rationale is chilling in its implications,” Ferrara said. “As the decision states: ‘California courts have held that ... parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children. ... A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.’ 

“Here the Court confirms that the public educational system is designed to indoctrinate children in ‘loyalty to the state’ — which, in California, means loyalty to its far-left, gender-bending campaign to destroy all semblance of adherence to Christian morality.”

Ferrara believes the worst may yet be in store for Catholic home schoolers.

“This is a battle of religions: the religion of believing Christians vs. the religion of the modern state, whose super-dogma is toleration,” he said. “Catholic families are facing a threat to their very existence as islands of isolation from the civic religion of liberalism, of which the public schools are temples.”

Mother of Divine Grace Home School operates from Ojai, Calif. Its founder and director, Laura Berquist, is not worried. But she isn’t very happy about the ruling, either.

“It’s a very bad decision, and I pray that it’s not going to have much of an effect,” she said. “If Home School Legal Defense is right, the best way to go is to de-publish the ruling.”

Berquist fears that there is a trend afoot to stop home schooling.

“The Nebraska Legislature tried to pass a bill requiring that state standardized tests be given to all homeschoolers,” she said. “There were also suggestions that they should have teacher credentialing.”

Berquist was referring to L.B. 1141, a bill that would have brought home schoolers under the discretionary authority of the state’s Commissioner of Education. The bill never made it out of committee.

While Berquist is aware of parental fears, she thinks most of them have been allayed by the vigilance of organizations like Home School Legal Defense.

“They have told us that the judge can’t make law, or change law,” she said. “All he can do is interpret law, and this interpretation seems overly broad. We’re really in no different situation legally than we were prior to this.”

Robert Kumpel writes from

Valdosta, Georgia.