A month after ruling homeschooling illegal in California, the 2nd District Court of Appeals has approved a petition for a rehearing, an action that effectively vacates the previous decision that sparked national outrage.
"Parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children," Justice H. Walter Croskey, 75, wrote in a Feb. 28 ruling in Re: Rachel L. The case involves the Long Family of Los Angeles, whose eight children were homeschooled by their mother and were enrolled in Sunland Christian School, an independent study program.
Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) President Brad Dacus called the court's assent to a rehearing, made public on March 27, "highly unusual."
"It could be that the court realized it was incorrect on the law and that they wish to write a different opinion … or they could be rehearing it to firm up the existing opinion and make it less vulnerable to challenge," Dacus said. Other possibilities include the court's crafting a new decision that avoids the sweeping effect of its original ruling.
That decision cited California law that requires students to be enrolled in a full-time private or public school taught by credentialed teachers. Croskey reaffirmed the credentialing requirement, in effect making criminals of most of the estimated 166,000 Californians now homeschooling their kids.
While other attorneys represent the Longs, PJI is representing Sunland Christian, the 20-year-old institution that was not a party to the case, but has suffered collateral damage. While agreeing with a state social services agency that the quality of education the Long children received at home was insufficient, the Feb. 28 appeals court decision also attacked Sunland's independent study program as a "ruse" that was complicit in educational neglect. The court, however, had received documentation showing that both county and state education officials had favorably assessed Sunland's program.
According to PJI, the court's condemnation of Sunland damaged by extension the credibility of other, similar California homeschooling programs.
In a petition separate from the one asking for a rehearing, PJI had asked to intervene in the case in order to prove Sunland's merit and legal standing, but the court denied that petition. Still, Dacus said, "our focus is on the legal rights of homeschoolers throughout California. None of the facts of the Long case specifically stand in the way of the broader legal arguments we wish to make."
With the Feb. 28 decision now moot, California homeschoolers can breathe a little easier. Still, Dacus encourages homeschoolers to remain vigilant for residual effects from that ruling. "There still may be some social workers or others who are zealously opposed to homeschoolers and may still try to challenge them," he said. "If that happens, we want homeschoolers to contact us immediately, so that we can take such people to the mat as quickly as possible, as we have done effectively in the past."