Academia

Illegal Education?

Intimidating homeschoolers

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Sandra and David Sorensen, were recently threatened with prosecution by the San Juan Unified School District under California truancy statutes for homeschooling their 10-year-old son. But as often happens in such cases, the case was dropped be-fore getting to court. So why do local school boards keep trying?

California's Department of Education maintains that you can't homeschool your children unless you hold credentials as a tutor. Carolyn Pirillo, the department's deputy general counsel, says, "If everyone in the state without teaching credentials could say, 'I'm a private school,' there would be no standard whatsoever. It would be tantamount to repealing compulsory attendance law."

The blithe method that Pirillo refers to is the one followed by most California homeschoolers. State law allows three options for kids to abandon public schools: enrollment in a private school, which requires filing paperwork known as an R-4 affidavit; participation in an independent study program through a public or private school; or tutoring.

The R-4 affidavit offers a loophole big enough to drive a homeschool through. Nothing in the law prohibits a home from defining itself as a private school, homeschoolers insist. Unlike with tutoring, the teachers for private schools need not have official certification; they must merely be "capable of teaching."

But if homeschooling is illegal in California, why does it seem that no one is ever successfully prosecuted for it? Pirillo suggests that since trial courts don't have to publish their opinions, it's possible that people are being prosecuted all the time.

Maybe, but it's unlikely. Homeschoolers are a feisty, well-organized group. If California were rife with successful homeschool prosecutions that generated no appeals, groups like the National Home School Legal Defense Fund and the California Homeschool Network (CHN) would know about it. Neither group has heard of such cases.

Karen Taylor of CHN says she gets calls almost every day from distraught parents who hear, often when requesting an R-4 affidavit, that homeschooling is verboten. One lawyer who has defended homeschoolers against threatened legal action speculates that local district attorneys suspect the state's legal arguments against homeschooling won't hold up in court. But administrators can still intimidate parents out of the choice without taking official action.