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What's happening in California?

By PHS Staff
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #82, 2008.

The call for a mass exodus from the California public schoools went out... and then this happened.
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Strange things are happening in California. So strange, that we've already had to write this story twice. Stick with us and we'll explain what's going on in California, and how it potentially affects all American homeschoolers.

It all started when a new law was signed on February 7 by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Promoted by its advocates as just another attempt to promote diversity in education, Senate Bill 777 was widely "outed" by conservative critics as the "Ban Mom and Dad" bill.

Randy Thomasson, chief of the Campaign for Children and Families was quoted by a WorldNetDaily story about the bill saying, "First, the law allowed public schools to voluntarily promote homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality. Then, the law required public schools to accept homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual teachers as role models for impressionable children. Now, the law has been changed to effectively require the positive portrayal of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality to six million children in California government-controlled schools."

In the wake of the failed effort to obtain a referendum to repeal this legislation, Thomasson's organization issued a call for California families to remove their children from public schools. Very soon they were joined in this "Exodus Mandate" by a broad coalition of Christian grassroots organizations, including Eagle Forum and a dozen more sponsors, five of which were based in California. These organizations set a goal of rescuing 600,000 California children from the public schools, and agreed to work together to "provide information to California parents and pastors concerning the new school legislation, how it mainstreams sexual deviancy among children, and what alternatives to California's public schools are available."

Having already run a story and a follow-up news item about the "Exodus" movement in the Southern Baptist Convention (PHS #66 and #70), we decided this new California movement was worth covering. So we interviewed a number of its major proponents, and were all set to publish the story when... out of nowhere... a California appellate court made a shocking ruling. The court's ruling stated that California parents had no real right to educate their children at home, unless at least one parent was a credentialed teacher. This, after more than two decades in which hundreds of thousands of children have been homeschooled in California.

There wasn't time to dig into this new angle, so we shelved the story until this issue. The more we looked into it, the stranger it seemed... and the more the timing of this ruling seemed questionable.

The Infamous Court Case

First, the court case itself. The family of Philip and Mary Long found themselves in court, accused of educational neglect of their two youngest children. According to California Home Educators Association (CHEA)'s summary of the appeal, "The court appointed attorneys for the children asked the court to order that the children be enrolled in a local public school for their safety and socialization. The parents argued that they had a constitutional right to homeschool. The trial court agreed with that argument, but made no findings as to whether school attendance would be in the children's best interests. The children's attorneys appealed. [On February 28] the appellate court reversed the trial court decision and issued a sweeping opinion appearing to say that all forms of homeschooling other than tutoring by a person holding a California teaching credential were illegal."

The Backlash

The homeschool community's response was immediate and loud. In just a couple of days, an online petition garnered over 20,000 petitions to vacate the appellate court's ruling. Every major California homeschool group condemned the decision's faulty legal thinking.

California officials also spoke up for homeschoolers. Governor Schwarzenegger said, "If the courts don't protect parents' rights, then, as elected officials, we will." Even the California Superintendent of of Public Instruction stated, "Parents still have the right to homeschool in this state."

Then the big legal guns entered the fray. Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), in association with CHEA, California Homeschool Network, Private and Home Educators of California, and HomeSchool Association of California, issued a calm but stern four-point statement saying, among other things, "We believe that the opinion rendered by the Second District Court of Appeals in the case titled In re Rachel L on February 28, 2008, is excessively broad in its scope and incorrectly states the law as applied to home education in California."

In response to the public outcry, on March 25, the California Court of Appeal granted a motion to rehear the case. According to HSLDA, "The automatic effect of granting this motion is that the prior opinion is vacated and is no longer binding on any one, including the parties in the case."

To help with its ultimate decision, the Court of Appeal asked a number of interested parties to file amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs, stating their opinions on the validity of homeschooling in California. These included the California Superintendent of Public Instruction, the California Department of Education, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and three California teacher unions.

Various homeschool and parent-rights groups also asked permission to file amicus briefs. According to CHEA's website, "The major California homeschool support organizations are cooperating on preparing a brief. All briefs are due by mid May, and the court has said that it expects to hold a hearing in the case in June. It would probably be some months after the hearing before a written decision would be issued."

The Inside Story from CHEA's Mary Schofield

Trying to find out what was really going on, and how it was affecting the prospects for homeschool growth in California, we contacted CHEA's Vice President, attorney Mary Schofield.

PHS: Why do you think this happened?

SCHOFIELD: It's a spiritual attack. I'm not a big conspiracy theorist. If the lawyers and judge had an ulterior motive at the forefront of what they were doing, they would have written a better decision. I don't think the decision is written well enough to constitute a frontal attack on homeschooling, because the decision doesn't display enough understanding of the current laws regarding homeschooling.

I do see God's hand in it. How many people are thinking of homeschooling for the first time in February, when the first decision came out? Not many! It also is serving as a great motivator for more prayer, which is always good. Whenever we face adversity, it strengthens us. I'm really looking forward to whatever God is going to be doing with this.

I don't think anyone considering homeschooling would take the decision lightly now. And that's good. Homeschooling is hard work and should not be taken lightly.

PHS: What do you think will happen next?

SCHOFIELD: It's hard to tell what the court's going to do. It doesn't appear that the appellate court had any good information about homeschooling or the homeschool laws before they made their decision.

I'm not knocking them for that, because that's not really what the case was about. I'm really glad they're going to rehear the matter. That's so unusual it's nearly miraculous. To have the same court review its own decision doesn't happen all that often. Their quick decision to vacate and rehear the matter has done a couple of great things.

First, it gives us the opportunity to get involved and present them with accurate and complete information. CHEA of California is working with the other two statewide homeschool organizations on an amicus brief (HomeSchool Association of California and California Homeschool Network). The Christian and inclusive groups are all working together well on this.

Second, it bought us some time. It calmed people down. It was crazy for the first couple of weeks. CHEA received thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls. Our little staff was overloaded completely. Having the court vacate the decision put everything on hold until June, so we wouldn't have to worry about it for this school year.

We won't have a decision handed out til a couple of months later, which puts it at the beginning of the school year.

If the very worst thing happened and they reissued the same decision, we have other avenues. We could appeal it to the Supreme Court of California. We could introduce new legislation - we don't want to do that, but if we have to, we could. It's not like we've lost a big battle here yet.

PHS: A lot of people have been freaking out over this. Tell me why you're so calm.

SCHOFIELD: This is CHEA's 25th year. When you look at the modern homeschooling movement, we've already raised a generation. The kids who started kindergarten in the early '80s are all hitting 30.

Last month I told the legislators that homeschooling is no longer a social experiment, if it ever was. We have a proven track record. Not only has the first generation graduated, but they have married, they have children, they have jobs, they are leaders in their communities and churches... they're doing great. We've now completed two cycles of K - 12 education, and we're starting the third.

Also, 166,000 kids getting dumped back into public school in California would be a financial disaster for the public school system. Even at a conservative $5,000 of state money per child, that would cost California $830 million dollars per year. [Note: the actual per-pupil amount California spends per year is $8,486, so the total amount would actually be over $1.4 billion. If only the number of homeschoolers in California would suddenly increase fourfold, that would almost accomplish Governor Schwarzenegger's current goal of decreasing school spending by $4.8 billion. - Editor]

This is not the time for homeschoolers to leave California. We need to stand really strong.

The Exodus Movement in California

Col. E. Ray Moore, the author of Let My Children Go and the founder of Exodus Mandate (exodusmandate.org), is very specific about his goal: "We're trying to raise up leaders in states and communities who will carry the message of the necessity of K - 12 Christian education to the church community."

After years of being involved in the school reform movement, the tipping point for Col. Moore came in February, 1994. "I got invited to the big briefing in Washington on the dangers of the Goals 2000 movement. All the best conservative leaders were speaking. I was listening to the speeches about the agenda of the government to take over education, which they had been doing for years. All I could hear was cries of alarm, and nobody in our movement seemed to have a plan. All they could say was, 'Repeal bad legislation!'"

He walked out of that meeting and said, "With the help of the Lord, I will get several million children out of the public schools into the sanctuary of Christian schools and homeschooling."

However, for the next three or four years Col. Moore's fledgling organization languished. "We couldn't get invited to homeschool events because we were too controversial," he says. "But we were successful in getting our message out in an end run around the churches by getting on hundreds of Christian talk shows, through which we've reached several million people."

Exodus Mandate's big breakthrough took place in June of 2004 when Bruce Shortt and T.C. Pinckney put forward the Christian Education Resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention. The resolution failed to pass, but it was such a sensational national and international news story that tens of millions of people heard about it.

Following in Exodus Mandate's footsteps, the California Exodus group has set a goal to rescue 600,000 children from California public schools - about 10 percent of all the students. Their site is the central source for information on this initiative.

California Exodus is headed by Dr. Ron Gleason. Dr. Gleason points out that, according to number of surveys and worldview tests, "Less than 10 percent of those who call themselves born-again Christian have a biblical life and worldview. Today very few Christians can articulate the gospel, name the Ten Commandments or tell you where to find the Ten Commandments. Yet these are the very same people who audaciously tell you their children should be 'salt and light' in the public schools."

Denise Kanter's group, Considering Homeschooling Ministries (consideringhomeschooling.org) is helping out with the practical side of getting families - especially Christian families - out of the schools and into homeschools.

Considering Homeschooling has been sending out free packets since 2005. In that time, they have sent out about 70,000 DVDs nationwide and more brochures than that. According to Denise, "Probably about one-quarter went to homeschool support groups; the rest went to individuals."

So far, Considering Homeschooling has also reached out to about 5,000 California churches. Each was sent a package with a DVD and a "Easy to Homeschool Resource List." The package also included a letter that "explains what's going on in California and alerts them to the amount of available resources for homeschooling."

Anyone who goes to the website can request their free DVD. Denise says, "We even pay the mailing fees! We also will give those who ask a guide that explains how to reach out to their church and neighborhood to start a mentorship group. We send them contact info for a state or local group almost immediately as well." Clearly, new California homeschoolers can expect lots of help.

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