On February 28, 2006, a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal handed down a ruling that may threaten the continued viability of home school arrangements in California. In this case, In re Rachel L., a lower court decision holding that parents have a constitutional right to home school their children was reversed. The appellate court held that parents do not have such rights. Furthermore, the decision appears to have rendered the vast majority of California home schooling arrangements violative of state law.
According to the Los Angeles Times, California law does not address home schooling in its statutes unlike thirty states that do. Apparently, the California Department of Education and local school districts have had a somewhat relaxed approach to home schooling. This has allowed the number of home schoolers to grow considerably. Estimates are that 166,000 children in California are taught at home, so the impact of this decision will be significant.
This case and two others of recent vintage, Fields v. Palmdale School District (U.S. 9th Cir. 2005) and Parker v. Hurley (U.S. 1st Cir. 2008), remind us of the fact that powerful elements within our society believe that parents have few, if any, rights over the educational content of their children. Once the state has spoken parents have to fall in line. In Palmdale, the Ninth Circuit used a dispute over psychological surveys that included questions about sex to assert that parents have no constitutional right … to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise…. (The parents were not told about the sex-related questions when their consent for participation was sought by the school.)
In Parker, a Christian parent objected to his young child being given educational materials promoting homosexual parenting and marriage. Here again, the appellate court affirmed the district courts ruling which stated that the constitutional right of parents to raise their children does not include the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children.
At bottom, the current case in California (Rachel L.), Palmdale, and Parker indicate that parents, pro-family groups, and friendly politicians will have to fight for the right to protect their children. They will need to aggressively pursue legislatively corrections. That may be possible in California regarding the status of home schooling, but it will not always be possible. Barring a legislative fix, it becomes clear how important it is to have judges on the bench who understand that the rights of parents are not derived from the state. Rather, parents have inalienable rights that supersede those of government — particularly when the moral education of their children is at stake.