Tens of thousands of parents could be subject to criminal sanctions after a California appeals court ruled parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children.
"Are you kidding me?" said Kevin McCullough, conservative radio talk show host, on Thursday.
The court ruled last week that minor children must attend a public school unless the child attends a private school or is taught by a teacher with a valid state teaching license. And religious convictions of families do not guarantee a right to homeschool their children.
Parents must have teaching credentials to educate their kids at home.
"This decision is a direct hit against every homeschooler in California," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents the Sunland Christian School, which specializes in religious home schooling. "If the state Supreme Court does not reverse this . . . there will be nothing to prevent homeschool witch hunts from being implemented in every corner of the state of California," as reported by The Los Angeles Times.
The institute estimates there are 166,000 California students who are homeschooled.
The ruling stems from a case involving Phillip and Mary Long, parents of eight children. One of the children reported "physical and emotional mistreatment by the children's father."
All of the children had been enrolled in Sunland Christian School, an institution that coordinates independent study programs for homeschooling families. They were educated by their mother at home and occasionally took tests at the school.
An attorney for Children and Family Services requested to a juvenile court that it require the children to physically attend a public or private school. The trial court refused, citing the parents' right under the California Constitution to homeschool their children.
The children's lawyer, however, appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. Although the parents told the court that their religious beliefs for homeschooling "are based on biblical teachings and principles," the appellate panel ruled that the family is violating state laws since Mary Long does not have a teaching credential.
"I have sincerely held religious beliefs," said Phillip Long. "Public schools conflict with that. I have to go with what my conscience requires me."
Long said he doesn't believe in evolution, among other topics, that are taught at public schools.
Sunland Christian School called the appellate court's ruling "a bad decision" and stated, "While this case could have negative implications for California homeschoolers, nothing has changed to your right to homeschool. There is no need to panic or make any changes to your current situation."
Advocates for homeschooling families vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Currently, the California Department of Education allows homeschooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as small private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts.