LOS ANGELES, California - When three judges ruled this February that most homeschooling in California is illegal, they met with outrage from the governor on down.
Now the judges are backing down -- or at least, agreeing to re-hear the case.
The original ruling said parents have no constitutional right to homeschool and only credentialed teachers can legally homeschool in California.
Lawyer Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute was involved in the case and told CBN News, "This is such a sweeping decision, it basically blackballs homeschooling in any format, any kind of configuration where parents are not credentialed teachers."
But now the same three judges -- who make up the Los Angeles-based 2nd Court of Appeals -- say they will take up the case again this month.
No one outside the judges themselves knows why the court has decided to reexamine their ruling, but it could have something to do with the angry reaction the ruling received.
Homeschoolers Get Support
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger blasted it, saying "This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts."
The head of the public school system put out a letter assuring parents "policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling."
Pro-family activist Randy Thomasson, head of Campaign for California Families, thinks the judges have to take up the case again because they so misread state law the first time. "The state law doesn't say the teacher must have a credential in a private school. The state law nowhere says that your private school cannot be in your own house."
Thomasson also pointed out an irony the record shows: those with teacher's certificates aren't necessarily the best teachers. "Only the public schools require a teacher's certificate and they're doing the worst for the children."
Asked for evidence, he stated, "Half of California's black and Hispanic students don't even graduate from high school. Can we say 'failure'? Can we say 'disaster'?"
But until the court re-hears the case, the ruling has put somewhat of a fright into many homeschoolers.
Several gathered with CBN News at a public park in Sonoma County during a play-time for their children.
One told us she wasn't really worried until others started to ask her things like, "Are you going to go to jail?"
Another said, "I'm not scared." Then she laughed and said nervously, "Should I be?"
But if worse came to worse, and authorities did someday try to use the law to stop homeschoolers, that mom said, "We'll just leave the state.I'll move out of the country if I have to."
Another mom in the park said, "Oh, I would leave in a heartbeat. I would not be living in California."
And she added, "I think that we'll just have a lot of underground homeschooling or people moving out of state."
The Moreno family of Roehnert Park, California started homeschooling eight years ago. They expect the harsh February ruling to be overturned. But if it isn't, as Christians they're prepared for the worst. Dad Anthony Moreno said, "We expect to be persecuted at some point."
And he said, no matter what, his family won't quit homeschooling. "We would basically trust in the Lord that He would protect us."
The Morenos -- parents and children -- have actually lobbied their lawmakers at the capital in Sacramento over homeschooling rights. Because, as Mom Karol Moreno put it, "These freedoms are a gift, and they're a gift from God, so that's why we're trying to protect them"
Their son Anthony Junior plans to make it his life's cause. "I want to become a lawyer and be able to advocate for the rights of homeschoolers."
Linda Freeman homeschools her 15-year-old daughter in Marin County. She thinks the court was just seeing how much it could get away with. "It's a toe-dip: let's see if this will stand."
Counting the Cost
But Freeman wonders if there was a financial reason for the judges' decision. She says many Californians believe their school districts lose funding because the 166,000 homeschooled students aren't in those district schools. She described their thinking: "Hey, these people took their kids out of our schools and that's costing us money."
Freeman worries that kind of thinking could spread to other states watching this California controversy unfold: "I think those other states could say, 'hey, we could do the same sort of thing in our states to get those homeschooling families back into the system, get the dollars back.'"
It's not a viewpoint Freeman agrees with at all, and most homeschoolers see the money matter in a whole different way. As one of those moms in the park told CBN News, "We pay tax dollars towards the schools, towards education. But we don't use those schools. And they don't give us anything as homeschoolers. We're not entitled to any sort of financial help with schoolbooks or anything."
In fact, pro-homeschooling lawyer Brad Dacus says this is exactly the wrong moment for cash-strapped California to try to move homeschool kids back into the public schools, because each would cost the state around $8,000 if they were in the public schools. "So we're looking at about roughly $2 billion in additional costs to the taxpayers for these children to be forced back into the public schools, at a time when the California budget is already billions in the red. This is the worst of times for the court to come down with that kind of a decision."
Instead of being mad at homeschoolers, Dacus says Californians should be thanking them, because, "Homeschooling is a financial fiscal asset to California."
Homeschoolers Say Gay Agenda Taught in Public Schools
Though many were relieved to hear the 2nd Court of Appeals would re-hear the case that's potentially made most homeschoolers lawbreakers, Dacus -- who is closely involved with the case -- worries. Since it's the same three judges, rather than overruling themselves, they might just reaffirm their original ruling, or even make it harsher.
But no matter what the court decides, some pro-family activists like Randy Thomasson say parents need to - indeed, must - keep their kids out of the California public schools. Why? Because of a new law about how gays and others must be portrayed in public schools.
According to Thomasson, "California's government school system is now functionally requiring that all children be sexually indoctrinated with the positive portrayal of homosexual, bisexual and transsexual behavior."
Thomasson showed us some of the books California grade-school children might well run into now in the public schools.
"'Mom and Mom are Getting Married.' 'King and KIng' -- this is about two princes, two boys who get married,. 'Heather has Two Mommies' -- this is a classic about lesbianism. 'Daddy's Roommate' -- this promotes homosexuality to children. And of course, the most famous of all, 'Daddy's Wedding' -- indoctrinating little children to support homosexual marriage as good and natural, and maybe even for them."
Linda Freeman and others believe they've found a middle path out of the public schools but still covered by the public system: innovative schools and programs like CAVA -- the California Virtual Academies, a state-wide charter school that mostly teaches its enrollees via computer, but still gives the parents much latitude when it comes to content.
Jim Konantz is a regional vice-president for K-12 Inc., the company started up by Ronald Reagan's Education Secretary William Bennett. Konantz, who oversees CAVA, said, "If there are lessons that don't meet the criteria that the family has in their own values, then those lessons can be substituted with something else."
And it's all for free because California foots the bill since CAVA's a public charter school. Konantz stated, "Everything is shipped to their home: their computer, all the science material, science equipment, music, everything that they need."
Konantz says CAVA hires teachers who live within 20 miles of their students, so they can all get together for outings every once in awhile.
One of those moms CBN News talked to in the Sonoma County park enrolled her teen daughter in CAVA. She told us, "The teachers are great. They seem to be communicating with my daughter very well and encouraging her."
But some parents are leery of even that much interaction with the state. Back in Roehnert Park at the Morenos' home, Karol Moreno said, "I would rather be under the covering of the Lord than being under the covering of a government, because the government always wants to control us more."
She said her worry about CAVA or any other school working with the state is that, "They give me the free resources then I give them control."
And Thomasson advises parents homeschooling out on their own -- uncovered by institutions like CAVA -- to just keep on, despite any rulings against them from California courts. "If homeschooling were somehow made illegal like in Germany, I'd still homeschool. Who cares? These are my kids."
Thomasson insists it's ludicrous to insist a degree in education that awards a teacher's certificate should be the only thing that qualifies a parent to homeschool. "If you have a fifth grade education and you love your child, you can homeschool."
One of those moms in the park told CBN News, "I have a friend who's a lawyer. She passed the bar here in California. She's extremely intelligent. She's probably on the genius scale. But she doesn't have a teacher's certificate. Does that mean she's not able to teach her children? Absolutely not! She's perfectly capable."
This mom said no matter what the court or California decides, her family will keep homeschooling. Why? As she put it, "We feel called by God to homeschool our children."
*Originally aired in April 20, 2008.