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Home schooling -- now what?

August 12, 2008 |  4:33 pm

It's time for parents who want to teach their own kids to celebrate: Home schooling has been declared legally kosher in California even if parents lack a teaching credential. Overall, the news is good.

But few people paid attention to the second part of the court's decision last Friday, which is that home schooling isn't an absolute right, simply an accepted form of "private school," as it's been interpreted by the state Department of Education. Keeping kids safe from abuse and neglect is more important than home schooling, the court said.

Few people would disagree with that, but the question is, how do you go about it? I ask because, as much as I admire the job most parents do in home schooling their kids, I also know that there are real cases in which parents have used the home-schooling conventions to shield their private actions from those who might move to protect children. I know it because I know one of those kids, from my local community. He clearly needed all kinds of help, right down to strong reading glasses, which his parents denied him. Parents who helped in the classroom would send in notes to the office asking the school to intervene; teachers would advise testing, which the mother would routinely refuse. Eventually, the parents removed their two children from the schools and claimed to be home schooling them.

The kids were seen only occasionally around the community, until, a couple of years later, the city was called to the family's house by neighbors because of the bizarre goings-on. Without going into details, the family was obviously in deep trouble, the house was a health hazard and officials took the children, at least for a while, to a shelter. But that was two rough years in those kids' lives, and two years of education that apparently wasn't happening. Not attending a school meant that no one was around for the kids to talk to, with no one to notice what was going on with them.

Obviously, this isn't how most home schools operate, but the question is, how do we best give home schoolers the freedom to teach their kids, while making sure that children actually do get an education -- and, give those children some access to outsiders so that we know they're OK? Should the Legislature officially legalize home schools, but also invoke some light regulations, like home visits, or requiring some evidence that the children have been learning? Or do we figure that these cases are so rare, we should just let it go?

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