- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

School officials in California are warning parents that they cannot educate their children at home unless they obtain professional teaching credentials.

Without the proper credentials, parents no longer can file required paperwork that would authorize them to home school their children, states a memo issued by the state Department of Education. As a result, those children not attending public schools would be considered "truant" by local school districts.

"In California, 'home schooling' a situation where non-credentialed parents teach their own children, exclusively, at home whether using correspondence courses or other types of courses is not an authorized exemption from mandatory public school attendance," state Deputy Superintendent Joanne Mendoza wrote in the July 16 memo to all school employees.

"Furthermore, a parent's filing of the affidavit required of a private school does not transform that parent into a private school," the memo continued. "Therefore, those parents who home-school their children are operating outside the law, and there is no reason for them to file an affidavit."

Advocates of home-based education say the memo is just another ploy to frighten home-school parents into sending their children to public schools. Part of it has to do with money, they say, as the state's education department is dealing with a $23 billion deficit.

"This has to do with money and ideology," said J. Michael Smith, president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association. "California would be the only state in the union that would require home schoolers to be certified teachers."

Miss Mendoza's memo was sent to all district and county superintendents, private-school coordinators, school-attendance review board members, and district and county pupil-services administrators. Miss Mendoza is the deputy superintendent of the department's curriculum and instructional branch.

Her two-page memo tells school employees of a new procedure that private schools must follow to excuse their students from public-school attendance. Private schools are required to file affidavits for that purpose between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 each year, and beginning this year, they can file the paperwork via the Internet.

Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said yesterday the memo hasn't changed anything.

"This memo just said that, 'Hey, this information is now available on the Web site,' that we're just making the process and paperwork more accessible," Miss Winger said. "There is nothing new in this memo. The Department of Education has been consistent in the application of the law over the years. All parents are welcome to supplement their children's education with home instruction, but not substitute the education with uncredentialed home instruction."

Defenders of the movement say home schooling is legal under a state statute that allows any parent to operate a "private school," even if the student body includes only one child. California is one of 12 states where home schooling is conducted under a private-school exemption.

"There is an attempt to coerce these people to send their children to public schools," said Gary Kreep, founder and president of the U.S. Justice Foundation in California. "Some officials don't like home schoolers because they are the last bastion of independent thinkers, the last bastion of individuality. If these children are not in public school, teachers can't tell them that homosexuality is normal and permissible, which is what's being taught in California."

Local school districts, including the San Diego County Office of Education, have sent similar memos to private-school administrators, adding that children whose parents don't provide appropriate documents "will be considered truant."

"Our sincere apology and regrets for any inconvenience regarding this matter," Stephen Fraire, a coordinator with the county's pupil-services department, wrote in the Aug. 2 memo. "Unfortunately this situation is not in our control."

Roy Hanson, director of the California-based Private and Home Educators of California, said he is telling home-school parents to monitor the situation without waging any kind of campaign. "We're telling parents to be alert," Mr. Hanson said. "We're telling them not to panic, not to be complacent and know what the facts are."

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