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May 25, 2006

Whose job is it anyway?

The Marin Independent Journal just reported that a May 8 report from the Marin County Grand Jury entitled, “Caught in the Middle: Home Schooling Neglected in Marin County,” asserts that at least one’s child’s education has been neglected in Marin County because the local school districts are not “monitoring” home education.

The Marin County Office of Education’s attorney informed the grand jury that the public school district lacks the authority to review homeschool attendance records. The grand jury’s foreman’s response was that “kids are falling through the cracks and no one is paying attention.”

Marin County Office of Education provided essentially the same response as the county attorney. What was encouraging by this superintendent’s remark was that she assured the public that it was the intent of the public schools in the community to follow the law.

Who’s right in this situation? Do local school districts have jurisdiction over homeschoolers in California? The County Office of Education and the attorney for the county of Marin are to be applauded for their stand. They recognize that in California the legislature has given limited authority to the local school districts vis--vis students educated privately in California. There is no specific home education statute or regulation in California. California home educators homeschool via the private school exemption which is not unique to California. At least 11 other states also follow this method of home education.

California local school districts are charged with the responsibility to enforce compulsory attendance. Students between the ages of 6 and 18 are required to be enrolled in a public school, privately tutored by a certified teacher, or receiving instruction in a private school.

When public school officials receive a report that a child is not in school, they have an obligation to investigate. When they are informed the child is enrolled in a private school, they have an obligation to verify enrollment and that the private school has filed a private school affidavit with the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Once those two items have been verified, then the child is deemed excused from public school attendance.

Contrary to what the Marin County grand jury would like, the legislature has limited the public school’s jurisdiction vis--vis children in private schools to verify attendance. Public school districts do not have the authority to go behind the affidavit to make subjective decisions on whether or not the private school is in compliance with all the requirements in the affidavit.

It’s refreshing when a government agency commits to be bound by the law. This is what makes America unique. Our government is one of the people, not of the bureaucrats. Our form of government says to its employees that they only have the authority specifically granted to them in the law. They do not have the authority to go beyond law.

On the other hand, the freedom to act on behalf of the people is what is not prohibited. Anything not prohibited is reserved to the people. And in California the legislature has chosen, and rightfully so, that private schools have the freedom to operate without unreasonable oversight.

This is admirable on the part of the state of California and Marin County Office of Education. The trend is quite to the contrary. Government historically continues to grab more power thereby reducing the citizens’ freedoms.