April 3, 2003

California Supreme Court Denies Review of Monrovia Case

An earlier version of the ordinance had been struck down in response to HSLDA's challenge because it did not exempt homeschoolers. Monrovia amended the ordinance and expressly excluded homeschoolers from its coverage. HSLDA then challenged the amended version and it was the amended version that the Supreme Court declined to review.

"Because this was simply a denial of review, it doesn't have statewide effect," said Mike Farris, General Counsel for HSLDA. "The Supreme Court has left this issue open, and we are planning to fight similar unconstitutional ordinances around the state, especially where homeschoolers are directly affected. We would also be willing to consider taking cases on behalf of other children."

Monrovia's daytime curfew ordinance was first adopted in 1996 and was the first of its kind in the nation. It started a trend that now includes over 70 California cities and numerous others around the country. Monrovia adopted the ordinance out of dissatisfaction with how the public schools were dealing with truancy. City officials routinely referred to its ordinance as a "truancy" ordinance.

HSLDA took up the fight against Monrovia's truancy ordinance six years ago on behalf of two HSLDA member families, the Harrahills and the Glovers. The original ordinance outlawed all children, including homeschoolers, from being out in public between 8:30 and 1:30. The Harrahill children were frequently stopped by police officers while traveling to and from a class they were taking at a private school as part of their homeschool program.

In January 1999, the superior court struck down Monrovia's truancy ordinance because it failed to exempt homeschooled students, who are not required to be in school during any set hours like public school students. "The 1999 ruling was a decisive victory for homeschoolers," said Farris.

After losing, Monrovia amended its truancy ordinance to exempt homeschoolers and HSLDA renewed its challenge, arguing that the amended ordinance was still unconstitutional.

"We won the initial battle, which was to protect homeschool students from being prosecuted as criminals just for being in public during public school hours," said Farris. "But the police could still stop and question homeschoolers to verify that they were exempt. Our ultimate goal was to protect all children from this kind of harassment. That's why we continued the fight."

HSLDA argued that the amended truancy ordinance violated the California Constitution, which allows only the state to regulate truancy through local school boards. The local ordinance was therefore preempted by the California Education Code, which exhaustively deals with truancy as a non-criminal matter. The local ordinance made truancy an infraction in violation of the Legislature's more measured approach.

"After losing round one of this case," said Farris, "Monrovia rather disingenuously denied that it ever intended to combat truancy with its ordinance and instead argued that it intended to prevent juvenile crime, which it simply does not do."

A different judge from the one that struck down the original ordinance ruled in favor of the amended truancy ordinance. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Second District of California upheld Monrovia's truancy ordinance by a narrow 2 to 1 margin. Justice Mosk dissented and agreed with HSLDA that the ordinance was unconstitutional under the California Constitution because it has been preempted by the Education Code.

HSLDA petitioned the Supreme Court of California to review the case, but on March 19, 2003, the Court denied the petition for review.

Farris expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court did not take up this case, but urged freedom-lovers to take the long view. "In North Dakota, we had to keep fighting for years before homeschooling freedom was protected, and we'll do the same here."

 Other Resources

Harrahill v. City of Monrovia: Constitutionality of daytime curfew questioned

Judge strikes down unconstitutional Monrovia daytime curfew