In the cover story to this edition of the Court Report (which I strongly urge you to read), our vice president for litigation, Jim Mason, writes about Kirk and Kristen Sosebee, homeschool graduates and parents whom we are representing in our appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Jim also mentions the 2008 California case, In Re Jonathan L., which recognized homeschooling as legal via the private school exemption. As in several other states, California homeschoolers can comply with private school requirements, thereby exempting their students from public school attendance. However, getting to this point was a very interesting and exciting journey—one that illustrates the role that God has played in our litigation at HSLDA. (And if you want a little more background about how HSLDA began, you can read my story.)
A walk through In Re Jonathan L.
The main reason I want to detail this case for you is not just because it was a major victory that homeschoolers should know about, but also because I want you to see how the hand of God contributed to the victory (as He has throughout HSLDA’s 36 years of litigation and legislation).
And through this story, it is abundantly clear to me that God loves children, God loves homeschooling, and God intervenes to protect homeschoolers and homeschooling.
The plaintiffs in the case were a homeschool family who were not members of HSLDA. We did not even know about the situation until the family had lost in the appellate court in Los Angeles. As in two previous cases on homeschooling, the three judges unanimously ruled that homeschooling by complying with private school requirements was illegal. The only legal way to homeschool was if the teacher both possessed a teaching credential and was approved by the state.
The attorney chosen by the family to appeal their case was a friend of HSLDA, and we had worked together on other cases. Because of HSLDA’s experience and resources, he asked us to help him. From reading the opinion, we could tell that the court neither had a clue as to the magnitude of this case nor were informed as to the practical and legislative history of over 25 years of homeschoolers operating as private schools.
We huddled at HSLDA and decided to ask the court to reconsider its decision. Because California courts had already ruled homeschooling via the private school exemption illegal in two other cases, this was our Hail Mary (a long-shot football play so unlikely to succeed that it only works with God’s intervention). We prayed and prepared the brief asking the appellate-court judges to overturn themselves and allow a fresh look at the case.
Miracle number one: THEY TOOK THE CASE!
Then the court did another weird thing: they asked for anyone who wanted to weigh in on the case to file a brief.
And then they set a date for the new oral argument. At first, that sounds great. But the court also encouraged the state of California, through its representatives—the governor, the attorney general, the Department of Education, and the state’s school districts—and the trial court’s appointed attorneys to represent those who were asking the court to terminate homeschooling.
Over 15 organizations filed briefs, including those above and organizations friendly to homeschooling.
Miracle number two: all the briefs, except one, supported our position that homeschooling could be legally done through the private school exemption!
Remember that this included all the state agencies and even the Los Angeles Unified School District, which had been the most resistant to homeschooling of all the districts in the state.
Everything turned on this
After the court considered all the briefs, facts, and supporting arguments, the court made its decision based on one major point: the appellate court found that the California legislature had acquiesced to the private school exemption for homeschoolers about two decades prior.
In 1997, a janitor employed at a public school raped and murdered a senior girl. The public was rightly outraged by this tragedy; to help prevent such acts in the future, the California legislature introduced and passed a bill requiring all employees of public and private schools to submit to background checks.
Since most homeschoolers were operating as private schools, the private school advocacy group Family Protection Ministries, with our input and support, had approached the author of the bill to ask if they would entertain an amendment exempting those who primarily taught their own children.
It was too late when the bill first passed, but the California legislature amended the law the next year—the amendment passed through both houses nearly unanimously and was signed into law by the governor.
When Jonathan L. rolled around in 2008, we argued— and the court agreed—that this demonstrated that the legislature was familiar with how homeschooling was being conducted in California. Passing the amendment exempting parents who were teaching their own children had, in practice, carved out a legal exception for homeschoolers complying with the private school law. This was our main point both in the brief that we filed on behalf of the parents and in our oral argument—and the point the court used to legalize homeschooling by private school exemption in In re Jonathan L.
No one knew in 1997 that, by asking for an amendment to a bill that wasn’t earthshaking, they were setting up the legislature, Family Protection Ministries, and HSLDA to shake the earth for thousands of homeschool families in California.
But God did!
In February 2008, taking our arguments into account, the court reversed itself and ruled that homeschooling is legal in California under the private school exemption. They also concluded that these private schools are not under the jurisdiction of the state for the purpose of evaluating, regulating, or monitoring.
I’m convinced that as long as each generation fights for the freedom to homeschool, God will do the rest. Psalms 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those that labor, labor in vain.” Let’s resolve to do our part and watch the Lord do His. God has a way of filling in our gaps.
Don’t weary in your well doing; one day, you will reap the reward.