California parents who don't have teaching credentials no longer can home school their children, according to a recent state appellate court ruling.
"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in a Feb. 28 opinion for the 2nd District Court of Appeals.
Noncompliance could lead to a criminal complaint against the parents, Croskey said.
An estimated 166,000 students in California are home schooled, but it is unclear how many of them are taught by solely by a parent not credentialed to teach.
Credentialing requirements in the state vary. To earn a five-year preliminary teaching credential, for example, requirements include earning a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and completing multiple examinations.
However, California has allowed home schooling if parents either file paperwork to establish themselves as small, private schools; hire a credentialed tutor; or enroll their child in an independent study program run by an established school while teaching the child at home.
Until now, the state has left enforcement up to local school districts, which have done little.
This undeclared police of laissez-faire has been popular with many.
"This works so well, I don't see any reason to change it," said J. Michael Smith, president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association.
The ruling stems from a case involving Phillip and Mary Long, a Los Angeles-area couple whose eight children are enrolled or have been enrolled in Sunland Christian School in suburban Sylmar and occasionally taken tests there.
But the children were educated at home by their mother, who does not have a teaching credential.
News of the court ruling is only starting to spread among educators and the home schooling communities, and it's unclear whether the ruling will be enforced. Attorneys for the State Department of Education are reviewing it, and home schooling organizations are lining up against it.
Phillip Long, meanwhile, is vowing to appeal to the State Supreme Court.
"I have sincerely held religious beliefs," he said. "Public schools conflict with that. I have to go with what my conscience requires me."