Home School Court Report
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No. 6

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by Sindy Quinonez
Why California homeschools must remain private schools

Underlying Home School Legal Defense Association’s work in the appeal of In re Rachel L. was the effort to preserve the parental freedom to homeschool under the private school statute. That statute requires that California private schools teach the courses of study commonly taught in the public schools, but does not dictate course content or methodology or require end-of-the-year testing or portfolio reviews.

To comply with the statutory exemption in California, a home educating family generally must establish its own private school by

  • either filing an annual private school affidavit or
  • enrolling in a private satellite school program (PSP) that is located in the state of California and that annually files a private school affidavit on behalf of all the families in the school.

While many families choose the PSP option because they do not want to identify themselves as homeschoolers to the California Department of Education, both options satisfy statutory requirements.1

A third option is possible only if the homeschool parent is a certified teacher in the grade level being taught. The certified parent can tutor his or her child and be exempted from private school enrollment.

“Whether parents homeschool their children for protection, flexibility, religious convictions, or academics, all essentially seek the same thing—to individualize their children’s education. This has proven to be a highly effective approach,” says HSLDA President Mike Smith.

For example, Rebekah Macy, a 21-year-old homeschool graduate, published an opinion in Citrus College’s student newspaper, The Clarion Online, describing the variety of subjects her mother included in her curriculum: “I had every subject necessary to be well-rounded academically. My curriculum consisted of the Bible, language, math, science, history, spelling, penmanship, health, and physical education. I also had electives such as cooking, sewing, carpentry, and arts and crafts… . This was just during elementary school.” Praising her mother for her homeschool success, she added, “Now at 21 years of age, people who are aware of my academic background always relate my maturity, politeness, and intellect to the method in which my mother educated me.”2

In Danville, California, Jennifer O’Dorney directed her son Evan’s schooling. Thirteen-year-old Evan enjoyed composing piano pieces, attending his calculus class at the University of California at Berkeley, and juggling as part of his schooling. Evan was also the 2007 National Spelling Bee champion.3

One of the earliest and most widely reported evidences of successful parent-directed education came from California. An article in the Harvard Crimson describes it: “Starting in 1973, when the Colfaxes moved to California from St. Louis, Missouri, the boys took on their own projects and helped each other learn everything from basic algebra to plumbing.”4 The Colfax family used their ranch in Boonville, California, as both setting and curriculum to home educate their boys. While they used some books, most of their learning resulted from hands-on experience: raising animals on the farm, building the ranch’s house, barns and sheds, and experimenting with electrical wiring while installing their family phone. Reed and Drew Colfax both attended Harvard and, according to Harvard administrators, attained admirable social and academic achievements.

For most homeschooling families in California, the private school statute provides the best avenue for a parent-directed education that is also free of state oversight. California is not the only state with a private school statute available to homeschoolers. The other states are Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Tennessee, and Texas. However, just as homeschool options vary from state to state, private school statutes’ provisions vary as well.

Alaska, Louisiana, Maine, and Michigan also have homeschool statutes, some of which are less restrictive than their private school statute. Tennessee, in addition to a private school option, has two homeschool statutes, one in which homeschoolers must meet notification requirements from the public school system, the other requiring homeschoolers to work in conjunction with a church-related school. Homeschoolers should file their schools under the state option that best meets their needs.

While some may wonder if there is a need to formalize homeschooling with a homeschool statute, HSLDA believes the current private school statute is the best option for California homeschoolers.

HSLDA’s experience of 25 years in California has given our attorneys unique insight into the current makeup of the legislature and the cultural climate in the state.

“It is highly unlikely, should homeschool legislation be adopted by the legislature, that we would be able to maintain our current level of freedom,” explains Smith. “As a matter of fact, we think just the opposite would mostly likely happen—homeschool freedoms might be further restricted. Based on our conviction that the state’s legitimate interest in education is sufficiently protected by the private school law as it applies to homeschooling in California, and that the relative freedom provided by the private school statute is in the best interest of homeschooling, we advocate for the status quo.”

HSLDA’s goal in working with California homeschoolers during the Rachel L. rehearing process was to preserve and promote homeschool and parental freedom. Parents who homeschool to give adequate instruction to their struggling learner, special needs or gifted child, or to tailor curricula to support a child’s particular interest or talent, need the freedom to make educational decisions for their children. “Operating as private schools in California maximizes the genius of home education, which is individualized instruction,” concludes Smith.


1. 1 J. Michael Smith, “Private school affidavit back online,” Home School Court Report 21, no. 3 (2004): 13.

2. Rebekah Macy, “Homeschooling: No Credentials Needed,” The Clarion Online (2008), http://media.www.theclariononline.com/media/storage/paper353/news/ 2008/03/19/Opinions/Homeschooling.No.Credentials.Needed-3278614.shtml.

3. Michael F. Haverluck, “Homeschooling Spells Success,” CBNNews.com (2007), http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/169936.aspx.

4. Nara K. Nahm, “Homeschoolers Are at Home at Harvard,” The Harvard Crimson (1989), http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=132239.