Assembly Bills Aimed at Homeschoolers
On Friday, February 17, 2018, AB 2926 was introduced in the California Assembly by Assembly Member Eggman and AB 2756 was introduced by Assembly Members Medina, Eggman and Gonzalez Fletcher.
AB 2926 is a placeholder bill introduced by Assembly Member Eggman. Its purpose is to get something introduced by the deadline so that he has more time to put his ideas together and formulate the actual intended legislation. It is possible this bill will be amended with the intent to change private school law to separate homeschooling (private home schools) from other private schools and regulate them. It is possible there is an entirely different purpose for the bill. We will, of course, be watching this bill carefully.
Full Text of AB 2926
Full Text of AB 2756
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The authors of AB 2756 claim that the bill would protect children enrolled in home-based private schools by ensuring compliance with fire safety regulations. The bill would not accomplish that purpose, and must be seen for what it is: a bald grab for the power of the state to enter private homes.
It is important to understand that the reason AB 2756 was proposed has nothing to do with fire safety. Be sure to read the following press release by Assembly Member Jose Medina.
The horrific child abuse case in Perris, California raised questions about the lack of oversight of private schools. As homeschooling is included in the state’s definition of private school, we currently have very little information on the nature of private school entities across California. My bill, AB 2756, will tighten up existing law to be inclusive of all private school learning environments and collect more information to achieve a better understanding of the private school landscape in California. I believe it is important to have different education options, such as private schools, to meet each child’s individual needs. However, the state has a responsibility to ensure that each child is in a safe learning environment. AB 2756 will provide the oversight needed to protect students and their rights.
The HSC Board and legal team believe this bill not only fails completely to achieve the stated goal, it imposes an unacceptable risk not only to the right to educate children at home, but also to the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens. We encourage all of our members to learn about the bill and about these risks, and to contact their own state Assembly members to voice their opposition.
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What the Bill Does
This bill would amend California Education Code Section 33190, the section that requires private schools to file annual affidavits with the California Department of Education, in several ways. First, it would require that the CDE compile lists of private schools with 6 or more students, and separate lists of private schools with 5 or fewer, and send them to the State Fire Marshal, who would then send the lists of small schools to the fire districts in which those schools were located.
It then amends the Health & Safety code sections on inspection of private schools to require inspection of all private schools that file affidavits. It does nothing to prevent the adoption of regulations for buildings subject to these inspections, including if the primary use of the building is as a private home and not as a school.
How the Bill Imperils Private Homeschooling
The Health & Safety code section being amended specifically references that fire inspectors look for compliance with applicable building codes. The state could easily adopt regulations that would basically make it impossible for private schools to operate in private homes. It is a common tactic by legislators to burden the ability to exercise a constitutionally protected right through indirect means. In many states, legislators opposed to abortion have succeeded in adopting regulations that impose the same building code requirements on abortion clinics as on hospitals. Of course, the clinics can't meet those, so they have to shut down, which was the intended purpose of the regulation. We do not wish to speak about abortion, but we have to fear that the same tactic will be used here. If this bill passes, we should expect future legislation specifying that all private schools, including schools operating in private homes, meet the same building codes as large traditional schools. They might require overhead sprinkler systems, 4 foot wide doors, or other requirements which would be virtually impossible to meet, so families would need to conduct education in buildings other than their homes. Obviously, if the bill were to pass, we would look for workarounds that would enable private home education to continue (joining private satellite programs, etc.).
How the Bill Imperils Privacy Rights
This bill would, for the first time, give the government the power to allow a government official to enter a private home without some reason to think that there is a situation in the home requiring their intervention. If there is reason to think that the house is on fire, or that occupants are in danger, or that a crime is being committed, yes, the state can and should be able to enter the home. Absent that, the state should not.
The bill also gives no guidance to the marshals about the scope of their inspection. Regulations give directions on how to inspect traditional schools, but nothing about how to inspect private homes. Homes rarely have "classrooms". Can they look in a bedroom? Some fire inspectors would do the minimum, such as ensuring that there are doors and windows, and would leave. Others may welcome the chance to go on a more extended inspection of a private dwelling, and that raises very serious privacy concerns.
The bill is also silent about whether the inspectors have any right to see, or interview, children that may be present in the home. Not only are fire marshals not trained in recognizing abuse, the possibility of such interviews without actual cause to suspect harm, and a warrant authorizing them to speak to children without the consent of the parents, is alarming and not legal.
The Bill Fails to Accomplish its Purpose
Our understanding is that the inspections would be by arrangement. If a family committing criminal abuse knows the inspectors are coming, it would be reasonable to expect them to clean up the house, send the children out, and hide all evidence of criminal conduct. The inspections would reveal nothing, and the bill would fail to accomplish its purpose.
The author's office stated that the goal of the bill is to "protect children". What evidence is there that children between the ages of 6 and 18 who are in private homes between 9 and 3 are at the greatest risk of being injured in a fire? What about children below the age of 6? What about children, including all traditionally-educated children, who are in private homes in the evening, when in fact most fires occur? The bill does nothing to guarantee the safety of the vast majority of children in the state, so it does not achieve the stated goal.
The bill would be ineffective at preventing future abuse by homeschooling parents because, if the laws are changed to allow intrusion into the home, those parents will probably not file affidavits. So the bill would burden law-abiding families while not doing anything to prevent a future Turpin case.
If this Bill Won't Prevent a Future Turpin Case, Would Some Other Bill Work?
We can think of no changes to education laws that would prevent a future case like this. The Turpin case is an extreme situation. It had nothing to do with homeschooling, and everything to do with the single-minded intent of the parents to hide and abuse their children.
There is no evidence to suggest that parents who educate their children at home are more likely to abuse their children than parents who send their children to traditional schools. The statistics we have seen suggest the opposite: that rates of abuse in the latter are much higher (including by the very people to whom we entrust our children). If that is true, why place this burden just on a small group of homeschooling families?
The key is to educate the public about what child abuse looks like, and give people confidential ways to say they're worried. From what we have read, this family took great pains to isolate themselves. We have not heard that they invited social contact with the neighbors, or went to church, or the doctor, or any other place where people might have become concerned. If the neighbors had known what to look for, and could make a report without fearing reprisal, maybe the alarm would have been raised.
If no one brings a potential abuse situation to the attention of those in the government who could take action, it cannot be prevented without giving the state the power to intrude in every home. That is completely unacceptable. We don't want to live in a society that allows that.
Don't Homeschooled Children Need Further Oversight?
This case has caused many to claim that homeschooling needs more oversight, more regulation. We believe that there is no evidence that homeschooled children in California are faring any worse, educationally, than other children. Studies that look for evidence of a link between a higher degree of regulation of homeschooling by the state and the outcomes of those children find no correlation. States such as New York and Pennsylvania, which require reviews of curriculum, or annual assessments, or minimal parental qualifications, do not produce students with better test scores, or better rates of admission to or performance at college, or evidence of greater functionality and civic engagement as adults.
While states have a compelling interest in ensuring that children are educated, and may adopt reasonable regulations to achieve that goal, if there is no evidence that the regulation promotes that objective, especially if it places burdens on fundamental interests of parents, such as the privacy interest in this case, then it is not reasonable, and would not withstand constitutional analysis.
Is This Bill Legal?
We think that the bill is illegal and unconstitutional, and we are certain that, if passed, there would be litigation to prevent its enforcement. Obviously it would be far better to keep it from passing in the first place.
Please speak up. We need our entire community to be engaged in protecting our freedoms as citizens. We will be publicizing opportunities to attend hearings or meet with legislators. If you hear anything that you think the board or legal team should know about, you are welcome to contact us.