Law School Case Brief
Jonathan L. v. Superior Court - 165 Cal. App. 4th 1074, 81 Cal. Rptr. 3d 571 (2008)
When a child is adjudicated dependent, the dependency court has broad discretion to make any reasonable orders for the care and support of the child, specifically including orders limiting the right of the parents to make educational decisions for the child. Calif. Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 245.5, 361, subd. (a), 362, subds. (a) & (d). While parents generally have a parental liberty interest, California also has recognized that the welfare of a child is a compelling state interest that a state has not only a right, but a duty, to protect. The power of a parent, even when linked to a free exercise claim, may be subject to limitation if it appears that parental decisions will jeopardize the health or safety of the child.
In a dependency case, an attorney on behalf of two children who were being home schooled, filed a petition for writ of mandate. The family had a history of dependency court proceedings involving charges of physical abuse, neglect, and failure to prevent sexual abuse. After the two youngest children were declared dependent due to the abuse and neglect of their siblings, their attorney sought an order that they be sent to private or public school, rather than be educated at home by their mother, so that they would be in regular contact with mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect. The dependency court declined to issue such an order, primarily based on its view that parents have an absolute constitutional right to home school their children. The children's counsel sought relief in this court by a petition for an extraordinary writ. The Court filed its original opinion, granting the petition on the basis that (1) California statutory law does not permit home schooling; and (2) a prohibition does not violate the United States Constitution. The children's father filed a petition for review, which was granted by the Court.
In a dependency case considering the legality of and restraints upon home schooling, is an order requiring a dependent child to attend school outside the home in order to protect that child's safety considered an unconstitutional violation of the parents' right to direct the education of their children?
The petition for writ of mandate was granted, and the matter was remanded to the trial court with directions to vacate its order denying the motion to require the children to attend public or traditional private school, and to reconsider the motion. The trial court was directed to consider whether the children's safety necessitated removing them from home schooling. The Court concluded that California statutes permit home schooling. Although the legislature had not amended the statutory scheme so as to expressly permit home schooling, the legislature had apparently accepted the proposition that home schools were permissible in California when conducted as private schools. Several statutory enactments indicated a legislative approval of home schooling, by exempting home schools from requirements otherwise applicable to private schools. However, the Court also concluded that parents did not possess an absolute right to home school their children. Although parents possessed a constitutional liberty interest in directing the education of their children, that right had to yield to state interests in certain circumstances. The statutory permission to home school could constitutionally be overridden in order to protect the safety of a child who had been declared dependent. An order that would require the children to attend school outside their home in order to protect their safety would not be an unconstitutional violation of their parents' right to direct the children's education because the parents had already been judicially determined not to be fit.
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