LOS ANGELES &

Parents may legally home-school their children in California even if they lack a teaching credential, a state appellate court ruled Friday.




The decision is a reversal of the court's earlier position, which effectively prohibited most home schooling and sparked fear throughout the state's estimated 166,000 home-schoolers.




Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had vowed to allow home-schooling through legislation if the court did not act, praised the ruling.




"This is a victory for California's students, parents and education community. This decision confirms the right every California child has to a quality education and the right parents have to decide what is best for their children," he said.




In February, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in a child-protection hearing that parents must have a teaching credential to home-school their children. The decision caused nationwide uproar among home-schoolers, religious activists and others, and the court agreed to reconsider its decision. The issue arose in part because home schooling is not specifically addressed in California law, unlike in at least 30 other states.




Friday's ruling essentially upheld the position of the state Department of Education and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who have traditionally allowed home schooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts.




"As head of California's public school system, it would be my wish that all children attend public school, but I understand that a traditional public school environment may not be the right setting for each and every child," he said.




"I recognize and understand the consternation that the earlier court ruling caused for many parents and associations involved in home-schooling. It is my hope that today's ruling will allay many of those fears and resolve much of the confusion."




The court also said that the right of parents to home-school their children can be overridden if a child is in danger.




The case stemmed from the Long family of Lynwood, who were accused of mistreating some of their eight children. The children are currently or had been enrolled at Sunland Christian School, where they would occasionally take tests, but they were taught in their home by their mother.




Lawyers appointed to represent the two youngest children had requested that the court require them to attend a public or private school full time so adults could monitor their well-being.




The family court disagreed, but the children's lawyers appealed.




The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in February that Sunland officials' occasional monitoring of the Longs' methods of teaching was insufficient to qualify as being enrolled in a private school. Because Mary Long does not have a teaching credential, the family has violated state laws, the ruling said.




The Longs, the Sunland school and others appealed, and the appellate panel agreed to revisit the ruling. That panel heard arguments in June, at a freewheeling hearing attended by at least 45 attorneys representing disparate groups. Democratic and Republican politicians, religious and secular home schoolers, liberal and conservative legal scholars all weighed in, saying the court had erred.




Though the appellate court upheld the right of parents to home school, it did direct the family court to revisit whether the Longs should be allowed to continue to home-school their children. It's unclear what will happen, because in July, the family court terminated its jurisdiction over the family's children, though the children's lawyers are appealing that decision.