On Monday, June 23rd, the California Supreme Court reheard the In Re: Rachel L. case. This was the case that created a huge media surge in March, easily convincing the paranoid and the fearful that our days of homeschooling in Califorania were over.
There have been quite a few blog posts about Monday’s hearing, and a few newspaper articles. But other than that, the media is pretty bored with this story. There isn’t anything bad happening just yet, so what’s to tell?
There’s actually quite a lot to tell. Representatives from HSC, CHN, CHEA and many other special interest groups were present at the hearing. The judges listened closely to everyone’s statements. Whatever the ruling will be, it won’t be done without very careful thought about the impact on homeschoolers in California.
Debbie Schwarzer, HSC’s legal chair, has been upbeat about the trial. Generally speaking, Debbie is level headed and neutral about most things. Her subtle display of optimism says a lot about the judge’s overall reception of pro-homeschooling arguments.
The arguments were long (two and a half hours in a hot courtroom) and thorough. The judges asked lots of questions, with some consistent themes. As soon as you thought you had one judge pegged as to how they were thinking, they’d ask another question that made you wonder about your prior conclusion. They were reasonably generous about letting people finish their presentations or points even if they ran over a little.
Some of the attorneys presenting made wonderful arguments that we loved. Others were potentially damaging. Most of the folks on our side did a really good job.
It is absolutely impossible to predict how the court will rule on this — whether it will be narrow, sweeping, or something entirely different, and we don’t want to feed any rumor mill. They have 90 days to do something, which means we should expect a ruling by late September. All three of the big groups will, of course, coordinate to make sure we give consistent advice about how to homeschool come fall, and will work together after the ruling comes out should any change in advice be necessary. If the ruling goes against us, our pro bono firms have assured us that they’re in it for the long haul and will be with us every step of the way.
I think it’s especially important to note from Debbie’s description of what happened on Monday, that no matter what the judges rule, we can handle it. Even if the worst possible ruling comes down, we’ve got the tools to deal with it. We’ve got a slew of attorneys on the ready, lots of political backing, and a whole lot of volunteers who have been trained and ready to do what’s necessary to get things done. Debbie is not afraid. I wasn’t afraid before her email. After reading her email, I’m even less afraid.
Karen Taylor, from CHN, was also present at the hearing. She released her account of the day to the CHN e-lists. This is her email, reprinted with permission:
The court of appeals rehearing was today, in Los Angeles. We were expecting this to be a closed hearing, but it was open, and members of the press were there. The line was long, waiting to get in the courtroom, and there was some concern that we would not all get in. Those from the state homeschooling groups were really glad when they kept on counting past us, meaning we were going to be allowed to observe the proceeding.
CHN, CHEA, and HSC had many attorneys present, and they travelled quite a distance to be there. I think it was good that so many of them were able to hear the arguments.
The hearing began at 10:00 am and it was supposed to go for 2 hours. Instead, it went on for an additional 45 minutes, and that was at the discretion of the three judges. There were 12 attorneys who spoke and each had an agreed upon time limit. But the judges were very involved and often stopped them and asked questions. It was very interactive, and the judges were attentive. They also made references to some of the amicus briefs, and were very knowledgeable.
Our state groups had an attorney present to speak on behalf of California homeschoolers. She spoke for 15 minutes, which was longer than the court expected for her, but when it was noted that she had gone over (because so many questions were asked), one of the judges asked if she had anything else to add because “Your argument has been excellent so far.” That was very nice to hear! I think her points were some of the best received of the day.
I know everyone who was present will take something different from the day. For me, it seemed that the judges are trying to do what they feel is best. At one point, one of them said “Keep in mind this court has an obligation to interpret the intent of the legislature, and it is a huge burden.” Right before they left the courtroom, one of them thanked those in the courtroom for appearing and being diligent in providing information, and said that the issues are monumental. It appears that they have an understanding of the significance of their decision. Homeschoolers in California as well as the nation hope that they’ll reach a favorable decision.
The judges seem to be seriously considering all sides of the issue. Whatever their ruling is, there will be people who aren’t happy with it. But nobody can say that they didn’t make a real effort to listen to everyone’s arguments.
What does this all mean?
1) Business as usual. Homeschoolers in California will continue to do what they are doing, following the education codes just as they did before.
2) There is nothing to fear. There’s nothing we can do before the ruling. After the ruling, there is no time to be afraid. We must deal with whatever the judges say, no matter what they say. Fear does not help us.
3) This is an important time in California homeschool history. We can be a part of that, or we can sit back and watch. Either way, it’s happening.
The court has 90 days to make its decision. Let’s play and enjoy life, until it does.