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California Senate Bills: SB 1317 (& SB 1148)

(September 1, 2010)

SB 1317 (and SB 1148), as originally written, could have resulted in homeschooling parents going to court without HSLDA having the opportunities they have frequently used under current law to resolve their members’ legal contacts, preventing them from having to go to court.  SB 1317 and SB 1148 were introduced in the California Legislature this year to create a new category of a truant called “chronic truant” in the Education Code, and created a new crime in the Penal Code.  SB 1148 was later dropped and its language was amended into SB 1317.

Most investigations of homeschoolers in California involve an allegation of truancy.

From the time these bills were introduced, we (FPM with the teamwork legal consultation of HSLDA) worked behind-the-scenes to make sure that the bill was amended to reinstate the due process steps, currently provided for under California law, before any prosecution of the new “chronic truancy.”  We were prepared to send out an Alert had it become necessary.  Gratefully, it was not.  We praise God for this tremendous victory!

Under current law, public school officials are required to notify the parent when a pupil is initially classified as a truant.  Additionally, these school officials are now required to make every attempt to work with the parent and the truant pupil to resolve the pupil’s truancy problem.  Only after these required “due process” steps (e.g. parental notification, SARB hearings, etc…) prove unsuccessful in resolving the situation, are public school officials authorized to refer the parent (and the truant pupil) to the District Attorney for prosecution.

As initially introduced in these two bills, the proposed chronic truancy procedures would have bypassed all these reporting requirements and “due process” provisions in current truancy law.  As a result, any public school official who was opposed to private homeschooling could simply wait until a homeschooled child had “missed” 18 days (10% of 180 days) of public school attendance and then the official could contact the District Attorney to prosecute the parents, for allegedly not ensuring that their child attends school.

Had this proposal passed as initially written, parents and HSLDA would not have had any of the opportunities currently enjoyed to address and correct the truancy allegation with the public school officials before having to argue the case in court.  More likely, the first time the parents would have known that their child had been declared a “chronic truant” would have been when they were contacted by the DA’s office informing them that they are charged with a misdemeanor to be tried in court, facing a possible fine of up to $2,000 and a jail term up to one year.  This elimination of current due process procedures had to be addressed.

Over the years, HSLDA has relied upon these due process steps for a homeschool family’s legal defense.  This is true even after the 2008 Appellate Court decision.  These procedures have been a tool for families to become informed of these allegations as early as possible and for HSLDA to be able to address the issue satisfactorily before the family even gets to court.

As initially introduced, the new term “chronic truant” would have been defined as a pupil who was absent from school without a valid excuse for 10% or more of the number of school days in one school year (e.g. 18 days absent out of 180 days for public schools), without the current due process requirements.  Under current law, a pupil is truant if he has three unexcused absences, and is habitually truant if he has 5 or more unexcused absences.

While keeping in contact with the author’s office, we at FPM worked with HSLDA and an attorney who is very familiar with prosecuting truancy cases.  Together we developed an amendment that would protect innocent parents, including homeschooling parents, from the negative effects of this bill.

Eventually, SB 1317 was amended to satisfy our concerns.**

We at Family Protection Ministries, in teamwork with HSLDA, have fought to improve and defend these due process procedures successfully over the last 25 years.  It has been a long battle, and this is another important part of that battle in which God continues to grant us victories.

We are grateful to God to be able to report to you a strategically important victory.  SB 1317 was amended to require public school officials to follow all of the reporting and “due process” provisions of current law before they could declare a pupil to be a “chronic truant”.  SB 1317 was passed by the Legislature with our positive amendment language and sent to the Governor’s office.  Because SB 1317 no longer creates a problem for private homeschoolers, it will not matter whether the Governor signs or vetoes the bill.  The principles of due process have been protected for families facing allegations of truancy.  This is a great victory!!

No action is required on SB 1317.

** Footnote: The following language was amended first into SB 1148 on April 6, 2010.  This same language was then amended into SB 1317 on June 16, 2010, after SB 1148 died in the Senate Appropriations Committee as a result of not being passed by the May 28, 2010 Fiscal Committee deadline.

“Section 48263.6 is added to the Education Code to read:

48263.6. Any pupil subject to compulsory full-time education or to compulsory continuation education who is absent from school without a valid excuse for 10 percent or more of the schooldays in one school year, from the date of enrollment to the current date, is deemed a chronic truant, provided that the appropriate school district officer or employee has complied with Sections 48260, 48260.5, 48261, 48262, 48263, and 48291. The reference to these underlined sections implements our requested amendment — that all current due process steps be adhered to before any prosecution of truancy, including the new “chronic truancy.”