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Key Court Cases Which Affect Homeschooling

Meyer v. Nebraska 262 U.S. 390; 43 S. Ct. 625 (1923)

A teacher in a parochial school taught the German language to a 10-year old child and was convicted of violating a Nebraska state law which prohibited teaching foreign languages to students below the 9th grade. The teacher appealed, and the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction and held that the Nebraska statute was “arbitrary and infringed on the liberty guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Basically, the 14th Amendment guarantees that individuals have freedom not just from “bodily restraint,” but that they also have the right to enter contracts, engage in occupations, acquire knowledge, marry, establish homes, bring up children, worship God, pursue happiness, etc. Thus in this case, the Supreme Court found that the state of Nebraska had wrongly exceeded its proper authority and arbitrarily interfered with 14th Amendment liberties by blocking students’ opportunities to acquire knowledge and by denying parents the power to control the education of their own children.

Pierce v. Society of Sisters 268 U.S. 510; 45 S. Ct. 571 (1925)

In 1922, Oregon passed its Compulsory Education Act, which required that “all normal children aged 8 to 16 years old attend public school.” In this case, two private elementary schools challenged that law, arguing that they had a right to operate as private schools and that parents have a 14th Amendment right to enroll their children in private schools. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the private schools, holding that the Oregon law was an unreasonable interference with the liberty of parents to direct the “upbringing and education of their children” as well as an unconstitutional interference with the private schools’ right to operate.

Ohio v. Whisner 47 Ohio St. 2d 181; 351 N.E.2d 750 (1976)

Twelve parents of school-age children were convicted for violating Ohio’s compulsory attendance law by sending their children to a private Christian school which did not conform to Ohio’s minimum standards. The parents appealed their conviction to the Ohio Supreme Court and won because the court held that the Ohio standards imposed an unreasonable burden on the parents’ right to free exercise of their religion under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The court held that while the state did have an interest in the education of its citizens, the Ohio minimum standards did not allow the school to devote time to teaching religion because “all activities” had to conform to the board of education’s policies. Further, the court held that the minimum standards infringed on the parents’ rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children by effectually “eradicating the distinction between public and nonpublic education.” While this case is not binding in California, it indicates at least one state’s highest court’s interpretation.

Wisconsin v. Yoder 406 U.S. 205; 92 S. Ct. 1526; 32 L. Ed. 2d 15 (1972)

A group of Amish and Mennonite parents were convicted of violating Wisconsin’s compulsory attendance law when they refused to send their children to public high school. The parents taught their high-school age children at home in “practical pursuits.” The parents’ conviction was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court where the parents won their case on the grounds that the law violated their fundamental religious belief that they should remain “aloof from the world.” The Court noted in its decision that the children’s failure to attend the last one or two years of compulsory public school would not harm either the children or society.

Minnesota v. Newstrom 371 N.W. 2d 525 (1985)

A woman was convicted of violating Minnesota’s compulsory attendance law after she removed her children from public school classes and homeschooled them part time. The conviction was made on the grounds that she did not meet the qualifications to be a teacher. Under the statute, teachers had to have qualifications where were “essentially equivalent” to the minimum qualifications for public school teachers. Ms. Newstrom appealed to the Supreme Court of Minnesota, which ruled in her favor and reversed her conviction. The Court held that the term “essentially equivalent” was unconstitutionally vague. Although this is a Minnesota case and therefore not binding in California, it is notable because state officials in California have sometimes declared that California’s requirement that private school teachers be “capable of teaching” means that they must meet all educational requirements imposed on public school teachers.


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