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Parents Defend Ultimate Exclusive School

October 16, 1986|DEBRA SORRENTINO LARSON | Larson is a Newhall free-lance writer

Donna Osmanson organizes her Saugus home with the efficiency of a schoolteacher. She should--for the past three years, she has taught her two sons there.

Donna, a former rehabilitation center administrator, and her husband Dennis, a 17-year officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, decided that when it came to educating their sons, Benjamin, 7, and Dustin, 5, the responsibility would be theirs, rather than a public school's.

How many San Fernando Valley parents opt for home schooling is almost impossible to determine. Some attend Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, including the Osmansons, for whom it is a 20-mile drive from their Santa Clarita Valley home. For religious reasons, these parents believe it is their duty to emphasize fundamentalist convictions as they educate their children.

For the 1985-86 academic year in Los Angeles County, only 76 affidavits were filed by private-school operators with four or fewer students, something that signals home schooling. Of those, 19 were in the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to Donald Bolton, administrator of student attendance and adjustment services. But many parents simply ignore the bureaucratic requirements of operating a school in their home.

In 1982, Washington trend forecaster and author John Naisbitt estimated that there were 1 million home-schooling parents nationwide.

Psychologist and former school administrator Raymond Moore, who has written several books on home schooling, said California has the largest number of home-schooled students of any state in the nation. He estimates that the state has 150,000.

'A Growing Problem'

"I think it's a growing problem, especially in California, because no one is trying to analyze what really is the problem and challenge it," said Delbert Royer, a consultant in attendance and administrative services for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Bolton said that in the San Fernando Valley, "There is an issue, but we are not sure how large an issue. They only come to our attention when they are reported."

A Valley support group called the Home Schoolers has a membership of 100 Christian families who gather for monthly field trips and meetings with guest speakers. Another 20 families in the Santa Clarita Valley meet monthly in a newer, as-yet unnamed support group.

The California Education Code provides two exemptions to the Compulsory Education Law that applies to youths ages 6 to 16: a child may be tutored by a credentialed teacher or taught by a "private school" operator who files an affidavit with the county superintendent of public instruction's office and obtains a business license. But according to a 1953 Court of Appeal decision (People vs. Turner), the school must be in a location other than one's home.

Jack Erikson, a consultant in attendance and administrative services for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, called the Education Code "weak" in that it does not define what a home school is. He views such schools as illegal, but said, referring to the code, "There is little or no enforcement."

Bolton said that when an affidavit arrives from a new private school with only a few students, his staff of two investigators and several counselors will check its faculty, location and curriculum, and make sure it is following a calendar of three hours a day and 175 days a year.

Ann Shepherd, a counselor in student attendance and adjustment services of the unified school district, said that if an affidavit is suspect, the district investigates.

"The law is very loosely written on private schools and home tutoring," she said. "School districts are pressing for tighter definitions of what goes on because none of the parents have teaching credentials--most did not even graduate from college."

However, she said, "The ones I visited were seriously interested in having their children get an education."

Shepherd would not guess how many Valley parents who have not filed affidavits are teaching their children at home, but said, "I'm sure there are a lot."

Even the issue of whether children's social and academic development are harmed by home schooling is moot. A recent Wall Street Journal article on the subject quoted Mary Pitman, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Cincinnati who has been studying home schooling, as observing, "These children are learning better than their counterparts in school, and they're in no way damaged by the experience."

Lost Revenue

Each child who stays home from a public school represents a loss of money to the district.

"The most significant source--and the largest single source--of funding is ADA (Average Daily Attendance) that comes from the state," Bolton said. "Every day that a youngster is not here, we lose $13.23."

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