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EDITORIAL: Ruling highlights the importance of schooling options

As the nation’s schoolchildren head into a third straight school year impacted by the pandemic, a court ruling in California is shining a light on the importance of parents’ freedom to choose how best to educate their children.

In July 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all public and private schools in the state’s 32-county COVID-19 watch list to stay closed and to conduct “rigorous” distance learning instead. The edict prompted a lawsuit from public and private school families, in conjunction with the Center for American Liberty, who argued that the order consigned children in affected counties to a substandard education, given that students in other counties remained on campus.

The San Diego Tribune reported that some parents in the lawsuit opted for tutoring or private school because of the insufficient quality of the remote instruction provided by the public schools. One child received no live instruction at all, only work packets. Another child with autism received no special education services, forcing his parents to pay for a tutor.

In December, a California judge ruled in favor of the governor. But last month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that, while Gov. Newsom had the authority to shutter the state’s public schools, he had no such power as it pertains to private campuses.

“California’s forced closure of their private schools implicates a right that has long been considered fundamental under the applicable case law — the right of parents to control their children’s education and to choose their children’s educational forum,” wrote Judge Daniel Collins in the appeal court’s opinion. The judge went on: “By prohibiting in-person instruction at the relevant plaintiffs’ (private) schools, California effectively imposed an attendance cap of zero.”

As J.D. Tuccille of Reason surmised last week, the court’s ruling creates a clear, albeit frustrating, line in the sand for parents deciding what’s best for their kids: “Should they risk the pandemic-fueled chaos of forcibly pre-paid government schools, or should they try homeschooling, private schools or something different?”

While concerns over remote learning and other variables led many families to flee the public schools last year, those who left “all share a common desire to find educational paths that place their individual needs and priorities above the government’s ‘one-size-fits-all mandates’,” Mr. Tuccille argues.

Whatever parents ultimately decide, the choice should be theirs. The appeals court ruling highlights the value of alternatives to traditional public schools — and the pandemic school closures make the availability of such alternatives even more important.

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