For Your Consideration…

During the course of the week leading to the California Legislature’s February 16 deadline for the introduction of proposed legislation for the current year, some 3,200 bills saw the light of day at the State Capitol.  We are still in the process of sifting through the avalanche of legislation and evaluating bills of interest to California’s private school community.  Readers can find information about legislation assigned to CAPSO’s “primary watch list,” and follow the progress of individual bills, here.  Several newly proposed laws raise interesting public policy questions.  Here are three for your consideration.

AB 2756, authored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D. – Riverside), represents the sole piece of legislation introduced by way of response to the shocking acts of child abuse reported to have occurred in Perris, California – a community represented by Mr. Medina. Parents David and Louise Turpin are alleged to have subjected their children to unthinkable treatment under legal cover of operating a home school.  Rather than propose a sweeping response directed at private schools in general, Mr. Medina is to be commended for offering a focused and sensible bill aimed at tightening existing laws, and improving articulation between the units of government responsible for enforcement.

More specifically, AB 2756 seeks to differentiate “conventional or traditional private schools” from “parents, guardians, or other individuals who operate a private home school” on the private school affidavit, the legal document every private school in the state is required to file on an annual basis. The measure would also require the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to publish two lists of private schools – one including the names and addresses of schools enrolling six-or-more students (as is currently required), and an additional list identifying private schools in which five-or-fewer students are enrolled – a new feature of law that, in theory, would capture all home schools.  The bill also establishes that both lists will be provided to the State Fire Marshal and the chief of a city or county fire department or district providing fire protection services to the area in which the school is located.  The purpose of doing so is to facilitate enforcement of a law that has long been on the books, requiring the conduct of annual fire inspections in private schools.

The theory behind AB 2756 is simple: if current provisions of law are appropriately enforced in all private schools, fire inspectors will observe  – incidental to the purpose of their inspections – obvious evidence of child neglect and abuse such as those found by authorities in the Turpin’s home: shackles chained to bed legs (if not children), rooms strewn with feces, emaciated children, and more.  Because fire inspectors are mandated reporters, they are required by law to immediately report such observations to appropriate law enforcement officials, who possess the authority to further investigate each circumstance..

Some home school groups are already pushing back, strongly, against Assemblymember Medina’s bill. Their objections appear to be reducible to the charge that private residences would become subject to entry without warrants.  But herein lies a problem.  When the same protesting home school parents sign the private school affidavit, they are affirming the conduct of “private school instruction.”  This, they do quite willingly, as the filing of the affidavit protects their home-schooled children against possible charges of truancy.  By affixing their signature to the affidavit, home school parents are, essentially, declaring their home to be a school. One can’t call a home a school, and a school a home when it’s convenient to do one, but not the other.  If home school parents find themselves repeatedly seeking “carve-outs” from laws all other private schools must follow – think back to the battle over SB 277, the bill pertaining to school immunizations – perhaps the time has come for state law to establish a legal distinction between traditional private schools and home schools.  Something to think about.

SB 972, a bill introduced by State Senator Anthony Portantino (D. – Pasadena), would require all schools, public and private, offering instruction in any of grades 7-12, to print suicide prevention hotline telephone numbers on the back of student identification cards – if a school issues such cards. This seems like a good, and timely idea.  The national teenage suicide rate has climbed at an alarming rate.  Over the period spanning 2007-2015, the suicide rate for girls of ages 15-19 doubled, to reach its highest level in 40 years, while the suicide rate for boys in the same age group increased 30 percent.

In light of such stark data, Senator Portantino’s bill should be viewed as a public health and safety measure, not dissimilar to state mandated immunization requirements for school children.  When it comes to shots for school, however, the state sees fit to provide no-fee immunizations for children whose families can’t afford to pay for them, through county departments of health. Which raises the question of why, in matters of public health and safety, generally, the state shouldn’t assume, or defray the cost of related mandates imposed upon private schools.  Children, after all, do not cease being members of the public once they enroll in a private school. And it should not be assumed that the mere fact of enrollment in a private school means that families and schools possess sufficient resources to fulfill the state’s unfunded mandates.

Finally, we have AB 2570, introduced by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D. – North Hollywood).  Titled, The Clean and Healthy Schools Act, The measure would require all schools, both public and private, “to purchase and use exclusively environmentally preferable cleaning and cleaning maintenance products” by the 2020-21 school year, “or when it is economically feasible” to do so.  By “economically feasible,” the proposed law means “that there is no net increase in the cleaning costs of a school.”

This is another example of a bill that appears to be motivated by good intentions.  If two cleaning products are equally effective and cost the same, why shouldn’t schools purchase products that have been independently and objectively determined to be friendlier to the environment and people’s health? Yet, if these conditions can be met, why subject schools, alone, to the sort of requirements proposed by Assemblymember Nazarian?  If the answer has anything to do with the vulnerability of children, why not begin with hospitals, where the health of patients is considerably more precarious?  If the answer is “we’ve got to start somewhere,” why not begin with all state and local government offices?  In fact, if some cleaning products are so environmentally undesirable that a law is required that prohibits some Californians from purchasing them, why not simply ban them, outright?  These, too, are questions to ponder and discuss.

Speaking of which…you are invited to share your thoughts on any, or all of the above bills, by commenting on this post.

Please be advised that the views expressed in this article are my own, and do not necessarily represent positions adopted by the California Association of Private School Organizations or any of CAPSO’s members. 

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