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Amador County Trade School Wins First Amendment Fight Against California

PLYMOUTH (CBS13) — An Amador County trade school has won a major First Amendment fight against the State of California, and now, new rules will go into effect on January 1 as a result of its legal battle.

For 30 years, thousands of students have attended the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School in Plymouth learning how to become professional farriers.

But several years ago, California state regulators notified owner Bob Smith that the school was facing fines and closure for violating a law that requires trade school students to have a high school diploma, a GED or take an ability test.

"It didn't have relevance to what my guys do – shoe horses," Bob said.

He says some of his students never graduated for a variety of reasons.

"Eighty-five percent of foster kids drop out of high school, and they can't be trained not just in horseshoeing but welding and cosmetology massage therapy," he said.

So Bob fought back, saying he has a First Amendment constitutional right to teach all students; And earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, prompting lawmakers to repeal the requirements.

"I think it's awesome because it was initially for my school but it affects virtually every trade school in California," Bob said.

So why were the requirements in place? UC Hastings Law Professor John Myers says the rules had good intent.

"The initial purpose of this state law was directly to respond to these fly-by-night so-called educational institutions that were taking kids' money and then not delivering on the kinds of programs that would give these kids a future," Myers said.

But he says the Constitution protects teachers and students.

"Vocational training is speech protected by the First Amendment," he said.

Bob is now ready to open his doors to all who want to hammer out a new career.

"It's unfair that the government would come out and say you don't have a chance to invest in your own life," Bob said.

Bob says his next battle may be fighting rules that require an English proficiency exam for foreign students who come from English-speaking countries like Canada.

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