In January 2018, David and Louise Turpin were discovered to have hidden horrific abuse of their children behind the guise of homeschooling. They utilized California’s law that allows parents to establish their home as a private school, which exempted them from any oversight by school districts. Since this case hit the news, there have been several other news stories, both in California and other states, blaming homeschooling for allowing abuse to be hidden. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education and various state legislators have suggested measures to increase oversight of all homeschooling families in an alleged effort to catch rare cases of child abuse.
Hawaiian legislators proposed background checks on all new families wanting to homeschool. In California, two bills were introduced. The bill proposed that the fire inspections that were already supposed to be happening at all private schools would be conducted at each private home school. The second bill wanted to establish an advisory committee to investigate homeschooling and suggest legislative reforms. In Maryland, a bill was proposed for school districts to conduct the already mandated portfolio reviews in the primary location of home instruction, ostensibly in homeschooling families’ homes.
Homeschooling families rallied against these bills. They wrote to their legislators and traveled to their statehouses to speak against these proposals. So far, all of these bills have been prevented from passing. However, legislators seem to presume that homeschooling families are guilty and must prove their lack of abuse to state agents. The problem with these bills and the various news stories about abused homeschooled children is that it is not a homeschooling issue. It is a child abuse issue, regardless of the educational venue. Social services are understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed. Often social services drops the ball on children who had already been reported before they were pulled out of school. In the Turpin case, plenty of neighbors apparently had concerns in hindsight about the family but chose not to report them before the one girl managed to escape and call the police.
If you have nothing to hide, why are you against oversight?
I can only speak in terms of the state of Maryland where I reside and, therefore, have to follow those schooling requirements. Maryland is considered one of the more restrictive states for homeschooling. Each family has to report to someone (the school district or an umbrella group) at least once a year and show evidence that we are educating our children. In my case, I meet with a reviewer from the school district twice a year at one of the public libraries to show them work samples that demonstrate “regular and thorough instruction” in math, science, social studies, English, health, music, art, and physical education. Click here to read about my past review experiences.
I do not want that review meeting to take place in my house for several reasons:
- The reviewers are randomly assigned. Out of 6 reviews, I have spoken to the same person twice only by coincidence. There is no continuity or rapport-building possible between families and reviewers. My young daughter runs and hides when friends and family come over, she certainly will not be comfortable with a random stranger coming into the house. In a year, she will be kindergarten-aged and I will be held accountable for her education. Is the reviewer then going to insist that she come out to face him, so that he can check if she looks sufficiently fed and clean?
- There is no consistency in the expectations between different reviewers and, often, reviewers ask questions that are above and beyond the state homeschool regulations. Some are fine with a couple of work samples from each subject. Others try to insist that you should have brought every scrap of paper your child has ever touched. If you get the second type in your house, the review might take all day because presumably all of your educational stuff lives there.
- Under the current system, there are a half dozen reviews taking place at the same time in the library meeting room and the director of the homeschool office is present. In that setting, everyone maintains a professional attitude because you can hear and see the other reviews happening at the same time. If a difference of opinion arises during the review, it is easy to call over the director to get a second opinion. If an individual reviewer is inspecting my house, professionalism is out the door as the reviewer becomes an authority with no immediate supervision.
Teachers have to get background checks, so why shouldn’t homeschooling parents?
Teachers are entrusted with the care of other people’s children. Parents want to make sure that the people which whom their children spend the majority of the day have not already been caught harming anyone else. Yet, teachers are in the news all the time for sexual abuse of children. So, background checks are not preventing abuse by people who don’t already have a record.
All parents are not background-checked as a condition for taking their baby home after birth. So, why would someone who has already parented a child for 5 years without coming to the attention of authorities suddenly need to pass a background check in order to continue keeping their child at home just because the child has reached school-age.
But if extra regulations could help find even one abused child, wouldn’t it be worth it for everyone to have to give up a little freedom?
Extra regulations are likely to lead to a lot more reports of abused children, but that doesn’t mean that kids who need help are going to get it. Abuse can take a lot of forms and many of them are not going to be obvious to a random fire inspector or educational reviewer coming into the home for 30 minutes. Abused children are not going to reveal all to some stranger who comes through the front door.
Abusers are often charismatic and can talk their way out of many situations, otherwise, they would not get away with abuse in the first place. Individuals who are abused have it drilled into their heads that no one will help them if they tell and things will get even worse if anyone finds out. Sadly, that is actually true. Social services are overburdened and likely there will be no immediate help in most reported cases of abuse. Increasing the number of unnecessary reports with going to take away resources from investigating actual abuse cases.
NRP aired an episode of the podcast 1A about homeschool regulations about two years after the Turpin case. The issues of homeschooling hiding abuse were thoroughly covered in that discussion.