I’m sure by now everyone’s heard about the recent case of a California family’s 13 children being locked up in their house and starved. The children, ranging in age from 2 to 29 were rescued earlier this week after one of the girls escaped the home where they were being held in foul conditions and called for help from a deactivated cell phone.
But what is now getting more attention than the horrific nature of what these parents did is the fact that the family was able to fly under the radar as registered homeschoolers causing outrage in the community and calls for stricter homeschooling regulations.
These parents were following the laws of their state. In the state of California, children may be schooled at home “if the Private School Affidavit is properly filed, and the school meets the criteria for a full-time private school, a local school district can allow an exemption [from compulsory education laws].”
But let me make something perfectly clear, here:
Child abuse is not a homeschooling problem.
This is not a case of a broken “system” or lack of oversight. Neighbors and family members were never suspicious of a problem. No one ever reported concerns about the well-being of any of the children.
Because child abuse is a parenting problem.
Abuse happens in all different situations and circumstances. Parents who want to abuse or neglect their children will find a way. Yes, you can say that if these children had been in a traditional school setting that this might not have happened.
But crazy will always find a way.
If a person is determined to act a certain way, to make specific decisions, they will find a way to make it happen. There is always a way to fly under the radar.
In our state of Florida, the homeschooling law requires homeschooling parents to file a letter of intent to homeschool when undertaking homeschooling as well as an annual educational evaluation be completed by a state certified teacher, psychologist or other professional. This, in theory, allows local Florida school districts to regularly check-in with homeschooled students.
But here’s the catch (there’s always a catch!):
In order to end a homeschooling problem, the parent only has to file a letter of termination with the school district. This is generally done when a student enters a different educational program (public or private), completes their education or moves out of the district.
When we moved houses almost 3 years ago, it involved changing school districts as well. My letter of termination to our old school district was a simple form with the options:
The reason for termination is:
Entry to ___________ public or ___________ private school School
___ Moving out of County
___ Completion of High School (e.g., correspondence program)
___ Taking the GED (General Education Diploma) Test
Other (specify) _______________________
I checked the “moving out of county” spot, mailed in my letter (via certified mail) and that was it. I never received any correspondence back from the county, they never asked where we were going or got in touch with our new school district.
Of course, I actually did move out of county. And I did file my intent to homeschool with our new school district. And I’ve filed the annual evaluations on time each year.
But there is nothing stopping parents from checking the box “moving out of county” and not going anywhere. In fact, there is nothing stopping any parent from withdrawing their children from public school under the guise of moving and merely keeping them home.
And this sort of thing is exactly what happens. When tragedy strikes, homeschooling is often cited as the reason child abuse went undetected.
But in many cases the children are not being homeschooled under the regulations of their state, their parents or guardians deliberately flying under the radar, skirting the system.
This is not the sign of a broken “system” needing repair and further oversight. It does not indicate that current laws are too lax and putting homeschooled children at greater risk than their traditionally educated peers. Child abuse is a sign of mental instability in parents and that can (and does) happen in any situation.