Alumni Group to IA Lawmakers: Protect Homeschooled Students

For Immediate Release: Homeschooled children need access to mandatory reporters

Canton, Ma., 02/19/2019—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit founded by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, applauds Rep. Mary Mascher’s work on behalf of homeschooled children. Rep. Mascher has introduced House File 272, designed to eliminate situations where parents use homeschooling to isolate and abuse children, and House File 182, which would restore the state’s academic protections for homeschoolers. [Note: Rep. Mascher also introduced House File 100, which is virtually identical to HF 272.]

“The risk homeschooling poses for enabling families with a history of abuse or neglect to harm their children is becoming more widely recognized,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE. “We gratefully appreciate the intent behind the measure, and strongly recommend several amendments to HF 272 to prevent abuse of the statute.”

“A growing body of research suggests that homeschooling offers abusive parents a way to isolate and mistreat their children without detection,” Coleman said. In 2014, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin found that 47% of the school-age child torture victims she studied were removed from school to be homeschooled; in 2018, a state official in Connecticut found that 36% of children removed from school to be homeschooled lived in families that were subject to at least one prior child abuse or neglect report.

Iowa is no stranger to such cases. In recent years, the state has been rocked by a series of high-profile child abuse deaths where homeschooling was directly involved. 16-year-old Natalie Finn starved to death in October 2016; 18-year-old Malayia Knapp went public with her own history of abuse; and body of 16-year-old Sabrina Ray was discovered in her parents’ basement. All three were homeschooled.

Coleman says HF 272, which would require school districts to conduct quarterly home visits for the state’s estimated 17,500 homeschooled students would place undue burden on school districts. Coleman argues that there are more effective ways to ensure that homeschooled children are safe: “Requiring parents to have their children assessed by certified teachers once a year and mandating certain medical visits, would put children in front of mandatory reporters in contexts that focus on child wellbeing without imputing suspicion,” she says. Coleman also suggested copying the approach in a 2015 bill in Michigan, which would have required homeschooled students to have two documented contacts with mandatory reporters—which include doctors, teachers, dentists, and pastors—each year.

“We recommend creating requirements that mirror the practices responsible homeschooling parents already routinely use,” said Coleman. She mentions doctor visits as one example. In Pennsylvania, children who are homeschooled are required to have medical visits during certain grades. Because responsible parents take their children to the doctor, this does not pose an additional burden on parents doing homeschooling well. New York State requires homeschooled children to have an portfolio of their work reviewed by a certified teacher or other qualified individual; many homeschooling parents appreciate this sort of feedback. Both provisions put children in front of mandatory reporters, which Coleman says can help identify situations where parents are using the homeschool law to hide abuse or neglect.

“Under current statute, the state of Iowa does nothing to ensure that children homeschooled in at-risk situations have access to safe adults” said Coleman. “This needs to change.” In addition to ensuring that students have access to mandatory reporters, Coleman also recommends creating background checks to identify cases where children are removed from school to be homeschooled after concerning histories of abuse or neglect allegations.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.

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