Florida Lawmakers Should Support Homeschooled Children, Not Leave Them Adrift

For Immediate Release: Proposed legislation would limit protections for a homeschooled children when they are needed most

Canton, Ma., 01/11/2018—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit that advocates for homeschooled children, has concerns about House Bill 731 and Senate Bill 732, which would limit school districts’ authority over homeschooling. “The body of 10-year-old Janiya Thomas was found in a freezer in Bradenton in 2015,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the organization, which was founded by homeschool alumni. “Janiya died because the Florida’s homeschool law did not do enough to protect her. This is the time for Florida lawmakers to improve the law, not shackle it.”

HB 731 and SB 732 would bar school districts from requesting additional information from homeschooling parents and limit the district’s ability to review homeschooled children’s annual assessments. “This bill appears to be directed at school districts like Miami-Dade, which ask homeschooling parents to provide copies of their children’s birth certificates,” said Coleman, who understands homeschooling parents’ frustration when requirements are unclear. “The current law is too vague, but writing the most loose interpretation into law isn’t the solution.”

Janiya’s mother had a criminal record and had previously had a child removed from her home due to abuse but was still permitted to homeschool. Florida law does not require any form of background checks for parents who withdraw their children from school to homeschool. After the 2011 death of Nubia Barahona, a 10-year-old homeschooled child in West Palm Beach, an independent review panel called on DCF to “work with the school system and the Department of Education to devise an efficient alert system, with appropriate follow-up inspections, for at risk children removed from the school system and placed in ‘home schooling.’” The recommended system, which might have saved Janiya, was never created.

“Rather than limiting school districts’ ability to ask for information, lawmakers should create a uniform background check process for homeschooling parents to prevent tragedies like Janiya’s death and to avoid confusion between homeschooling parents and district officials,” said Coleman. “Lawmakers can clarify the law and protect children at the same time.”

The bill also expands homeschooled students’ access to career and technical courses and allows homeschooled students to participate in athletics at any public school in the state (current law restricts homeschooled students to participating at the public school they would have attended). “We support efforts to give homeschooled students access to programs and services to help them succeed,” said Coleman. “We are concerned, however, that allowing homeschooled students to participate in athletics across district lines would create a loophole legalizing recruitment, serving coaches and sports programs and not children.”

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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