Hawaii SB 2323 Is a Positive Step toward Protecting Homeschooled Children

For Immediate Release: Senate Bill 2323 is a productive response to a nationwide pattern of abusive parents misusing homeschooling to hide abuse

Canton, Ma. 02/07/2018—This week, Hawaii State Senator Kaiali’i Kahele introduced Senate Bill 2323, which would create a screening process designed to ensure that children with elevated risk factors are not removed from school to be homeschooled. Kahele told reporters that he introduced the bill in response the tragic 2016 starvation death of 9-year-old Shaelynn Lehano, who lived in his Hilo district. “We are pleased with Sen. Kahele’s proposal and urge the Hawaii legislature to put homeschooled children first by supporting SB 2323,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “Homeschooling should be used to lovingly prepare children for an open future, and not as an avenue for abusive parents to isolate children and conceal torture and abuse.”

Under SB 2323, the complex area superintendent would run a background check on each individual residing in a home upon the receipt of a notification of intent to homeschool; families with a history of child abuse or neglect would have their notification of intent denied. In the bill’s introduction, Kahele references “Peter Boy” Kema, who died in 1997 after his parents were allowed to homeschool him despite their history of child abuse and neglect. Shaelynn’s case was eerily similar. In a 2014 study of child torture, Barbara Knox, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin, found that 47% of the school-aged victims she examined had been removed from school to be homeschooled, an act “designed to further isolate the child” that “typically occurred after closure of a previously opened CPS case.”

CRHE maintains the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database, which catalogues cases across the country where abuse and neglect occur under the guise of homeschooling. In many of these cases, parents withdrew a child to homeschool after teachers demonstrated a willingness to report signs of abuse, thus preventing future reports. “We have seen case after case where abusive parents have used homeschooling to conceal abuse,” said Coleman.

Currently, two states bar homeschooling based on certain risk factors. Pennsylvania bars parents from homeschooling when an adult in the household has committed a crime that would prevent them from teaching in a public school; Arkansas prohibits homeschooling when there is a registered sex offender in the home. SB 2323 would make Hawaii a national leader in the protection of homeschooled children. The background check and flagging process proposed by Sen. Kahele is in line with CRHE’s recommendations.

“Previous child welfare services involvement is one of the top risk factors for future abuse,” said Coleman. “Children at elevated risk of child abuse should have access to mandatory reporters and a support system.”

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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