Rachel Coleman’s Interview on KNX1070
Listen to Executive Director, Rachel Coleman’s interview with KNX1070 opposite Mike Smith of HSLDA.
TRANSCRIPT BEGINS AT 00:16.
CHARLES FELDMAN: Inspections: Would inspections have discovered the home in Perris where thirteen siblings were found in torturous conditions, not enough food, some chained to furniture? The house was a home school, but in California no inspections are required except for the fire department and even that apparently did not happen. So, we will go in depth. Also, it’s not every day that the President of the United States is compared with the former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but today is that day. It was an extraordinary speech by a Republican US Senator on the floor of the US Senate.
MIKE SIMPSON: Later on we’ll be talking about two stabbing deaths, a college student over winter break and a transgender woman, and the hate crime investigations that could surround them. And then as the President hands out his fake news awards, many Americans really don’t know the difference between real news and what’s fake.
FELDMAN: We begin with the tragedy in Riverside County. Thirteen brothers and sisters found malnourished in what authorities described as “their filthy family home.” Some of them chained to their beds, their parents under arrest, the big question – how could this happen, and why didn’t anybody outside know?
SIMPSON: So these siblings were homeschooled by their parents. So in hindsight many are asking, why weren’t there inspections – some rules for homeschooling that might have shed light on this situation? We have two guests: Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, and Mike Smith, attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
FELDMAN: So Rachel, let’s begin with you. As I understand it, you were homeschooled. But, and I know that states differ, should a state such as California have apparently no, or if there are any, very little, regulations that would require some sort of state input, some sort of state inspection into these so-called home schools?
RACHEL COLEMAN: Hi, yes, so we have a set of policy recommendations you make- that we make, but I think to understand our position – we are actually – our board is all homeschool graduates. And we founded our organization in 2013 because we kept seeing cases like this. This is not the first case like this, not the only case like this, and as homeschool graduates we were sort of appalled to see this education method that had served us, in some cases, well – my own experience, I had a great education – to see it used to hide abuse in these ways. And so we do call for accountability. We tend to call for accountability in ways that reflect the sorts of things responsible homeschooling parents already do. We would like to see, for example, mandated annual doctor visits, and annual assessments by a certified teacher. These would be points of contact with a mandatory reporter that could have identified these children’s situation, especially with as malnourished as they were.
SIMPSON: So Mike, Rachel says that her group kept seeing cases like this one. Do you think there needs to be more rules out there to prevent this kind of thing?
MIKE SMITH: Well, I think there, I think there needs to be a better, better way to address child abuse and neglect, but I don’t see that as the same thing as homeschooling. In other words, there – in order to prevent child abuse, you can’t prevent all of it, but to do a better job, basically you have to try to figure out what the risk factors are. And homeschooling has never been declared a risk factor by the Mayo Clinic, which has done research on this. The [muffled], the World Health Organization and the US Congress basically commissioned a study in 2014 to eliminate child abuse and neglect fatalities and they found that the number one risk factor is whether a family has been investigated previously or they have – they’re under suspicion of child abuse and neglect. And homeschooling, in none of these studies, in none of these surveys, has been mentioned as a prime risk factor for abuse and neglect. So that’s where I take issue with what’s being proposed with the kind of regulations – especially the regulations I’ve heard, and I hope Rachel would even agree with me on this – inspections of the home. In other words, we’re talking about basically a Fourth Amendment issue. So I do not believe that all of the fine homeschool families in California, and there are thousands of them, should have to be subjected to this added regulation because of what this family did.
FELDMAN: Well Mike, and let me, and then we’ll get to Rachel’s response, but let me ask you. Whatever studies may or may not have shown, and I’m not going to dispute that from the past, I think you would agree that even one horrific case such as the one that we are talking about here is one too many. So, so long as the regulations are not too onerous, what would be the objection? Everything in life is regulated. You can’t drive a car without regulations, you can’t get married without regulations, you can’t get divorced without regulations. Why not have some regulations that would at least give some sort of protection to students who may be, if not abused by their parents, perhaps just not well educated by their parents?
SMITH: Well, I would say that, I disagree with your statement if you could just eliminate one-[crosstalk in italics]
FELDMAN: (no, no I didn’t say)
SMITH: I would like to eliminate all
FELDMAN: no I didn’t say that
SMITH: I would like to eliminate
FELDMAN: Go ahead
SMITH: -to eliminate all child abuse and neglect, just like everybody here would. This is abhorrent to me, because I’m in homeschooling because I love children. But I also believe that the liberty issue is important for the rest of the families that are not abusing and neglecting their children, especially when you, you’re talking about the need for individualized education and a tutorial method of education. If we’re going to have the state come in, you’re gonna [muffled], you’re going to see that the test scores that are tremendously high right now on standardized achievement tests by homeschooled families could suffer as a result, and so I see no need to, to bring further regulation. Especially, I’m really concerned about this proposal that’s coming forth that, that homes would be inspected. That’s, that’s just not acceptable.
SIMPSON: Alright, Mike, let’s put you on hold for a second again and get Rachel’s response here. Rachel, doctor’s visits or test scores and standardized tests aside, let’s concentrate on the state coming and knocking on the door and doing the inspection for a second, do you think that should be happening?
COLEMAN: We do not support home visits for these cases. We believe that the primary emphasis in a case like this should be ensuring that they have contact with mandatory reporters. And we believe we can do this by having annual assessments by certified teachers and also regular doctor visits. These kids were so malnourished, that would have been picked up. I do want to touch on a few of the things that Mike Smith just said. First of all, risk factors. Every one, every one of these reports he just mentioned list isolation as a risk factor, and there is no better way to isolate a child than to homeschool them. Now I want to be clear – most homeschooling families do not isolate their children. I was not isolated – I was homeschooled. But there was a study in 2014 by Barbara Knox that found that – specifically she was looking at child torture cases, child abuse so severe you could call it torture – and for the school age cases she looked at, 47% of them involved children who were pulled out of school to be homeschooled, followed by an increase in isolation and an escalation of the abuse. So ,you know, clearly the isolation that homeschooling can enable in these abusive cases is a risk factor. I also want to mention the issue of risk factors being previous investigations by, of the family, by social services. That’s absolutely something we’ve found true in the cases in our database. That’s one of the reasons we recommend requiring a background check for homeschooling parents to check: was there a previous case of child abuse that was founded by a judge – or were children removed from the home in the past? And I want to mention that Mike Smith’s organization has opposed these measures. So he’s sitting there saying that he thinks that we should pay attention to risk factors like previous investigations – they oppose background checks to ensure that families previously founded with child abuse, previously convicted with child abuse, they opposed these regulations, or these proposals, to bar these families from homeschooling when there were these risk factors present. So I don’t think there’s complete honesty there. Also his comment about standardized tests wasn’t fully honest. Homeschooled children, there are no standardized test scores that you can look at for all homeschooled children, because they’re not required to be tested. The studies –
SIMPSON: Okay we’re going to have to hold you there because we do have to take a break, and when KNX In Depth continues we will have a lot more on this unique story.
(END SECTION ONE)
FELDMAN: You’re listening to KNX In Depth with Mike Simpson, I’m Charles Feldman.
SIMPSON: As we continue our discussion, a reminder: coming up after news and traffic at the bottom of the hour, a look at two crimes. Did arguments lead to the stabbing deaths of a college student home for winter break and a transgender woman or were they hate crimes? And then: President Trump calls it fake news but many Americans, they don’t know the difference between what’s news and what’s news with a spin.
FELDMAN: Okay, so we’re going to go back to our discussion about what happened in Riverside County with those thirteen siblings who were found in, at home in deplorable conditions. They were being homeschooled, and the question on the table is whether inspections, some kind of inspections, might have found this, discovered this, at a much earlier state. We had been talking with Rachel Coleman, who’s Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, and Mike Smith who’s an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association. Uh, you know, we can go back and forth – which in fact we’ve been doing – on studies and each of you can probably cite a study that is in opposition to the other person’s study. I don’t want to get involved in that too much at this point, I want to just confine our discussion to this one particular case that happened at this one particular house, where it happened that these particular children and young adults were homeschooled where there was no real inspection, no intervention, from local or state authorities, and what in each of your opinions could have been, should have been done to perhaps prevent that. Mike, why don’t you take a crack at that?
SMITH: Okay, thank you. In, in California, in order to be a legal home school, you have to file a private school affidavit or be involved in some other program, oversight program. But like this family, they filed a private school affidavit, and they have to comply under penalty of perjury that they’re going to comply with what that private school affidavit says. Now, had anyone reported this family, had suspected something because their children – one of the reports I saw was that at 2:00 in the morning one of the children was out doing, I think they were planting sod in the front of the yard there. So let’s say a neighbor would have been concerned, I never see these kids out, I never see them go to school. If they called the public school or the department of social services, they would be obligated to go out and confirm that this family in fact had children, be able to see the children, and determine that they were legally being homeschooled, meaning they had filed a private school affidavit. If that had happened in this case, I’m assuming that there would have been an investigation and that this probably wouldn’t have happened. So that was available and it’s something that didn’t happen, and I think some of the neighbors are obviously wishing they had done what they kind of thought they should have done.
SIMPSON: You don’t always know your neighbors though, and we’ve talked about that on this program. Does the state not have some sort of responsibility for these kids though? They’ve got to make sure they’re getting, number one, a good education. So I mean, how do you make sure that home schooling isn’t being used as a way to shield kids from anyone’s oversight, as Rachel has pointed out?
SMITH: Well, the state is not responsible for these children’s education. Because they’re being privately educated. The state has an interest in seeing that every child either becomes literate or self-sufficient when they graduate. So the responsibility was with the parents, and this is the way homeschooling is done in all the states. In some states it’s more regulated than others and some of the states are less regulated than California. So I dis- I don’t think that this a homeschool case. This is an abuse and neglect situation, and to bring homeschooling in is unfair to all the other families in California that are very responsibly homeschooling their children.
FELDMAN: Well Rachel, do you agree with Mike that it’s unfair to bring in the setting in which all of this occurred, which was a home school setting? Do you think that that is not relevant to the discussion?
COLEMAN: It is completely relevant. If those children had been in school, someone would have noticed that they were constantly hungry, that they were behaving weird socially. A teacher would have said something. Those children ended up in that situation because they were homeschooled. Without homeschooling, their parents could not have done that. And I also disagree with the idea that the state has no interest here. Every child has the right to an education, and the state has a responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens, and that includes children. So the state absolutely has a role here.
SIMPSON: Why is it hard to get more regulations passed? I mean there are some lawmakers that are talking about it now after this case, but is there a, is there a homeschool lobby that fights back?
COLEMAN: Yeah, Mike Smith’s homeschool lobby –
SIMPSON: Mike’s group?
COLEMAN: – the Home School Legal Defense Association. They oppose regulation every step of the way. They are the reason that these bills keep getting shot down.
FELDMAN: I’m just curious – yeah, Mike,
SMITH: Can I defend my, can I defend myself there –
FELDMAN: Yeah, Mike, go ahead, sure.
SMITH: Well, I’m not the only one, HSLDA’s not the only one. Every state organization that is involved in homeschooling, that I’m aware of, takes the same position we do. That this is a liberty issue and unless it can be proven that home – that parents are not responsibly teaching their children at home, the state has no interest. They do if that can be proven, but that requires probable cause and reasonable suspicion. So, and the other thing is the, whether we like it or not, in America, there’s no fundamental right for a child to have an education. Do I believe they should be? Absolutely. That’s the reason I’m in homeschooling, because I wanted my children to have a superior education, and they got it because my wife taught them, quite frankly. And that’s the reason most families are involved in homeschooling, they want their children to have an excellent education and they want to be able to guide them and direct them. And if you bring the state in, once they get involved, and this has been our experience in representing families for over 35 years, the state simply wants to take more and more of that liberty. And liberty, without liberty, homeschooling will not exist.
FELDMAN: But Mike, let me ask you something. You’re an attorney, and you know that the state, every state really, has some extraordinary powers when it concerns certain individuals, children in particular for example, states can take children away from parents if it can be proven that the parents are harmful to the health and wellbeing of their children. So if the state is vested with that sort of authority vis-à-vis children, why shouldn’t it have the right to make sure that children who are being homeschooled, are being homeschooled in an environment that is one that is helpful for them both physically and mentally?
SMITH: Well, because that’s what California has right now. The private school exemption. The legislature has determined that this is sufficient to protect the state’s interest. And as I indicated before, California is not an aberration, there are other states that are very much like California, there are some states that have more regulation, and several that have less. There are even states that don’t require notice. So we can’t say that California is out of step. So I’m just saying that this is basically a situation where we’re either going to recognize the liberty of parents to direct the education of their children, or we’re going to let the state come in and eventually they will determine how these children are educated.
DV HOST: Alright, that’s Mike Smith, attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association. We also heard from Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.