My COVID-19 Homeschooling Journey

Like many other parents who send their children to public school, I’m now supervising my children’s education at home due to COVID-19 school closures. Unlike most other parents who send their children to public school, I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 12th grade and I run a nonprofit that advocates for homeschooled children. 

When I learned my children’s school would be closed, I decided I would have them do their school work in the morning and give them free choice time in the afternoon. I work from home and still need to have time for my own tasks, for one thing, but I was also homeschooled and this was the schedule my mother kept growing up. You can read more about why I didn’t want to simply replicate a school schedule at home here

Here, I want to focus not on the school schedule I’ve kept but on my efforts to navigate the resources provided by my children’s school district. While middle and high school teachers are continuing their classes online as best they can, elementary school districts are taking a variety of different approaches. Given that many other parents are trying to navigate these same things, I thought my experience might be instructive. 

When a parent sets out to homeschool, they typically spend time looking at different curriculum and choosing what materials to use. This is not the case for those of us thrust suddenly into educating our children at home due to a global pandemic. We have the advantage, of course, of having a school district and teachers to help us and provide us with materials, but they, too, have had to throw things together suddenly. 

We’re all navigating uncharted waters—principals, teachers, parents, and children. It’s important that we show grace to all of those involved—especially the children. I would rather have my children feel loved, safe, and supported—even if it means they miss some learning—than make them miserable by forcing something that isn’t working. 

Chapter 1: Choice Boards

On the last day of school, my children each came home with a packet of materials in their backpack. These packets mostly consisted of worksheets and outlines for activities for parents to do with their children, as well as a “choice board” that offered different activity ideas under each subject, all of which required some parental involvement. 

On the first Monday the children were at home, I went through their packets. I’m a planner, and I like to be organized. We did activities on the choice board—one each day for each subject, the materials said—and worked our way through some of the worksheets. After a few days, however, I realized two things. First, the materials that came home with my kids were primarily review—things my children already knew. Second, my children’s teachers hadn’t put the packets together; the district had. 

Chapter 2: Online Assignments

As I went through the emails sent by my children’s school, I found that each child had an online platform that their teachers could post assignments to. I logged each child in and found that the assignments did not line up with either the worksheets or the choice boards sent home in each child’s packets. This was understandable, given that the packets were put together by the school district, not the teacher. I appreciated having assignments from my children’s teachers—it reassured me that I was not alone and promised to keep my children connected to their teachers and their classmates. 

An assignment for my 2nd grader asked him to read a page from a book he was reading out loud, after practicing it; by hitting the microphone button on the assignment page, he was able to record himself reading. Next, the assignment asked him to take a picture of the page he read and underline words he had problems with. Finally, he submitted the assignment for his teacher—and his classmates—to view. The goal, the instructions explained, was to practice reading fluency. He loved it. He was engaged; he was able to produce something he was proud of; and he knew his teacher would view it. 

I decided to defer to the assignments posted by my children’s teachers, and only use the materials sent home by the district as needed. I soon hit a bit of a snag, however. For one thing, my 2nd grader’s teacher only posted one assignment per day. While these were engaging assignments that made full use of what the online system had to offer, more was clearly needed. For another thing, I found my 5th grader sitting at the table near tears. “I already know this stuff, mom!” she said. “Why did she assign us all the same thing?” she asked. It was math. She’s always been ahead in math. 

Chapter 3: DIY Learning Activities

It was around this time that the district sent out an email letting parents know that the governor had declared an Act of God, which meant that lost days did not have to be made up. While older students needed to complete the assignments on Google Classroom, the district asked elementary parents to make sure our children did reading, writing, math, science/social studies, and fine arts each day, but said we could choose how we did this. “Families may choose the activities they complete,” the email read, “activities provided by the educators or ones from the choice boards or you can design your own learning activity for the content area to align to student interests.” 

This email came as a bit of a relief, because I was growing frustrated. As I noted, I was homeschooled as a child. I enrolled my children in public school precisely because I didn’t want to be the one making them do their work. I remembered the tension I had sometimes seen between my mother and my younger brothers as my mother had to be not only their cheerleader but also the enforcer. I had liked that I could tell my children they needed to do their homework because their teacher had assigned it and would be expecting it the next day, and not simply because I said so. More and more, now, I felt like I was fighting with my children to get them to do work—especially my younger child. 

The email from the district also gave me a new feeling of freedom. I could use the choice board or have my children do assignments posted by their teachers—or we could design our own learning activities. One day, I created learning activities around a theme: the children calculated rates of exponential growth, we read about Louis Pasteur’s discovery of microscopic organisms; and we watched a Netflix documentary about pandemics. They loved it. Other days, I told them to choose something to do for each subject, based on their own inclination, and let them do their own thing. 

Chapter 4: Finding Balance

After nearly a week during which I interspersed activities I designed myself with letting my younger child do whatever he wanted for each subject, I received an email from his teacher. She wanted to know why he wasn’t doing the assignments she was posting each day. She also wanted to know why he hadn’t logged into a program for practicing math, and another that let him read books she assigned and take a quiz over each to check reading comprehension. I had somehow missed these latter expectations, in part because there were so many emails. Oops! 

At this point I realized two things. First, I value my children’s teachers and I didn’t want to sever their connections with the classroom. Second, we needed somewhat more organization to our school days—and our rhythm of life—than we’d been having. 

Now in our third week at home, we are moving toward a new balance. My 2nd grader does the daily assignment his teacher posts, as well as the online reading program where his teacher assigns him books to read, with comprehension questions. Telling him that his teacher has assigned these things for him has helped; it means I’m not the one making him do them. I’m also having my 5th grader check Google Classroom first every morning, to see what her teacher has assigned. 

I’m going to go rogue for some things, however. Neither of my children likes the online math their teachers have assigned. I asked my 5th grader’s teacher if we can do our own thing for math, and she gave the go ahead. I looked into a number of online math programs, some currently free, but found myself disappointed. I want my kids to keep progressing in math, but I also know the research—children who are homeschooled or enrolled in online schools perform worse in math than do their peers who attend public school. I’m not going to make my children do online math programs they dislike; I don’t want them to develop negative perceptions of math. 

While I haven’t found a perfect solution for math yet, I’ve ordered fact sheets that go over the common core standards for each grade, with examples. When these come, I plan to use them as a guide and teach my children math myself, creating my own assignments. In the meantime, I’m teaching my 2nd grader his multiplication tables. 

As for everything else, I’m keeping things flexible. I’ve told my 5th grader that outside of the small number of assignments her teacher puts on Google Classroom, I want her to spend some time each day on free reading and working on the novel she’s been writing for a year. Social studies, science, fine arts—for those we’re mixing materials the school has sent home with doing our own thing. Mo Willems is giving a daily art lesson online, and the Cincinnati Zoo is offering a daily home safari on YouTube. And for history, I’ve begun reading aloud a book about a 17th century English village gripped by the plague.  

Help! I’m Homeschooling! #COVID19

Have you been suddenly thrust into the role of homeschooling parent in the wake of school closures? Here’s some advice from a homeschool grad turned public school teacher on tips and strategies to help your family during this time.

My name is Giselle Palmer. I was homeschooled for 9 years and also have 4 years experience as a homeschool tutor. For the past 15 years, I have been a public school teacher in Tennessee. In the midst of world-wide upheaval, many parents are now finding themselves teaching their own children, something that had never been part of their family plan. You may be feeling overwhelmed with work and family responsibilities, caring for loved ones, and worrying about the national climate, and the additional responsibility of supervising your child’s education may be something you aren’t sure how to manage. Here are some tips to help you survive and thrive!

1. Don’t feel like you have to do it all.

You may have multiple children (including preschoolers) needing you during this time. Internet access may be limited, or students may have to share devices with each other, or with parents working from home. You may have more Zoom meetings and Google Hangouts on your family calendar than you can handle. It’s all right. You can set reasonable limits and still help your children during this time.

Remember to choose QUALITY over QUANTITY. Some school districts are providing many resources for parents, while others are giving little guidance. If your child has so many assignments that they are becoming overwhelmed, make an executive decision to cut out busywork your child doesn’t need, and focus instead on a few key areas that will help your child strengthen weaknesses or extend knowledge in particular areas of interest. If your child’s school hasn’t really given much direction, find a few specific resources that work well for your family, and utilize those. Don’t try to take advantage of ALL the free options out there right now—sample different options until you find the ones that work best for your family.

2. Reach out to your child’s teachers.

Remember that you are the helper in this situation, not the one ultimately responsible for your child’s education. Your child’s teacher is probably still being paid, and in many cases they are still on the clock during the school day. If your child is having trouble with an assignment, have them contact the teacher for help. (Most of us are missing our students terribly during this time and would love to hear from our students!)

Many teachers are providing online videos of lessons, activities, and resources for families. If you aren’t sure where to begin, your child’s teacher is a great place to start. They can give you insight into curriculum and programs that will dovetail with the resources your child has been using in class—and the familiar is your friend right now. Anything you can give your child that connects to programs they already know how to use will be much easier to implement at home.

3. Focus on connection and mental health.

What your child needs most of all right now is YOU. Your love, encouragement, connection, and interaction will give them confidence that the world isn’t ending, even though their social lives have come to a grinding halt. Recognize that your child may be grieving the loss of friends, activities, and much-anticipated events. Even introverts are struggling right now.

Look for ways to help your child share their feelings and frustrations. Writing, drawing, and talking about what is going on can be very therapeutic. Establishing a routine that includes reading together, playing games, and as many normal and familiar home activities as possible can help your child feel safe, loved, and secure. Roughhousing, running around, and time spent outdoors can help your child release the pent-up emotions that they may be feeling.

4. Remember that we are all in the same boat.

All children are missing instruction during this time. Standardized tests are being cancelled; report cards are delayed or cancelled, as well. Teachers will understand typical school isn’t continuing on in the same way at home. We know there is a huge inequity of resources among families, and we aren’t expecting parents to do our jobs for us. The best thing you can do for your child right now is to provide a stable environment where learning is encouraged. Keep your children’s minds active with books, games, activities, and interaction. These are the things that will most help them continue to learn during this time and ensure that they are best prepared to get back into a school mindset when classes begin again.

5. Above all, be patient.

Be patient with your child, because their whole world has been turned upside down, and in many cases they may not understand why. Younger children may have regressions due to their routines being disrupted. Older children who are able to understand somewhat may have fears based on partial information they have received, and they need reassurance over and over again because of the gaps in their understanding. 

Be patient with yourself, because you, too, are dealing with something strange and new and completely different from anything you have ever experienced. Take time for self-care and deep breaths and give yourself permission to disconnect from the news for a while each day to keep yourself grounded. Understand that this is going to be the new normal for a while, but this is temporary. Take one day at a time. You can do this.

K-5 Resource Links

6-8 Resource Links

9-12 Resource Links

CRHE to Participate in Homeschooling Summit

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) is pleased to participate in this summer’s “Homeschooling Summit: Problems, Politics, and Prospects for Reform” sponsored by Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program. The summit is being organized by Prof. James Dwyer of William & Mary School of Law and Prof. Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard Law School with the intention of bringing together the leading scholars and advocates working towards homeschool reform.

CRHE staff members Dr. Rachel Coleman and Dr. Chelsea McCracken and CRHE board members Samantha Field and Carmen Longoria-Green have been invited to speak at the summit on subjects within their areas of expertise. We are grateful to the summit organizers for featuring the voices of homeschool alumni so prominently and for incorporating our suggestions of other scholars and stakeholders to invite to the summit. We look forward to sharing our expertise as homeschool researchers and advocates.

Collaboration with other scholars, experts, and advocates is an incredibly important aspect of work in an area as new and exciting as homeschooling. We anticipate that the summit will create an important space for discussion and debate among advocates for homeschool reform who hold a variety of perspectives, including CRHE’s perspective that homeschooling should be a legal and accessible educational option, with accountability measures in place.

It’s Okay: Thoughts from a Homeschool Grad Turned COVID-19 Homeschool Parent

Like many parents across the United States today, my kids are home from school due to COVID-19, and will be for the foreseeable future. Unlike most parents who have found themselves in this situation, though, I was homeschooled K-12. I am also the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. As I have watched the conversations in some of my local moms groups, I have realized that other parents may find my experience helpful. 

First and foremost, it’s ok just to take it easy for a bit. It really, really is. At CRHE, we advise parents just starting to homeschool to take a week or two to just chill and adjust, and not feel like they have to jump in with everything already lined up. This is true here as well. Yes, many of us have teachers we need to work with and work that has been sent home from school that should be completed at some point, but you really do not need to do everything this week. It’s ok. And remember—your kids learn things all the time, even when you’re not formally “doing” school. 

I think it may be helpful to explain how my mother structured our homeschool, when I was growing up. We would get up in the morning, do chores, and have breakfast. After this, from about 9-12, was what we called “seat work.” Math, writing, vocabulary, etc. We typically did this sitting at the table while my mother moved from person to person (I’m from a large family, so she was always supervising multiple children). She would generally try to get one child started on one thing, then work with the other child on something that needed more direct attention, and so forth, staggering things. And we’d be sent outside for a 10-15 minute recess at least once, maybe more if we had energy to burn. Sometimes she had us run laps around the house. It helped! 

Those three hours were all my mother needed to get us through everything, and that included the breaks we would take (and usually a snack!). Since what many of us have to work with is not as formalized as the curriculum my mother spent time creating—the schools are doing the best they can—two hours should be plenty for younger children, and for Kindergarten, even less. You do not need to (and should not) keep your kids in their seats “doing” school the full school day. 

In the afternoon, my mother instituted “nap” time. For the little ones, this meant actually napping or at least laying down, and for the older ones it meant quiet reading or project time. Somewhere around 3-4, my mother would make a snack and gather us for read aloud time—that’s how she did history with us, by reading aloud to us. Sometimes there would be an activity or a project, but often we would just play with legos while she read aloud for 30 minutes or so. 

Most homeschooling works like this—three or so hours of formal “seat work” and a lot of what we might call “choice” time outside of that. Some states require homeschooled children to have a certain number of hours of instruction per day (this does not apply to those of us whose kids are still in school and only home temporarily, of course), but time spent doing free reading counts. Time spent outside looking for worms counts. Even time spent playing with cars and train sets can count—city planning! civics! Your children learn all the time; it does not have to look formal. 

The schedule I’ve worked out in my own home with my children (grades 2 and 5) adapts what I had growing up. We’re doing work sent by the school in the morning, then lunch and outside play from 12-1. After that I’ve told the children they have until 4 to choose things off a general list, during which time they are to leave me alone, so I can get my own work done. The list includes playing board games with each other, puzzles, learning games on computer (such as Code.org), more outdoor play, craft making, dress up, other creative play, etc. Starting at 4, I’m letting them have free computer time until dinner. It’s screen time, but we all need our ways to blow off steam these days. 

In the future, I’d like to crack some activity books and do kitchen science with my children, as well as more read aloud, but right now I’m feeling pretty tapped out, so I’m trying to keep things simple. 

I’ve set up our dining room table as our school room. Everything stays there. Even if it gets disorganized, I know it’s all in one place. It means we have to eat in the kitchen, but we were doing that anyway, and it’s worth it to have one set space. For work sent home from school, I’ve made up checklists so they can check off each subject when they complete it, which helps us all keep on track in the morning and see what we’ve finished and what we haven’t. 

Homeschooling is not about replicating the school day in the home. In fact, CRHE specifically advises parents not to try doing that. You will burn out. Your kids will burn out. Instead, set aside a specific time to work with your children on work sent home from school, foster creative play outside of that, and try not to worry too much. Your kids will be fine. 

I have a friend who spent 7th grade in Italy. She attended local schools during that year but had barely any knowledge of Italian and learned very little in the way of academics there. But she was curious, and she learned a lot of other things during this time, and the academics worked themselves out later. It never hindered her. Your kids will be okay too. 

Emergency Homeschooling and Coronavirus (COVID-19) School Closures

For Immediate Release: Parents should be ready to take an active role in their children’s education in case of school closures

03/11/2020—As COVID-19 (coronavirus) spreads in the United States, some local authorities have temporarily closed schools to slow the rate of infection. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children, is encouraging parents to make preparations in case their children’s schools are closed. “We will probably see more school closures in coming weeks,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE. “Parents should be prepared to support their children’s learning at home.”

The CDC has recommended that parents make arrangements for alternative childcare in case of school closures in their area. Some school districts are responding to the potential for school closures by making preparations to transition to online schooling to cut down on lost learning time. “A switch to online learning will create special challenges for families without a caregiver at home or those without internet access,” Coleman says. “Online learning will also create challenges that affect all children. Parents need to be aware of these challenges.”

In recent years, education researchers have expressed a growing skepticism of online schools. A 2019 study in Pennsylvania found that students who transferred from brick and mortar schools to online charter schools showed weaker growth than matched peers who remained in school. A 2019 study conducted by the National Education Policy Center found such concerning results for online schools that they recommended that policymakers “slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools … until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed,” although they did find that online schools run by school districts performed better than those run by outside entities. 

“These studies suggest that online learning is not an effective replacement for in-person interaction between students and teachers,” Coleman says. “Parents should not assume that a computer will be sufficient to make up the education their child was receiving in school.” CRHE is encouraging parents who find themselves faced with school closures to take an active role in their child’s online schoolwork and to take proactive steps to foster their children’s learning. “When schools close, parents must play a key role in furthering their children’s education,” says Coleman. 

CRHE has posted a list of learning activities and ideas for parents on their website. 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.

Emergency Homeschooling: How to Support your Kids During a Coronavirus School Closure

As COVID-19 (coronavirus) spreads in the United States, some local authorities have temporarily closed schools to slow the rate of infection. It is likely that parents in the U.S. will see more school closures in coming weeks; a number of countries, including Italy and Japan, have already closed all schools for a month. The CDC has recommended that parents make arrangements for alternative childcare in case of school closures in their area. 

Many parents are understandably worried about the possibility that their children may temporarily lose access to schools’ educational resources. As school districts explore ways to implement online learning in case of school closures, parents may wonder what these programs will be like, and how this shift in learning will impact them and their children. 

As an organization that focuses on homeschooling, we have a number of recommendations for parents. In this article, we will offer evidence-based advice on how parents can help with the implementation of online learning in cases where school districts attempt such programs. We will also provide a list of suggestions for keeping your children active, learning, and engaged during either school closures or quarantines. 

An Experiment in Online Learning

Some school districts have begun responding to the potential for school closures by making preparations to transition to online learning. If your child’s school closes, you should be prepared for the school to implement some form of online schooling in order to cut down on lost learning time. This switch will create special challenges for families without a caregiver at home or those without internet access. However, parents need to understand that online learning will also create challenges that affect all children, including those that are well positioned for online learning, with a caregiver at home and access to the internet. 

In recent years, education researchers have expressed a growing skepticism of online schools. A 2019 study in Pennsylvania found that students who transferred from brick and mortar schools to online charter schools showed weaker growth than matched peers who remained in school. A 2019 study conducted by the National Education Policy Center found such concerning results for online schools that they recommended that policymakers “slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools … until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed,” although they did find that online schools run by school districts performed better than those run by outside entities.

These studies suggest that online learning is not an effective replacement for in-person interaction between students and teachers. If your child’s school closes and implements some form of online learning, you should not assume that a computer will be sufficient to make up the education your child was receiving in school. Instead, you should take an active role in your child’s online schoolwork and make an effort to foster their learning. This may include sitting at the computer with your child, answering their questions and providing examples, helping them stay on task, and providing enrichment activities. Children should not be left to complete their online coursework on their own and without guidance. Most children cannot successfully complete schoolwork online without the accountability and support parental involvement provides. 

Fostering Learning at Home

Caregivers who find themselves quarantined at home, or housebound due to school closures, have a variety of resources at their fingertips for keeping children engaged and learning.

Read aloud: When you stock up on groceries, make an extra stop at the library to stock up on books to read aloud to your children. Many libraries also have ebook or audiobook lending programs, so even if you can’t go to the library in person, you may be able to download books to read. Quite a few books for children and teens are also available to read for free online through various services.

Studies show that reading to your children is highly beneficial to their vocabulary development and reading comprehension. Children develop mature literacy skills through learning to make sense of language that is not about the here and now, so talking through key story elements with children is an essential component of reading aloud together.

Play games: Pull out some card games and board games with engaging components that foster learning, such as:

  • Language arts games: Apples to Apples, Dixit, Scrabble
  • Math games: 24, SET, Blokus
  • Social studies games: Axis & Allies, 7 Wonders, Monopoly
  • Science games: Evolution, Pandemic, Wingspan

Some studies suggest that having indirect experiences with numbers in the motivating context of games may be beneficial to children’s mathematical development. Younger children may benefit from using dice games or playing cards to learn number names and simple operations, while older children and teens may appreciate logic and strategy games like chess and sudoku. Many games are available for free online, on loan at your local library, or at low cost at your local thrift store. 

Do activities: When you hit the library, take a moment in the crafting and science sections of the children’s area; many science books include experiments and activities your children can do in the kitchen, and arts and crafts books may spark your child’s imagination. (If your library uses the Dewey decimal system, science books start at 500 and arts and crafts at 740.) A quick Google or YouTube search will also pull up plenty of kitchen science experiments and crafting ideas. Doing activities together contributes to family bonding, and hands-on projects often offer added benefits in science learning, engineering, exercising the imagination, and hand-eye coordination. 

Get your children started journaling; create a daily art challenge; plan a scavenger hunt. If your children play instruments, ask them to put together a concert for you. Children also love to put on plays, especially when they have access to materials to use as costumes and scenery. Your children might also enjoy putting together a “museum” of their artwork. Pull out toy trains and cars, blocks, or Legos and work with your children to design a city (a simple project like this can turn into a unit on urban planning or civil engineering).  

Keep them active: Kids have a lot of energy and need breaks from online learning, so get your kids playing outside. If you have a private outdoor area under quarantine, you can use sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, and playing catch or frisbee; kids can play indoors via dancing, Wii video games, or YouTube workout videos. YouTube also has dance videos and yoga tutorials for families. A family dance party or yoga session can be a great way to help your kids work out some physical energy. For example, check out this series of yoga adventure videos for children.  

Facilitate friendships: Even if it is not advisable for your kids to meet their friends and classmates in person, they may find it difficult to be separated from their peers for an extended period of time. You can arrange phone calls or video hangouts for your children and their friends, or create a private Minecraft server so they can play online games together. You could even arrange online book clubs for older kids.

Online media: All caregivers need downtime! Fortunately, there are a number of TV series, YouTube channels, and online games that have educational aspects, such as:

Group Wants Homeschooling Included in Connecticut Vaccine Debate

For Immediate Release: Alumni group warns that homeschooling was not designed as a means for avoiding state immunization requirements

02/27/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children, is urging Connecticut lawmakers to consider the effect changes to the state’s immunization laws may have on homeschooling. Connecticut House Bill 5044 would require children who attend school, but not homeschooled children, to be vaccinated. “Homeschooling is an educational choice and was never intended to serve as a means for avoiding school health requirements,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, CRHE’s executive director. “When children are homeschooled only to avoid vaccine requirements, and not because parents and children want to homeschool, everyone suffers.” 

After lawmakers in New York passed a 2019 bill requiring all children who attend school to be vaccinated unless they have a valid medical exemption, CRHE saw a steep uptick in queries about homeschooling. “Some parents said they did not want to homeschool, but felt it was their only option,” said Coleman. “In some cases parents who contacted us appeared to lack the educational background or resources needed to homeschool effectively.” Coleman says parents should homeschool only if they have a genuine interest in providing their children with an education at home. “Parents who are only homeschooling their children in order to avoid school health requirements may not be best suited to homeschool,” she says. “Everyone loses.” 

Coleman points to a specific case in New York state to illustrate her concerns. In that case, a reporter spoke with a woman who withdrew her three children from school to homeschool them in order to avoid the state’s vaccine requirements, even though both she and her husband worked full time. The couple’s 13-year-old daughter was providing childcare for her 10-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister and supervising their schoolwork while their parents worked. “We do not recommend homeschooling unless parents can arrange for full-time supervision and guidance of their children’s education,” said Coleman. “Children deserve to have their education prioritized.”

CRHE does not take a position on specific medical requirements. Instead, the organization recommends applying school health requirements mandated by the state to all children of school age, rather than only those who attend school. “Our goal is to ensure that families who homeschool do so because they have a genuine interest in educating their children at home,” says Coleman. “Our priority is to support children and families.” 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.

The Story of Raylee Jolynn Browning: A Homeschool Homicide and Torture Case

A very tragic case coming out of West Virginia, which involves the hallmarks of a child homeschool torture and homicide case, is that of child victim Raylee Jolynn Browning, age 8.

Raylee was born in 2010, and it does not appear that her biological mother, Janice Wriston, was very involved in her life, something we see a lot in these cases, and discussed in the findings of the Knox Child Torture report. I frequently refer to this report when researching and writing about homeschool torture cases, and it is one of the very few such reports that have been done on child torture. The patterns of child torture cases are evident in all of the homeschool cases I have written about, and are also found in the Raylee Browning murder.

As an infant, Raylee went to live with her biological father, Marty Browning. The abuse started right away, with Raylee being seen for injuries at the hospital in 2011. It is unclear at this time if doctors ever contacted child protective services when Raylee was brought in with injuries. Marty’s girlfriend, Julie Dawn Titchenelle, and her sister, Sherie Titchenelle, were also involved in the girl’s life, and they all lived together in a home with Julie’s three biological children. For a while, Raylee was sent to public school.

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Raylee Jolynn Browning. [image of very young child, maybe age three, in the kitchen. She has blonde hair in pigtails.]
Raylee was likely a victim of medical child abuse, and was on 7 medications for autism and mood disorders. Authorities and doctors involved in the case believe these medications were unnecessary, and it is unclear if Raylee had autism and psychiatric disabilities or not. It does not appear that she ever got a real diagnosis. It is more likely that her caretakers used these medications to subdue and control her, and also so they could blame a disability for reasons why Raylee was injured, saying she had done it to herself.

As we saw with the Erica Parsons case, and as it also outlines in the Knox report, it is not uncommon for the non-biological child to be abused by the mother figure in the house. Women feature prominently in child torture cases. It is also common that the mother figure encouraged everyone else to abuse the child, singling the child out for torture, but not torturing the biological children. In this case, Sherie was the main caretaker of the four children in the household, and she singled out Raylee because she was not one of Julie’s biological children. Another child, who was one of Julie’s biological children, known only as V., was also singled out for abuse because she was of mixed race. Race is absolutely a reason that children are victimized, which we saw in the case of the Hart children. However, it appears that Raylee bore the brunt of the abuse in the house.

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From left, clockwise: Raylee, Dad Marty, Sherie, Julie.

Teachers at Raylee’s school noticed that she was bruised and hungry, and called Child Protective Services multiple times. Leading up to her death, Raylee was admitted to the hospital on several occasions. Raylee’s caretakers reported to doctors that she had a history of self-harm, and that was the explanation for her injuries. They tried to blame her so-called disabilities for the injuries Raylee sustained, including a broken femur, a common child abuse injury. It is not clear at this time if the hospital contacted CPS. However, doctors can usually tell if an injury is because of child abuse.

According to Raylee’s sister, V., Raylee was instructed by Sherie to lie to CPS and Raylee complied because she was scared. After a while, V. reported, Sherie pulled Raylee out of public school to homeschool her because she could not think of any more lies to explain Raylee’s condition. Pulling a child out of public school to cover abuse is very common, as is isolating the children from everything in their lives. In this case, Raylee was not even allowed to talk to the other children. According to the Knox study of child torture victims:

This social isolation typically involved preventing the child from attending school or daycare. Twenty-nine percent of school-age children were not allowed
to attend school; two children, though previous enrolled, were dis-enrolled by their caregiver and received no further schooling. An additional 47 % who had been enrolled in school were removed under the auspice of “homeschooling.” This “homeschooling” appears to have been designed to further isolate the child and typically occurred after closure of a previously opened CPS case. Review of these cases found no true educational efforts were provided to the homeschooled children. Their isolation was accompanied by an escalation of physically abusive events.

Homeschool was just more opportunity for Sherie to abuse Raylee, making her stand in place for hours and walk through the hallways of the house, instead of providing her with an education. Apparently, the other children in the house were actually homeschooled, and Sherie was part of a homeschool group. While the other children and the group were educated in the home, Raylee was made to either stand or walk the halls for hours. It does not appear that anyone from the homeschool group reported this.

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From left: Marty and Julie, who was a beauty queen. Right: Raylee.

The abuse of Raylee escalated to her death after she was withdrawn from public school, because now Sherie was free to abuse Raylee as much as she wanted without anyone noticing or reporting it.

Raylee and Sherie shared a bedroom, where Raylee was forced to wear a diaper, since she would often wet the bed (not surprising considering the abuse) and sleep on the floor. She was beaten with objects, according to V., a belt, a spoon and metal objects were used. A claw hammer was found in the shared bedroom, as was a sex toy.

Raylee was clearly hungry, and had asked cafeteria workers at her school for extra food. This is another pattern of child torture cases; it is very common that children are food and fluid restricted. In almost every case on this blog, children were starved. The Knox report says that 89% of the child victims they studied did not have enough to eat and 79% did not have enough to drink.

Not having enough to drink was what ultimately killed Raylee. Sherie decided to punish Raylee by refusing to allow her to drink any liquid for three days. V. reported that Raylee was so thirsty that she drank from the toilet. Shortly afterwards, Raylee went septic. This occurred around Christmas of 2018. Raylee became unconscious, and Sherie once again brought her to the hospital, where Raylee passed away. Doctors said that Raylee had been severally unwell for some time, a condition that should have been readily apparent to her caretakers, who neglected to seek medical help for her until the last minute. Medical staff called authorities to report that Raylee was in cardiac arrest, and her body was covered in bruises and lacerations. Sherie tried to explain Raylee’s condition by blaming her medications, then saying she fell in the shower, which is a very common “reason” given by child abusers to explain why a child is injured.

Police went to the home to interview the adults and everyone gave a conflicting story as to why Raylee had died and why she was covered in injuries. This caused police to become suspicious, and to start an investigation. During a search of the home, police found the hammer and sex toy in the bedroom Raylee shared with Sherie. Sherie could not explain why either of those two objects were in the room.

The medical examiner reported that Raylee passed away from an infection likely caused by drinking the toilet water, which led to sepsis. The medical examiner also reported that Raylee had a torn rectum. She was covered in bruises, burns, and lacerations.

In December 2019, all three adults were charged in Raylee’s death. Sherie, age 35, was arrested on one count each for death of a child by parent, guardian, or custodian, and child neglect causing death, both felonies. Julie Titchenelle, age 36, was charged with the same thing, and so was Marty, age 34. Julie at the time was the reigning Miss Oak Leaf Festival. Her title has since been stripped.

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Sherie Titchenelle [image of white woman with long brown hair, mug-shot style, against a concrete wall]
According to the Register-Herald, “An investigation by Oak Hill Police Department Detective Sgt. James Pack was reportedly hampered by a lack of cooperation from West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Child Protective Services, which had an open file on Raylee at the time she died. Oak Hill Police Department Chief Mike Whisman on Dec. 11 verified a Dec. 10 report by a Fayette official that CPS had not speedily submitted to police requests for CPS records on Raylee. When OHPD received Raylee’s files in November, officials said, they were not complete.”

This would explain why it is currently not entirely understood how CPS was involved, but it seems pretty clear that they dropped the ball with Raylee. Marty, Sherie, and Julie have all been released on bond.

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Raylee, a blonde little girl with a big smile and blue eyes.

Raylee’s Law

Unsurprisingly, this case sent ripples through the West Virginia community and appalled legislators. A new law is being sponsored by Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, known as Raylee’s Law, or HB 4440. This law would prevent people who have an open CPS case from homeschooling, and also prevent people who have a criminal record of violence or domestic violence from homeschooling.

The Montgomery Herald reports: “State law does not require home-school educators to report suspected child abuse or neglect. By contrast, teachers and public school administrators are mandatory reporters of child abuse. They face a criminal misdemeanor conviction of up to 90 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine for failing to report child abuse or neglect. Those who fail to report a sexual assault face six months in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.”

And also: “State law does not require a home-school education cooperative or association to verify that member students were legally withdrawn from public school.”

While there are many more areas that need to be regulated when it comes to homeschools, this law is a good start for the state of West Virginia, and for other states to look to as an example. It is far too easy to pull a child out of public school, away from mandated reporters, and keep them isolated in the home, where abuse often escalates to homicide.

You can track the progress of Raylee’s law here: House Bill 4400

Please take time to call or email the West Virginia House to show your support: House Roster

We must be sure to honor Raylee’s memory and protect children in similar circumstances.

 

Washington State: Public Funds for Homeschooling Could Be Abused

For Immediate Release: The proposed measure could create perverse incentives by giving parents who homeschool up to $10,000 per child in unaccountable public funds

02/21/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children, is urging Washington lawmakers to oppose House Bill 2933, which would provide substantial funds to parents whose children are not enrolled in public school, including homeschooled children. “Providing homeschooling parents with large amounts of unaccountable public funds amounts to a cash incentive to keep children out of school,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, CRHE’s executive director. “The potential for abuse or fraud is astronomical, but it is the children who will suffer the most.” 

Washington’s HB 2933 would give participating parents access to bank accounts containing the state’s per-pupil allotment for each student being homeschooled, or nearly $10,000 per child. Parents would be required to sign a form promising to only use this funding for education expenses, but their use of these funds would not be monitored. Coleman says she finds this very concerning. “When monetary support is provided directly to homeschooling families, it is imperative that expenditures be accounted for,” Coleman says. She adds that any monetary support provided directly to homeschooling families should be offered as reimbursement for approved educational expenses only, and not as unaccountable cash payouts. 

Lawmakers in some states have become concerned about abuse of other forms of direct-aid such as adoption subsidies, which have been criticized for incentivizing parents with no actual interest in children to adopt older children or children with disabilities in order to receive a financial payout. In some high-profile cases, children whose parents received substantial subsidies for adopting them have been found tortured or murdered (in the latter case, the parents often hide these deaths so that they can go on collecting the cash subsidies). “As difficult as it can be to acknowledge this, the sad reality is that not all parents have their children’s best interests at heart,” says Coleman. “When offering parents unaccountable public funds attached to keeping children out of public schools, lawmakers must be careful not to provide perverse incentives.” Coleman warns that HB 2933 could encourage some parents to take children out of public school to pocket the state handout, and not out of any desire to educate their children at home. 

Coleman warns the state’s homeschool law is already easy to exploit. “State law requires homeschooling parents to have their children assessed each year, but it does not require them to submit these assessments to an educational agency,” she says. “There is little in existing state law to ensure parents who say they are homeschooling their children are in fact doing so.” 

Coleman says her organization frequently receives emails from homeschooling parents who want support and resources from their school districts. “We understand lawmakers desire to support homeschooling families,” she says. “The needs of both homeschooling parents and homeschooled children are best met not by a cash handout, but by more holistic support.” 

Coleman points to Alaska’s district-run homeschool programs and Iowa’s Home School Assistance Programs as examples of public programs that provide holistic support for both homeschooling parents and homeschooled children. In Alaska, districts receive per-pupil state funding for homeschooled students, and provide parents with reimbursement for curriculum, tutoring, and other expenses and access to district-run resource centers, athletics, and enrichment classes. Iowa’s district-run programs operate similarly: they receive state funding, offer homeschooling parents access to homeschool resource centers, and give homeschooled children access to public school programs, classes, and other support services. 

“Homeschooling families benefit most from programs that provide both support and accountability,” says Coleman. “HB 2933 does not do this.” 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.

Wisconsin Bills Would End Homeschool Sports Gray Area

For Immediate Release: National alumni group is in favor of homeschool sports access

02/21/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit that advocates for homeschooled children, is encouraging Wisconsin lawmakers to support Assembly Bill 779 and Senate Bill 705; both would ensure homeschooled children and children enrolled in virtual charter school programs have access to public school athletics programs. “Access to public school athletics benefits homeschooled students without creating problems for public schools or for other students,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE.

In 2015, the legislature created Wisconsin Statute 118.133, which requires school districts to allow students enrolled in home-based educational programs to participate in interscholastic athletics in the school district on the same basis as other students. However, Governor Scott Walker vetoed a portion of the bill that would have required the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) to change its eligibility rules, which require student athletes to be enrolled full time at the public school they represent. Gov. Walker’s veto created a legal gray area, requiring school districts to allow homeschooled students to participate in district athletics programs but allowing the WIAA to continue barring homeschooled athletes from competing on public school teams participating in the interscholastic competitions the WIAA oversees. 

AB 779 and SB 705 would amend Wisconsin Statute 118.133 to allow virtual charter school students, in addition to students enrolled in home-based education programs, to participate in public school athletics programs. “A growing number of children are educated at home through virtual charter school programs,” says Coleman. “These students have needs similar to those of children homeschooled independently.” The bills would also eliminate the current legal gray area by requiring the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to change its eligibility rules to allow homeschooled children and virtual charter school students to participate in interscholastic activities by reinstituting the provision Gov. Walker vetoed in 2015. 

In 2016, CRHE conducted a survey of 150 homeschool graduates’ athletics experiences. Four in five respondents (80%) said public school athletics should be made available to homeschooled students. Some respondents noted that athletics programs outside of public schools were limited, especially at later grades. “Once I reached junior high age there were no longer any community sports available,” wrote one participant; another noted that public school athletics programs “are very often the only access for students like myself who grew up in underprivileged areas.” 

“Children educated at home benefit from participating in public school athletics programs,” Coleman says. “We urge Wisconsin lawmakers to eliminate the current gray area and bring homeschooled children and school districts together by passing AB 779 and SB 705.”

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.