Action Needed: FL House Bill 1059

Representative Erin Grall in the Florida House of Representatives (R, District 54) has introduced a piece of legislation she is calling the “Parent’s Bill of Rights” (HB 1059). If enacted, this legislation would give parents “fundamental” and “inalienable” rights over their children regarding every area of their life– as just one example, it makes it a crime if a teacher does not out their trans student to their non-affirming parents if they attempt to socially transition at school. Rep. Grall’s “Parent’s Bill of Rights” would make what happened to Leelah Alcorn an inevitability in Florida.

When Leelah died, she begged us to “fix society, please.” Today is our chance to live up to her challenge because tomorrow, January 23, the “Parent’s Bill of Rights” is scheduled for a committee hearing at noon.

What you can do:

  • If you are a resident of Florida, please call the sponsor, Rep. Grall, your state representatives, and Education Committee members (their contact information is below). If a phone call is not your preferred method of contact, you can email the committee representatives.
  • If you are not a current resident of Florida but have experiences relevant to home education, being LGBT+, or child abuse and neglect that occured in Florida, please feel free to contact the Education Committee members and tell them your story and your concerns with this bill. 

When contacting legislators:

  • Always remember to be polite. Please remember to refer to representatives with their title and surname (ie, “Representative Smith”).
  • Listen, and be curious. Ask the representative for their perspective on the bill first– you might be surprised by what you learn! If they support HB 1059, see if you can persuade them or give them something to think about. If they oppose the bill, telling them your story can give them a helpful boost during the committee hearing tomorrow.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s Concerns with HB 1059:

  • The language of giving parents “fundamental,” “inalienable,” and “unobstructed” rights in HB 1059 gives parents the authority to supersede the rights of their children, essentially eliminating children’s rights in Florida.
  • Parent’s rights should never be discussed in isolation from parent’s responsibilities, and children’s rights must always be balanced with parental responsibilities.
  • This bill enshrines parent’s authority and control into law without ever mentioning the rights of children to liberty, the pursuit of happiness, dignity, and their own conscience.
  • Children are not chattel: they are not “owned” by their parents. Children are no one’s property, to be treated or mistreated on the whim of another person.
  • If parents can direct their child’s education without “obstruction or interference,” what happens to children who aren’t educated? Who can’t even read?

Sponsor Rep. Erin Grall’s Contact Information:

Capitol Phone: 850-717-5054
District Office: 772-778-5005
Email: erin.grall@myfloridahouse.gov

Contact Information for Florida House Education Committee:

Name:Capitol Phone:District Phone:Email:
Jennifer Sullivan (R)850-717-5031352-742-6275jennifer.sullivan@myfloridahouse.gov
Chris Latvala (R)850-717-5067727-724-3000chris.latvala@myfloridahouse.gov
Bruce Antone (D)850-717-5046407-445-5313bruce.antone@myfloridahouse.gov
Vance Aloupis, Jr (R)850-717-5115305-270-6530vance.aloupis@myfloridahouse.gov
Thad Altman (R)850-717-5052321-425-6179thad.altman@myfloridahouse.gov
Dr. James Bush III (D)850-717-5109305-953-3086james.bush@myfloridahouse.gov
Cord Byrd (R)850-717-5011904-242-3495cord.byrd@myfloridahouse.gov
Kimberly Daniels (D)850-717-5014904-353-2134kimberly.daniels@myfloridahouse.gov
Byron Donalds (R)850-717-5080239-417-6270byron.donalds@myfloridahouse.gov
Elizabeth Fetterhoff (R)850-717-5026386-736-5187elizabeth.fetterhoff@myfloridahouse.gov
Randy Fine (R)850-717-5053321-409-2017randy.fine@myfloridahouse.gov
Delores Johnson (R)850-717-5084772-595-1391HoganJohnson.Dolores@myfloridahouse.gov
Amber Mariano (R)850-717-5036727-861-4806amber.mariano@myfloridahouse.gov
Dr. Ralph Masullo (R)850-717-5034352-527-4510ralph.massullo@myfloridahouse.gov
Daniel Perez (R)850-717-5116305-44-6800daniel.perez@myfloridahouse.gov

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Ohio Cases Highlight Need to Protect Homeschooled Children

For Immediate Release: Ohio’s homeschool requirements saved one child but failed another

Canton, Ma., 01/09/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) supports a letter-writing campaign by teachers in Dayton Public Schools urging state lawmakers to act in the wake of the tragic death of 10-year-old Takoda Collins. Takoda was removed from school to be homeschooled after a school employee reported abuse concerns in May 2018. Authorities discovered evidence that Takoda had been horrifically tortured when they found him unresponsive in the family’s home in December 2019. “It is well-established that abusive parents can and do take advantage of lax homeschooling laws to isolate their children and hide abuse,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE, a national nonprofit organization that was founded in 2013 to advocate for homeschooled children. 

Joni Watson, a teacher at the school Takoda attended prior to being withdrawn to be homeschooled, told lawmakers that, when a child is removed from school following reports to children’s services, “there needs to be something additional put in place to ensure that child is checked on.” In the past decade, bills that would flag cases where parents begin to homeschool after a concerning history of child abuse and neglect allegations or other risk factors have been introduced in Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia, as well as in Ohio in 2013. 

According to CRHE, which maintains a database of severe and fatal child abuse cases in homeschool settings, cases like Takoda’s are far too common. A study published by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate in 2018 found that 31% of children withdrawn from school to be homeschooled lived in families with founded or multiple past child welfare reports. In a 2014 study of child torture conducted by a team of pediatricans, 47% of school-age victims studied were removed from school to be homeschooled, typically after the closure of a past child welfare report (another 29% were never enrolled in school). 

“Many of the cases in our database involve children withdrawn from school after a history of child abuse,” said Coleman. “Abusive parents too often realize they can avoid reports from school personnel by withdrawing their children from school to homeschool them. As a result, the lax homeschooling law becomes a tool abusive parents use to isolate their children from those who might have been able to help them.” Coleman adds that Takoda is not the only homeschooled child in Ohio whose horrific abuse came to light this fall. In September, an 11-year-old Georgetown girl was found locked in a trailer, monitored by security cameras, and so underweight from long-term starvation that she developed a severe protein deficiency. 

“In the past few years, we have seen an increase in awareness about the problem and attempts to protect children like Takoda,” Coleman says. She notes that in some cases, Ohio’s homeschool requirements have been able to protect children from abuse; the Georgetown girl was rescued by authorities after a teacher administering a required annual test reported concerns about the girl’s welfare. Another check or layer of oversight when children are withdrawn from school after a history of child abuse or neglect reports, Coleman says, would protect additional children—and might have saved Takoda. 

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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Letter from our Executive Director

This summer, our board of directors met in-person and spent three days building a vision for our organization’s future. The ideas we shared were invigorating. 

In the future, we envision having a social work department to help connect homeschooling parents and homeschool alumni with resources and information; a network of pro-bono lawyers willing to help those with specific needs; trainings and resources for homeschooling parents; a lobbying arm that works directly with lawmakers to center homeschool policy on the needs of homeschooled children; a research department that publishes studies, writes policy briefs, and collaborates with outside researchers; and more. 

But we did more than dream. We also accomplished a lot this year. First and most importantly, this year saw the passage of a bill designed to protect homeschooled children in Georgia, the first time this century that a state passed new homeschool protections—and we helped make it happen. Also this year, we gained access to new data sources which pointed to a need for more support for students being homeschooled during the high school years. And finally, we brought a social worker onto our team as our Advocacy and Support Coordinator. 

I am extremely excited and positive about our future—as well as about everything we have accomplished thus far. We have a lot to look back on, as this year ends—and a lot to look forward to. Thank you for coming along on this journey with us. 

Here’s to the past year—and to the next year. 

.

Dr. Rachel Coleman
Executive Director
Coalition for Responsible Home Education

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The modular home where the body was found

Mercer County Child Homeschool Homicide Case Involved Starvation

One of the things that I often see in the homeschool homicide cases I write about is starvation. Starvation is a common tool of child torture. In just about every case on this blog, the children were starved. Erica Parsons was malnourished, underweight and fed dog food. Hana Alemu was underweight, forced to eat outside in the backyard in bad weather, and was given purposely disgusting food which had been altered to make it distasteful. Mary Crocker was starved and also given distasteful food that would be hard to eat, such as food covered in vinegar. When children are starved, they often are also fluid restricted. Denying children water is another torture tactic. The 13 Turpin children were all starved for many years, resulting in growth stunting that was so severe, law enforcement thought a 27-year-old was ten, as well as thinking the other adult children found in the home were minors. Children isolated in homeschools and kept away from other people undergo the worst of starvation cases. Often, no one knows about it until after the child is dead.

Mercer County, Pennsylvania

A recent homeschool homicide case comes out of Mercer County, Pennsylvania, as law enforcement arrested 33-year-old Antonio Juan Gonzalez and 29-year-old Paul Bacorn, a “family friend” who lived on the property, in the death of Antonio’s 14-year-old son. The child, Antonio Juan Gonzalez, Jr., weighed just 70 pounds. The child was found dead on October 24th, 2019, in the family home on the 500 block of District Road in rural Delaware Township, after his father called 911.  The child was not breathing and was unresponsive. EMS pronounced him dead at the scene. The boy was homeschooled, and was taking online classes.

Police reported that the conditions of the home were “squalid” and unsuitable for children. Photographs from the outside of the crime scene show broken windows, debris, and a small, hazardous looking porch with a padlocked refrigerator on it. The refrigerator was padlocked to restrict food access to the children. A four-year-old girl was also living at the house, but was reportedly in good health. She has since been placed in custody of child protective services. The children’s mother has been deceased for many years.

trailer

The squalid home where the body was found. [image of small brown modular home, crooked, not sitting on a solid foundation, with broken window and cheaply constructed wood board porch with junk stacked on it.]

Antonio Jr. died from hypovolemic shock, which occurs when a person loses more than one-fifth of their body fluid and the heart can no longer pump blood throughout the body. He had a skull fracture and a severe injury under his chin. Hypovolemic shock occurred as a result of blunt force trauma, although it is believed that starvation also contributed to his death. Mercer County Coroner John A. Libonati reported that Antonio Jr. was significantly malnourished and his condition exacerbated the affects of the injury he received to his skull. Police observed that the child was noticeably underweight, with protruding cheekbones and visible joints, and had “significant bruising”. The Coroner said it is the worst case he has seen in 36 years.

John L
Mercer County Coroner John Libonati

 

 

Antonio Gonzalez Sr. and Paul Bacorn have both been charged with criminal homicide, child abuse, aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child, concealing the death of a child, assault, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit the crimes. They are both being held without bail in the Mercer County jail.

From WKBN27 News: “He appeared to be of normal height. He was about 70 pounds. He was emaciated,” said Mercer County District Attorney Pete Acker. “Looked like a concentration camp victim. You could count every one of his ribs. They were protruding and his legs were like pencils.”

When initially asked about what happened, Antonio Sr. gave police a few different stories, first saying the boy had fallen and hit his head that day, after going outside on a break from online classes. He later changed his story to say that the boy had hit his head the night before. Antonio said he tried to revive his son by pouring a bucket of water on him, but his son was unresponsive. Two hours after pouring the water on him, Antonio said that his son was breathing, but still unresponsive. He delayed calling 911 for hours after his son was rendered unconscious. By the time EMS arrived, the child was dead.  Bacorn and Gonzalez were arrested at the scene.

juan-gonzalez-paul-bacorn

Juan Gonzalez, left, and Paul Bacorn, right; mugshot, in orange prison outfits

Once in custody, Gonzalez and Bacorn admitted to police that they abused Antonio Jr. quite frequently, including making him stand with his arms in the air for hours, denying him food for days in a row, spraying him with cold water from the garden hose (cold water baths are a common child torture method), and physically abusing him. A preliminary arraignment in Common Pleas Court will occur on February 11th, 2020, in which both men will appear. I will keep readers updated on this case by adding to this blog.

Patterns

Starvation that is so severe it results in death, where the victim looked like “a concentration camp victim” can only occur if the victim has been kept away from others and isolated for a significant amount of time. While there are certainly cases of hungry children going to public school and not being noticed, the most severe starvation cases occur in homeschools. If the child in the above case had been allowed to be around other people at all, someone would have noticed that he was severally emaciated. According to Gonzalez Sr., he could not stand on his own. He was also visibly bruised. Since he was homeschooled and isolated in a rural area with no one around, there was no one to notice he was abused and starving, and no one to make a report to police or child protective services.

Pennsylvania does have more stringent requirements for homeschool than many other states, but this child was still able to go unnoticed for some time, and it is hard to believe that he was passing standardized tests or anything else that the state required. Antonio Sr. would log his son into school so it would appear he was online. There was no oversight by the state to make sure Antonio was in good health and actually being educated.

It is also unclear how long Antonio Jr. was homeschooled for, if he had ever been in public school, and how long he was starved for. Since he was of a typical height for his age, he did not undergo growth stunting. It is likely that the starvation occurred in more recent years. Adolescent children often become victims of escalating abuse, which is so severe it results in homicide. In this blog, all of the homicide victims I have written about were adolescents.

As for the role of disability, when children are subjected to starvation, neglect, and abuse, it can cause disabilities. This type of severe treatment can lead to lifelong physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities and also psychiatric disabilities, if a child survives the situation and is able to grow up. Starvation and neglect have different affects on children of different ages. If very young children are subjected to starvation, their development is severally delayed. If growth stunting occurs, it can never be reversed. Starving and abusing a child will also seriously interfere with their capacity to be educated. If a very young child is starving, they will not be ready for school at all. When someone like the child in the above case is starved later in life, they will not be able to focus on school, either.

There are many cases of homeschool related starvation that come across my desk every month. It is a common tool of torture. This is just one of many. It is another reason for better regulation and requirements around homeschool, and also for understanding homeschool as a disability issue in more ways than one. Children who are born with a disability are victimized, and victimization creates disability. In many cases, a child is disabled, and the torture exacerbates existing disability and also creates more disability, none of which are being treated in these homeschool cases, which leads to a heightened level of suffering. If the child is rescued from the home, they are going to need disability supports and services. For the child in the above case, he never got to grow up. This case needs to cause a spotlight to be turned on Pennsylvania homeschool law, and to advance understanding of the types of abuse that occur in a homeschool torture situation.

 

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School Health Requirements’ Homeschooling Loophole

For Immediate Release: Group warns that vaccine exemptions for homeschooled children lead to troubling results 

Canton, Ma., 11/12/2019—After lawmakers in New York passed a bill requiring all children who attend school to be vaccinated unless they have a valid medical exemption, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a group founded by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, saw a steep uptick in queries about homeschooling. “Parents began contacting us to ask whether the new law applied to homeschooled children,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE. “Some of these parents said they did not want to homeschool, but felt it was their only option,” said Coleman. “In some cases it was clear to us that these parents did not have the educational background needed to homeschool effectively.” 

New York state’s new immunization requirements, Coleman says, do indeed exempt homeschooled children, making homeschooling an effective loophole for vaccinehesitant parents. This puts New York out of step with the roughly half of all states that require homeschooled children to meet the same immunization requirements as other children. 

“Homeschooling is an educational choice. It was never intended to serve as a means of avoiding school health requirements,” Coleman cautions. “Homeschooled children should have access to the same level of healthcare as other children.” This is not currently the case in many states, Coleman says. She points to cases of medical neglect where health conditions that would have been recognized by a school nurse or a medical doctor have instead gone unnoticed in homeschool settings. “While requirements vary from state to state, children who attend school are required to have a physical exam or wellness visit in certain grades,” said Coleman. “Homeschooled children should have this same access.”

Coleman voiced concerns that parents who homeschool to avoid school health requirements may not be taking their children’s educational best interests into account. “Homeschooling is a lot of work,” Coleman notes. She says parents should homeschool only if they have a genuine interest in providing their children with an education at home. “Parents who have not freely chosen to homeschool their children, and are only doing so to avoid school health requirements, are probably not best suited to homeschool their children,” she says. “Everyone loses.” 

Coleman points to an article in The Daily Gazette, published in Schenectady, New York, to illustrate her concerns. In that article, reporter Zachary Matson speaks with a woman who withdrew her three children from school to homeschool them in order to avoid the state’s medical requirements, even though both she and her husband work full time. The couple’s 13-year-old daughter is providing childcare for her 10-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister and supervising their schoolwork while their parents work. “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 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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Catherine S.: “Everyone needs a checks and balance system”

“The horror film that was my life growing up in an isolated homeschool household is what will keep me a forever supporter of this organization.”

I was educated using a curriculum that was self teaching — read and follow directions — and later, my education was outsourced to homeschool coop groups for college prep high school classes. I was often left alone to figure out answers on my own and use deductive reasoning. This forced me to think critically, but it was often challenging without educated feedback from an adult to confirm my findings verbally. 

I might have looked like a homeschool success story, but this was only on the surface. 

We (my sisters and I) definitely were homeschooled as a result of and to hide chronic covert abuse on every level. It was done under the guise of evangelical, conservative, baptist Christian faith, but the truth was that my older sister had spoken with one of her public school teachers at the time, telling them what was going on in our home and my parents had to contain the situation by homeschooling us and scare us into silence to protect themselves. 

The state had practically zero oversight over our living conditions or educational progress aside from annual standardized IOWA testing as a measurement of our successful retainment of information. State oversight would have shined a light on some of the social and developmental handicaps that we were developing as a result of constant chronic abuse. 

If mandatory counselors visits or therapist sessions were required by state law without the presence of a parent, either one or all of us could have been saved from the situation. 

I understand covert narcissism due to my parents. I understand how blindly people can stand in defense of homeschooling, only because they never see, experience, or hear about the diabolical things that are happening in toxic homeschool homes. I know from experience the reality of what we are talking about — helpless children that may never see the light of day outside of their parents’ immediate reach, day in and day out, for 18 years. 

Everyone needs a checks and balance system for moral, ethical purposes. I hope that the Coalition for Responsible Home Education can not only bring awareness, but help create a healthier checks and balance system for homeschool families all across the U.S.

The horror film that was my life growing up in an isolated homeschool household is what will keep me a forever supporter of this organization.


Catherine was homeschooled in Georgia in the 1990s to 2000s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.

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Homeschooled Children with Disabilities Need More Attention

For Immediate Release: Disability rights law currently exempts homeschooled children. This is a problem.

Canton, Ma., 10/30/2019—A group founded by homeschool graduates in order to advocate for homeschooled children is drawing attention to cases where homeschooling has helped hide the abuse of children with disabilities. “Children who attend school are seen daily by teachers and other school staff,” notes Dr. Rachel Coleman, the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE). “This is not the case for children who are homeschooled, and children with disabilities can be particularly vulnerable.” 

Coleman is not opposed to homeschooling for disabled children. “Many families homeschool because they believe they can provide a more individualized education for children with disabilities, or because their children have health problems that make school attendance challenging,” Coleman says. “The challenge is that when families homeschool a disabled child, there are often no accountability structures in place to ensure that the child receives the services, therapies, and accommodations they need.” This leaves the child’s needs entirely in the hands of their parents, for better or—in some cases—for worse. 

CRHE maintains a database of severe and fatal cases of abuse and neglect in homeschool settings, in order to draw attention to the need for legal reforms. Coleman notes that many of these cases involve children with disabilities. Coleman points to the case of Joey Bishop, who died in 2017. “Joey was mobile and used in a wheelchair when he attended school prior to being homeschooled,” Coleman notes. “After he began to be homeschooled, his parents stopped him from using his wheelchair. At the time of his death from sepsis due to infected bed sores, Joey had not been moved from his bed for six months.” 

Joey’s case is not an isolated one. CRHE’s disability and accessibility advisor, Kate Corbett Pollack, has written about the role the lack of protections for disabled homeschooled children has played in numerous tragic child torture cases, including those of Mary and Elwyn Crocker, the Hart children, the Turpin Children, Matthew Tirado, Hana and Immanuel Williams, Erica Parsons, and Savannah Leckie. In each case, Pollack draws connections to the need for a disability rights lens in homeschooling law. 

Coleman believes that some of these cases could have been prevented by better protections for homeschooled children with disabilities. “When people ask me what could have been done better, I point them to Oregon’s homeschool statute,” Coleman said. Oregon law protects disabled students’ rights in three areas: access to disability services provided in local public schools; alternative assessments tailored to specific goals for the child’s progress; and annual plans developed by the child’s parents and service providers. 

“Homeschooled children with disabilities should not be an afterthought,” says Coleman, who argues that homeschool policy needs to be developed with disabled children in mind. Pollack agrees. “Disabled children who are homeschooled should have the same rights as disabled children who attend public school,” she says. “Disability rights law does not currently apply to homeschooled children, to these children’s detriment.” 

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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Bea M.: “Unchecked power is perilous”

“In my profession, I understand that teaching is a skill. Parents may love their kids, and even be educated themselves, but that doesn’t make them teachers.”

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 12th grade. I am the oldest of five children. We were a very traditional, religious family. My mother and father both hold bachelor’s degrees. My father worked and my mother stayed home. 

I am in favor of responsible home education, and feel additional oversight is necessary. 

My educational and social opportunities were very limited. My mother was overwhelmed with young children, and isn’t a professional educator. She wasn’t able to teach (and didn’t prioritize teaching), leaving me with books and answer keys to teach myself. While she enrolled me in some activities and co-ops, I didn’t have daily interaction with other children. She was very absentee in her approach. 

As the oldest, I was the caretaker for the younger children for a good portion of the time, which limited my academic success. As I grew older, I came to realize that the home environment was toxic. Because we had little exposure to the outside world, we didn’t have a baseline to understand how other people acted or felt. We were sucked into a mentality that the “world was against us.” When people don’t have enough interaction with the community, they forget what is normal, appropriate, and acceptable. 

My parents failed to properly educate us. They bullied me, and often twisted reality. Because we didn’t have other supportive adults in our lives, no one was able to step in and prevent this behavior, which ultimately escalated to abuse.

I no longer have any contact with my parents. 

I grew up and now have a husband, a son, a great job, and a master’s degree in an education-related field. In my profession, I understand that teaching is a skill. Parents may love their kids, and even be educated themselves, but that doesn’t make them teachers. Teachers are trained to communicate complicated concepts; they are trained to recognize signs of abuse, learning disabilities, and illness. 

I’ve had friends diagnosed with autism, hearing loss, ADHD, depression, and anxiety as adults. This could have been caught as children had they ever been exposed to trained professionals, but they were homeschooled. We agree it would have been better to be in the public school system. 

Some people are fortunate to have a good experience with homeschooling. That’s great! However, not everyone does. Ultimately, homeschooling gives parents complete, unchecked power over children. Unchecked power is perilous. Responsible home education will provide the checks and balances necessary to ensure children are safe and have access to educational opportunities. 


Bea M. was homeschooled in Minnesota from 1992-2007. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.

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Homeschool Group Raises Concerns about Dropouts

For Immediate Release: Data on homeschool transfers during high school raises concern in multiple states 

Canton, Ma., 10/23/2019—Officials in a growing number of states have become concerned that some public school administrators have been using homeschooling as a loophole to pad their graduation rates by listing dropouts as homeschool transfers. There is also concern that high school who are not legally old enough to drop out may be using homeschooling as a way to legally drop out of school. Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a group founded by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, takes these concerns seriously. “We are concerned that some school districts are using homeschooling as a way to offload challenging students, leaving these children without the resources they need to complete their education,” she said.

A 2018 report on homeschooling released by the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) revealed that a full half of public school students who transfer to homeschooling are high school students, and that two-thirds of homeschool transfers were chronically truant prior to withdrawing to homeschool. The report also found that the number of public school students who transferred to homeschool in their junior or senior year of high school increased dramatically after the compulsory attendance age was raised from 16 to 18. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Indiana have been struggling to make sense of high schools that appear to be fraudulently listing dropouts as homeschool transfers in order to raise their graduation rates. In a recent article, Dylan Peers McCoy, a reporter at Chalkbeat, pointed to Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis as an example: the school’s class of 2018 consisted of 83 graduates, 6 dropouts, and 60 homeschool transfers.

“Not every family is prepared to homeschool,” says Coleman. “Homeschooling should not function as school districts’ dumping ground.” While many officials are focusing on the point where these students leave their schools, Coleman points to data from Kentucky and Virginia that suggests homeschool graduates may attend college at as little as half the rate of other students. “What happens when students who are already at risk of not graduating are pushed out of public school?” Coleman asks, noting that most states offer little or no support or guidance for families that homeschool. “These students are being left in limbo.” 

Proposed solutions vary. In the last legislative session, Indiana lawmakers briefly considered counting homeschool transfers as dropouts for the purposes of calculating high schools’ graduation rates. In Kentucky, lawmakers have suggested tightening laws to address students who transfer to homeschooling after high rates of truancy. Coleman urges lawmakers to consider the needs of the whole child. “Many of these students are not receiving the support and guidance they need to ensure that they will finish high school with a diploma and a path to college or the workforce,” she says. “Solutions should focus on providing students with the help and support they need, whether within or outside of school.”

For further reading: 

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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Left in Limbo: Examining Kentucky’s 2018 Report on Homeschooling

In this post, CRHE’s Dr. Rachel Coleman reviews Homeschooling in Kentucky, a report published by the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) in September, 2018.

In November 2017, the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee, a legislative committee that advises the Kentucky Board of Education and oversees the Office of Education Accountability (OEA), asked the OEA to conduct a study of homeschooling in Kentucky. The OEA published a 73-page report, titled Homeschooling In Kentucky, in September 2018. While their report focuses on homeschooling in Kentucky, their findings raise a number of interesting questions for homeschooling nationwide. 

The OEA gathered data using a survey and interviews. The survey was distributed in 2018 to every school district’s director of pupil personnel (DPP), the individual responsible for investigating student non-attendance and enforcing the state’s compulsory attendance law. Out of 173 total DPPs in the state, 171 responded to the survey. These surveys provided the OEA with feedback from DPPs as well as data on homeschool enrollment and withdrawals. In addition, the OEA interviewed DPPs and superintendents from eight geographically varied school districts. The OEA also obtained data on homeschool college enrollment, GPAs, and ACT scores from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. 

This data allowed the OEA to report on diverse topics, including homeschool transfers’ absentee rate prior to their withdrawal from school; the rate at which homeschool graduates attend Kentucky post-secondary institutions; and DPPs’ feelings about the laws they enforce. The report raised concerns about high truancy rates among homeschool transfers and marshaled data that raises equally important questions about how well the state is meeting the needs of high school students at risk of dropping out.

The report’s key findings are as follows: 

  • Nearly two-thirds of students removed from school to be homeschooled were chronically truant prior to being withdrawn from school. 
  • The number of high school students transferring to homeschooling increased dramatically after the compulsory attendance age was raised from 16 to 18. 
  • Despite consisting of only 4 out of 12 grades, high school students who transfer to homeschooling comprise over half of all homeschool transfers. 
  • Kentucky homeschool graduates attend in-state colleges and universities at less than half the rate of other Kentucky high school graduates. 

This review will begin with an overview of Kentucky’s homeschool law before covering the demographics of Kentucky homeschooled children; truancy rates and what is known about homeschool transfers; DPPs’ concerns about homeschooling being used as a dropout loophole; and homeschool graduates’ rates of college attendance. 

SECTION 1: Kentucky’s Homeschool Law

In Kentucky, homeschooling takes place under the state’s private school law. Parents are required to annually notify the superintendent of the names, ages, and residence of the children being homeschooled, and to make attendance and scholarship information open for inspection by DPPs. However, the OEA noted that DPPs rarely inspect homeschools unless they receive a complaint about a family. In addition, some DPPs told the OEA that they were contacted by the Home School Legal Defense Association when making routine document requests, and told that their actions were in violation of the “Best Practices Document” created in 1997 by a task force of individuals from the Christian Home Educators of Kentucky and members of the Kentucky Directors of Pupil Personnel Association.  

The “Best Practices Document” states that when a question arises about the education being provided a DPP may ask a homeschooling family to provide documentation that they are educating their children in accordance with the law. However, the OEA points out with some concern that “DPPs alone do not have the legal authority to enforce compulsory attendance laws” and that “the ‘Best Practices Document’ does not address the role of CHFS [Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services] or the courts.” This, the OEA said, creates confusion. 

According to the OEA, when a DPP investigates a complaint about a homeschooling family and finds reason for concern, their next step should be to report their concern to CHFS. However, the OEA found that what happens when a DPP makes a report of educational neglect depends largely on the CHFS caseworker and the judge: according to some DPPs, judges may refuse to hear cases involving educational neglect unless other forms of neglect or abuse are also present, making it difficult to resolve some cases. 

The most consistent request the OEA received from DPPs was a need for more clarity about the state’s compulsory attendance law and their role in enforcing it. 

SECTION 2: Homeschool Demographics 

The OEA found that 26,536 students, or approximately 3.6% of school-aged children in Kentucky, were homeschooled in 2017. This number is slightly higher than the national average of 3.3% estimated by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2016. 

URBAN VS. RURAL

The Kentucky homeschooling rate varied dramatically by school district, from less than 1% to greater than 10%. The OEA identified no correlation between district poverty and homeschooling rate, but it did find a somewhat higher homeschooling rate in county districts (4.5%) than in independent districts (2.3%) (county districts are drawn along county lines while independent districts are drawn along city lines). This suggests that homeschooling in Kentucky is more prevalent in rural areas than in urban ones. This finding aligns with the 2016 NCES finding that homeschooling was more common in rural areas (4.4%) than in urban areas (3.0%). 

RACE & INCOME

While demographic data was not available for all homeschooled students, it was available for homeschool transfers who were previously enrolled in public school. The OEA found that these students were “more likely … to be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, less likely to be eligible for special education services, and less likely to be black or Hispanic.” 

This data does not include homeschooled students who had never attended public school, so we cannot know whether these findings hold true for all homeschooled children in Kentucky. However, these numbers are in line with the 2016 NCES finding that children who were poor or white were disproportionately likely to be homeschooled (3.9% and 3.8% of these students, respectively, were homeschooled, compared with the overall homeschooling rate of 3.3%). 

HOMESCHOOL-PUBLIC SCHOOL MOVEMENT

The OEA identified substantial movement between homeschools and public schools. Of the 4,463 students who transferred from public school to homeschool in 2012, nearly half (43%) re-enrolled in public school the following year. Of those who re-enrolled in public school, 15% had transferred back to homeschool again by 2017. In 2017, school districts reported 6,874 homeschool transfers and 26,538 homeschooled students total. This means that at any given time as many as one in four homeschooled students is a new homeschool transfer. The majority of homeschool transfers in 2017 were high school students. 

The OEA reported that students who transfer to homeschools are “likely to be, on average, lower performing on reading and math tests than their peers who do not transfer.” Where testing data was available, the OEA found that students who transferred into public schools from homeschools “achieve, on average, similarly to their public school peers in reading and below them in math.” This is consistent with a finding in nearly all extant research that homeschooled students experience a math gap relative to their performance in reading. 

STUDENT AGE

The OEA noted that high school students were more likely than other students to be homeschooled. This finding is in line with the NCES estimate that 3.8% of high school students were homeschooled in 2016, a homeschooling rate higher than that of students in middle school (3.3%) or elementary school (2.9%). 

 

SECTION 3: Homeschool Transfers & Truancy

The OEA found that public school students who transferred to homeschooling had a large number of absences prior to being withdrawn from public school. Nearly one-third (30%) of students who transferred to homeschools in 2017 were previously absent for 20% or more of enrolled days, a rate 11 times higher than that of public school students not transferring to homeschools. Nearly two-thirds (62%) were previously absent for at least 10% of enrolled days, a rate 4 times higher than that of non-transfers. 

The OEA remarks that, in many cases, parents may have similar motivations for keeping their children home from school and withdrawing them to homeschool. 

DPPs noted an increasing number of students who withdraw from public school for reasons that might also explain prolonged absences from school prior to withdrawal. These include mood disorders (such as anxiety), negative peer relationships, bullying, or families’ safety concerns after media reports of school shootings (p. 19).

However, according to the OEA, DPPs were also “concerned that truancy often represents a lack of commitment to education by a child or parent” (p. 35). 

“Forty-six percent of DPPs reported that they often observe families that withdraw their children from public school to be homeschooled because they are trying to avoid consequences of truancy; an additional 36 percent report that they sometimes observe this. DPPs report an uptick, for example, in parental requests to transfer students to home school in the week after the district has sent truancy notices to students’ homes.” (p. 35) 

Some DPPs who visited the homes of truant students who were later withdrawn to be homeschooled reported that homes lacked educational materials and parents lacked educational skills. Other DPPs expressed concern about homeschool families “based on documents submitted by home school families who appear to have difficulty with basic written communication” or based on the families’ home situations (p. 34). 

DROPOUT LOOPHOLE?

In 2013, the Kentucky legislature passed a bill that would gradually raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18. At first the change was voluntary, implemented by individual school districts, but once enough districts signed on the change became mandatory. The majority of school districts raised their compulsory attendance age during the 2015-2016 school year. This meant that 16- and 17-year-old students who might previously have dropped out of high school could no longer do so without facing legal consequences for truancy. 

The OEA report identifies a possible link between this increase in the compulsory attendance age and the higher rate of chronic truancy among homeschool transfers: 

“It is possible that the alleged misuse of home school laws to avoid public school truancy is associated with the increase, beginning in 2015, in the number of public school students in grades 9 to 12 who transferred to home school. Several DPPs and superintendents noted that the increase in the minimum dropout age from 16 to 18 put pressure on schools to accommodate students who were no longer interested in attending school and would have dropped out had the dropout age not been raised to 18.” (p. 36)

The increase in the number of public high school students transferring to homeschool, beginning in 2015, is shown below. 

The spike in high school students transferring to homeschool was driven by students in grades 11 and 12. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of homeschool transfers among students in grades K to 8 increased by 34% percent; and the number of transfers among students in grades 9 and 10 increased by 31%. Meanwhile, the number of transfers among students in grades 11 and 12 increased by 63%. This is what we would expect to see if students aged 16 and 17 who would previously have dropped out instead began transferring to homeschooling after the compulsory attendance age increased.  

New homeschool transfers make up a far larger percentage of children being homeschooled during the high school years than they do in earlier grades. In any given year, as many as one-third of high school students being homeschooled are recent transfers. 

As the graph below shows, public high school students who transfer to homeschool are chronically truant at a slightly higher rate than homeschool transfers overall: 

While truancy rates were high for all homeschool transfers — over 40% of those transferring to homeschooling in any grade were previously chronically truant — the rate was highest among high school transfers: nearly 70% of high school transfers were chronically truant prior to withdrawing to homeschool. 

SECTION 4: Homeschool Graduates & College 

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education maintains data on college classes taken by students homeschooled in Kentucky, including dual-enrollment courses taken during high school. The OEA analyzed this data and found that homeschool graduates make up a smaller portion of Kentucky high school graduates attending Kentucky postsecondary institutions than would be expected based on the proportion of K-12 students in Kentucky who are homeschooled: 

Home school students were 1.5 percent of Kentucky high school 2016 graduates enrolled in Kentucky PSIs [postsecondary institutions] in school year 2017 and were thus a lower percentage of the Kentucky PSI population than they were of the school-aged (5 to 17) population (3.6 percent). This suggests that Kentucky home school students may be enrolling in college at lower rates than their public school peers (p. 21).

According to the OEA report, approximately 18% of 2016 Kentucky homeschool graduates enrolled in Kentucky postsecondary institutions in 2017. In comparison, 53.5% of Kentucky public school graduates enrolled in Kentucky postsecondary institutions that same year.  

“Caution should be used in interpreting these data,” the OEA notes, “because they are from Kentucky PSIs only and the proportion of public versus home school students who attend college out of state is not known.” It is possible, in other words, that Kentucky homeschool graduates are substantially more likely than other Kentucky high school graduates to attend postsecondary institutions out of state, which could explain their lower rate of in-state enrollment. However, there is no compelling reason to think that this is the case, and college attendance data from at least one other state — Virginia — is in line with the data the OEA analysed: in Virginia, 1.8% of college students are homeschool graduates. 

While data from additional states is needed to determine national trends, the OEA report’s findings suggest that Kentucky homeschool graduates are attending college at a far lower rate than other Kentucky high school graduates, as illustrated in this graph: 

In addition, homeschool graduates who do attend postsecondary institutions are more likely to attend two-year public institutions and less-likely to attend 4-year public institutions. (While 2.1% of Kentucky high school graduates enrolled in 2-year public institutions are homeschool graduates, at 4-year public institutions only 1.1%  are homeschool graduates.) This finding is consistent with data from Virginia. 

FIRST YEAR GPA

Kentucky homeschool graduates who attend Kentucky postsecondary institutions maintain a higher GPA than other Kentucky high school graduates: 61% of homeschool graduates have a GPA of 3.5 or above, compared with 41% of public school graduates. 

Given that fewer than 20% of Kentucky homeschool graduates attend these institutions (compared with over 50% of Kentucky graduates overall) it is likely that those homeschool graduates who do attend these institutions are those who are best prepared for college — the best of the best, among homeschool graduates. This makes any comparison of the GPAs of homeschool and those public school graduates attending Kentucky postsecondary institutions — who represent a broader swath public school graduates — essentially meaningless. 

ACT SCORES

Kentucky homeschool graduates who attend Kentucky postsecondary institutions also have higher overall ACT scores than other Kentucky graduates attending these institutions (the OAE does not appear to have performed significance testing). Homeschool graduates attending these institutions had an ACT score of 23.9, compared with 22.5 for public school graduates attending these institutions.

There are two things worth noting in the chart above. First, while homeschool graduates attending 4-year public institutions had higher English and reading ACT scores than public school graduates attending these institutions, their ACT scores were virtually identical. This finding is in line with research suggesting that homeschooled students experience a “math gap” relative to their attainment in other subjects. 

Second, the gap between public school and homeschool graduates’ ACT scores is nearly twice as large for students attending 2-year public institutions than for those attending 4-year public institutions: homeschool graduates attending 2-year public institutions have substantially better ACT scores relative to their peers than do homeschool graduates attending 4-year public institutions. The explanation for this finding is currently unknown. 

While every public school student in Kentucky is required to take the ACT, homeschooled students are exempted from this requirement

DUAL ENROLLMENT

In a similar pattern to college attendance, homeschooled high school students maintained a higher GPA in in dual-credit courses relative to other students, but enrolled in these courses at a far lower rate than other students. 

As shown in the table above, 73% of homeschooled high school students who enrolled in dual-credit courses earned a GPA of 3.5 or above, compared with 57% of public high school students. However, the table below shows that while homeschooled students made up 3.6% of all K-12 students in Kentucky, they made up only 1.6% of all high school students enrolled in dual enrollment courses.  

In 2017, 400 homeschooled high school students enrolled in dual-credit courses; that same year, there were roughly 8,000 homeschooled high school students in Kentucky. Based on these numbers, roughly 5% of homeschooled high school students were enrolled in a dual-credit course in 2017. In contrast, over 10% of students enrolled in a public high school in Kentucky took at least one dual-credit course that same year. 

Homeschooled students who are college-bound frequently use dual-credit courses taken during high school to provide external verification of their education, in lieu of access to a state-issued diploma. The outsized importance that dual-credit courses can have for homeschooled students makes the low rate of enrollment among these students concerning. 

The Dual Enrollment Scholarship Program, created by the Kentucky legislature and enacted in April 2017, allows juniors and seniors enrolled in a Kentucky high school to take up to two dual-credit courses at no cost. It is unclear whether homeschooled students have access to this program. Efforts should be made to increase homeschooled students’ access to and enrollment in dual-credit courses. 

Concluding Thoughts

In 2011, Stephen L. Endress completed a dissertation on what he termed “non-purposeful homeschooling.” These were cases where parents “pull their children out of public school for non-academic reasons, thereby by-passing compulsory education laws.” Drawing on his own experience as a public school administrator, Endress wrote that families engaged in non-purposeful homeschooling were “often single-parent households, have inadequate incomes, are less able to be actively involved in their child’s education, and do not have access to the same resources for networking and support.” Endress sent surveys to hundreds of principals in Illinois and Iowa and found that his respondents reported that, in their view, approximately 26% of parents who withdrew their children to homeschool them were motivated by a desire to avoid negative consequences related to truancy. 

While the OEA report does not use Endress’ term, “non-purposeful homeschooling” is their focus as well. In their own survey, they found that 46% of DPPs reported that they “often” see families withdraw children due to truancy, and another 36% of DPPs reported that they “sometimes” see families do this. These families, as Endress noted, are often unprepared to educate their children. “Nearly half of DPPs (48 percent) reported that they often encounter home school parents who do not understand that they are responsible for identifying and obtaining curriculum and instructional materials,” the OEA noted. 

In 2018, the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate released a study finding that 36% of students removed from school to be homeschooled lived in families subject to a past child welfare report; 90% of these cases involved either founded reports or multiple reports. CRHE has been in communication with a county attorney in Kentucky who carried out an unpublished study in an independent school district, with findings similar to those in the Connecticut report. While the OEA did consider the role Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services played in prosecuting educational neglect, it did not look at the overall role this agency may have played in homeschooling families’ lives. This area of inquiry should be included in future reports.

Over the years, CRHE has collected a number of anecdotal reports that support a narrative of “non-purposeful homeschooling.” One woman contacted CRHE concerned about her nephew. The child’s mother had a history of domestic violence and drug use; due to this instability, the child was frequently tardy or absent from school. The mother later withdrew this child from school to homeschool him. In another case, a relative contacted CRHE concerned about a girl whose mother withdrew her from school in order to prevent anyone from learning about her (i.e. the mother’s) drug habit. One woman told CRHE that she was withdrawn from school to be homeschooled after her sister reported their father’s sexual abuse to a teacher. In another case, a single mother was encouraged by her son’s high school to homeschool her son — who dealt with anxiety and other mental health programs — using an online program. The mother worked full time; her son, lacking the support he needed, failed all of his online classes. 

In a growing number of states, homeschooling has served as a loophole for public school administrators seeking to pad their schools’ graduation rates and families looking for ways for a student to dropout. Cases in Florida, Indiana, and Texas reveal just how easy misuse can be. In a recently published article, a reporter spoke with a mother who had unknowingly signed a homeschool transfer form, filled out by school officials, when she went to her son’s Indiana charter school to sign paperwork for him to drop out. In its class of 2018, the school reported 83 graduates, 6 dropouts, and 60 students who left to homeschool at some point during high school. (Because they count as transfers, students who leave school to be homeschooled are removed from a school’s cohort when calculating its graduation rate.) Last year, the Indiana legislature passed a law creating an additional review for high schools that reported a suspiciously high number of homeschool transfers.

In 2017 alone, 3,632 Kentucky students in grades 9 through 12 were withdrawn from public high schools to be homeschooled. At any given time, as many as one-third of homeschooled high school students in that state are new homeschool transfers. Some of these families may be motivated by student anxiety or bullying, and others by a desire to avoid prosecution for chronic truancy, whatever its underlying cause. Some parents may have been encouraged to transfer to homeschooling by district officials looking to unload “problem” students. Many of these students will differ from what one might think of as a “traditional” homeschooling student. The low rate of homeschool enrollment in both dual-credit courses and in-state postsecondary institutions in Kentucky suggests that many of these students are not receiving the support and guidance they need to ensure that they will finish high school with a diploma and a path to college or the workforce. Instead, they are being left in limbo. 

 

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