Statement Supporting Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry and Michigan’s HB 4498
For Immediate Release: Michigan Takes a Step Forward in Protecting Homeschooled Children
Canton, Ma., 4/21/15—Last month, Stoni Blair, 13, and Stephen Berry, 9, were found dead in a Detroit freezer, and their two remaining siblings bore signs of severe maltreatment. The children were allegedly subject to long-term abuse by their mother, Mitchelle Blair, who pulled them out of school to homeschool them. Rep. Stephanie Chang has introduced House Bill 4498 in an effort to prevent parents from abusing Michigan’s homeschooling law to hide child abuse, as Blair allegedly did. “This bill is a step forward for the freedom and safety of Michigan’s homeschooled children,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a group that advocates for homeschooled children.
Michigan is one of 11 states that does not require homeschoolers to have any contact with state or local officials. Current Michigan law does not require homeschooling parents to register with the state. Homeschooling parents are not required to inform their school district that they are withdrawing a child to be homeschooled, need not show any proof that they are educating their children, and cannot be reported to social services for educational neglect. In 2012, Kalamazoo County attendance officer Jerry Jansma told the Kalamazoo Gazette that the state’s lax homeschooling law made compulsory education extremely difficult to enforce. “You’ll have a parent who is clearly neglectful and we can’t get resolution, and they’ll say, ‘I’ve decided to home-school my child’ and there’s nothing I can do about it,” he explained. “As long as home schooling is as lax as it is, it’s an avenue for parents to hide,” he added.
HB 4498 would require homeschooling parents to provide their local school district with the name and age of each child being homeschooled, along with the address of the parent or guardian. Homeschooling parents would also need to ensure that each homeschooled child meets twice a year with a mandatory reporter such as doctor, teacher, or member of the clergy, and maintain signed records of these meetings, making them available upon request. “Currently, abusive parents who use homeschooling to isolate their children from any contact with mandatory reporters aren’t breaking any law,” said Coleman. “HB 4498 would change this, and would offer some hope to Michigan homeschooled children who are currently living this nightmare. Far from than punishing homeschooling parents, HB 4498 reflects what responsible homeschooling parents already do and allows the state to identify abusive and negligent parents shielding themselves under Michigan’s homeschooling laws.”
With the passage of HB 4498, Michigan would join the ranks of the few states that offer protections for at-risk homeschooled children. “Our preliminary research suggests that homeschooled children are at a greater risk of dying from child abuse than traditionally schooled children are,” said Coleman. “This is likely because homeschooling puts at-risk children at greater risk by giving abusive parents the ability to isolate their children from contact with mandatory reporters and hide abuse, neglect, and even child fatalities.” The Coalition for Responsible Home Education maintains the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children website, which documents dozens of child abuse and neglect fatalities in homeschool settings. “Most homeschooled children are not isolated from contact with mandatory reporters,” added Coleman. “But we’re concerned about the ones who are. Every homeschooled child’s life matters.”
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.