Law & Courts

Cultural Adjustment an Issue for Texas Sect’s Children

By Michelle Roberts, Associated Press — May 01, 2008 4 min read

Many of the children taken from a polygamous sect’s West Texas ranch have seen little or no television. They have been essentially home-schooled all their lives. Most were raised on garden-grown vegetables and twice-daily prayers with family. They frolic in long dresses and buttoned-up shirts from another century. They are unfailingly polite.

The 437 children taken from the Yearning for Zion Ranch compound in Eldorado, Texas, are being scattered to group homes and boys’ and girls’ ranches across the state, plunged into a culture radically different from the community where they and their families shunned the outside world as a hostile, contaminating influence on their godly way of life.

The law-enforcement action that led to their separation from their families earlier this month has left state child-welfare and education officials with a host of short-term challenges as they seek to deal with the day-to-day needs of the children, including their care and schooling. (“Polygamy Case Raises Complex Schooling Issues,” April 23, 2008.)

The children were swept up in a raid this month on the compound run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a group that believes in marrying off underage girls to older men. State child-welfare authorities said there was evidence of physical and sexual abuse at the ranch.

The youngsters are being moved out of the crowded San Angelo Coliseum in San Angelo, Texas, and will be placed in 16 temporary facilities around the state—some as far away as Houston, 500 miles off—until individual custody hearings can be held.

Those hearings could result in a number of possibilities: Some children could be placed in permanent foster care; some parents who have left the sect may win custody; some youngsters may be allowed to return to the ranch in Eldorado; and some may turn 18 before the case is complete and will be allowed to choose their own fates.

The state Children’s Protective Services agency said it chose foster homes where the youngsters can be kept apart from other children for now.

When it comes to their schooling, lawyers said the children have been educated in a schoolhouse, using a home-schooling curriculum, on the compound, and may actually be ahead of public school students their ages.

Susan Hays, who represents a toddler in the custody case, and CPS spokeswoman Shari Pulliam, said the children will continue to be home-schooled by the temporary foster-care providers instead of being thrown into big schools, where they could be bullied because of their differences.

Children raised on the FLDS compound must wear pioneer-style dress and keep their hair pinned up in braids, reflecting their standards of modesty. For the same reason, they have little knowledge of pop culture. They must pray twice a day. They tend vegetable gardens and raise dairy cows, and must eat fresh food. And they are exceedingly polite, always saying “please” and “thank you.”

In contrast, many other children in foster care have a certain worldly swagger, and are there because they have used drugs or committed other crimes.

“We recognize it’s critical that these children not be exposed to mainstream culture too quickly or other things that would hinder their success,” Ms. Pulliam said. “We just want to protect them from abuse and neglect. We’re not trying to change them.”

Worldly Influences

Experts and lawyers say foster care will change the sect children.

“These children who have lived in a very insular culture and are suddenly thrust into mainstream culture—there’s going to be problems,” said Ms. Hays. “They are a throwback to the 19th century in how they dress and how they behave.”

Ken Driggs, an Atlanta lawyer who has long studied and written about the FLDS, said that if kept away from their parents’ culture long enough, the children may begin to emulate those around them.

Ms. Pulliam said the temporary foster-care facilities have been briefed on the children’s needs. “We’re not going to have them in tank tops and shorts,” she said.

Authorities will try to obtain the youngsters’ traditional clothing from their parents, and also arrange for visits from some of the adults, state attorney Gary Banks said.

In addition, CPS has sent instructions to the foster homes to feed the youngsters fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken, rice, and other foods that may have been grown on the 1,700-acre ranch.

“They don’t eat a lot of processed food, and we’re not going to encourage that,” Ms. Pulliam said, but noted that if the children want to eat processed or junk food, no one is going to stop them.

Those who cling to their traditions may pose another problem for the state—they might run away. Mr. Driggs said polygamists’ children have fled foster homes before because “they want to go home, and they want to go to people and circumstances they’re used to.”

While their diets, dress, and prayers can be accommodated with a little planning, other experts said their emotional needs may be trickier to deal with.

Dr. Bruce Perry, a child psychiatrist who testified for the children earlier this month, said FLDS children may be easily taken advantage of by outsiders because of the strict control church leaders have had over their daily lives.

People who have left the sect “felt emotionally incapable of decisionmaking,” he said.

Related Tags:

Associated Press writer Monica Rhor in Houston contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as Cultural Adjustment an Issue for Texas Sect’s Children

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Customer Support Specialist, Tier 1
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Customer Support Specialist, Tier 1
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Customer Support Specialist, Tier 1
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court Is Asked to Take Up Harvard's Consideration of Race in Admissions
Lower courts rejected claims by Students for Fair Admissions that the Harvard policies discriminate against Asian-American applicants.
3 min read
supreme court IMG
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts Accused Texas School Shooter to Remain at State Hospital
Doctors say the student accused of fatally shooting 10 people at a Texas high school in 2018 remains incompetent to stand trial.
1 min read
Santa Fe High School freshman, Jai Gillard writes messages on each of the 10 crosses representing victims in front the school in Santa Fe, Texas on May 21, 2018.
Santa Fe High School freshman, Jai Gillard writes messages on each of the 10 crosses representing victims in front the school in Santa Fe, Texas on May 21, 2018.
Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP
Law & Courts School District Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Scope of Transgender Student Rights
A Virginia district appeals a ruling in the case involving Gavin Grimm's effort to use a restroom consistent with his gender identity.
3 min read
Transgender student Gavin Grimm challenged a policy of the Gloucester County, Va., school board that barred him from using the men's restroom. The school board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
Transgender student Gavin Grimm challenged a policy of the Gloucester County, Va., school board that barred him from using the men's restroom. The school board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
Kristen Zeis/The Daily Press via AP
Law & Courts 3 Years Later, Parkland School Shooting Trial Still in Limbo
It's been more than 1,000 days since a gunman with an AR-15 rifle burst into a Florida high school, killed 17 people, and wounded 17 others.
4 min read
Magaly Newcomb, right, comforts her daughter Haley Newcomb, 14, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at a memorial outside the school in Parkland, Fla on Feb. 18, 2018. It’s been more than 1,000 days since a gunman with an AR-15 rifle burst into the school, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.
Magaly Newcomb, right, comforts her daughter Haley Newcomb, 14, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at a memorial outside the school in Parkland, Fla on Feb. 18, 2018. It’s been more than 1,000 days since a gunman with an AR-15 rifle burst into the school, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.
Gerald Herbert/AP