School Choice & Charters Q&A

How Homeschooling Is Sometimes Used to Conceal Child Abuse

By Arianna Prothero — January 17, 2018 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A horrific case of child abuse and torture out of California is highlighting once again how little regulation exists for home-schooling families.

Two parents in Southern California have been arrested for starving their 13 children and chaining them to beds. The children were reportedly being home-schooled.

Most states take a very hands-off approach to home schooling. And although there is no evidence that child abuse is rampant among the 1.7 million-strong home-schooling community, advocates from the Center for Responsible Home Education argue that a lack of regulation makes home schooling attractive to neglectful and abusive parents.

As part of the organization’s research and advocacy work, it launched a database to track severe and fatal abuse cases among home schoolers.

“We’re not talking about families that are really working to do it right,” said Rachel Coleman, the director of the CRHE.

Although Coleman was home-schooled her entire K-12 career, her advocacy work isn’t a reaction to her upbringing. She says she received a good education from home.

I spoke with Rachel about how common the California case is, as well as policy reforms CRHE is pushing for. Our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, is below.

Q. What are some of the themes that you have identified in your database?

A. I had a reporter ask me earlier this morning if I was surprised by [the California] case. My answer was no, not in the least. The case fits themes that we’ve seen over time, many other cases that we’ve seen just like it: food deprivation, imprisonment.

It’s really hard to starve your children to death if they’re in school. Somebody is going to see something. Somebody is going to say something. A teacher is going to notice that the kid is always hungry and at the very least they are going to feed the child.

Again, I don’t want to make it sound like this is a problem in every case, most home-schooling families this is not a problem at all. Their kids eat plenty of food.

But in abusive cases where parents home-school, it becomes one more way to control their children.

In fact, I ran the numbers the other day, and I believe it was 43 of the cases in our database involve food deprivation.

That’s one big theme we see. Some of the other things involve social isolation—it’s not uncommon to have the neighbors to say that they never had any contact with the kids.

One thing we try to do is to recommend requirements that responsible home-schooling parents already do. Because we don’t want to create more burden than is needed, we want to find a way to inconvenience the responsible home-schooling parents as little as possible, but to ensure that the method they’re using to educate their children is not also being used to abuse children and isolate them.

One way we recommend doing this is to require annual doctor visits. Doctors are mandatory reporters. A doctor would almost have certainly raised flags in this case and reported it to social services. These children were clearly malnourished and they were clearly not getting what they needed.

But currently there’s nothing to ensure that home-schooled children go to the doctor, ever.

Another way to do this is an annual assessment ... to require a standardized test administered by a certified teacher or a portfolio in the presence of the child. So the teacher would look through the portfolio and ask questions—not anything picky, just to be in the presence of the child.

The basic idea is to ensure that kids aren’t so completely isolated.


EdWeek Explains: Homeschooling— Requirements, Research, and Who Does It


Q. Are California’s home-schooling laws loose compared to other states?

A. There are 15 states that require a parent to turn in some sort of notice saying that they’re home schooling, but nothing else. No assessment, no one is checking up on those kids, no contact.

There are 11 states that don’t even require that. You don’t have to tell anyone if you’re home schooling. There’s no list. Texas is one of those states, where the family previously lived before they lived in California.

In the remaining 24 states, there is some form of assessment requirement, but this is really, really variable because a number of states require an assessment but they don’t require parents to turn it in or even to show proof that they did the assessment.

California in the lower half. In terms of the 26 states that don’t require anything beyond turning in an affidavit. So that does put it in the bottom half. But the fact that it’s not in the bottom tenth when it does almost nothing, shows the state of home-schooling laws in the country today.

But it’s often cases like this that spur change.

Q. News reports are sometimes referring to the parents in California as running a private school out of their home. Do some states require home schoolers to register as private schools?

A. In California, there actually is no home-school law, there never has been. What happened across the U.S. as people started home schooling, is they started looking for ways to home school under their current laws.

In some states the answer was they couldn’t so they created a home-school law. But in California parents argued that they could be individual private schools. Ultimately the courts in California said that was ok.

So, the home schoolers in California are home schooling under a law that was never designed for home schoolers. It’s the private school law. Technically, there aren’t any home schoolers at all in California, just a lot of tiny, individual private schools.

This is not the only state that does it this way. Texas is another state that does it this way, Nebraska, Indiana. That’s how the law evolved—it wasn’t thought out from the beginning.

Q. How common is abuse among home-schooling families?

A. We can’t know that abuse is more common home schoolers overall, it may not. But what we do know, when abuse occurs in a home-school situation, there are fewer safeguards to catch it. It’s less likely to be identified, and less likely to be stopped. And that can lead to an escalation.

A researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Barbara Knox, looked at cases that were so severe she called them child torture. And she found that 47 percent of the kids were pulled [out of public school] to be home-schooled. And another 29 percent were never enrolled. You can’t torture kids if they attend school, somebody is going to notice.

Q. Is there any evidence to suggest that a large proportion of home-schooling parents are home schooling their kids to hide abuse?

A. The problem, there aren’t any records kept on this issue. Child protective services don’t keep a record of whether a child attends school, is home-schooled or attends private schools. And many states don’t have lists of home schoolers.

The other part that’s tough to quantify is: how many cases of haven’t come to light? It’s extremely difficult to quantify.

We do have 381 cases in our database—most of those cases are from 2000 to present. And these are severe and fatal abuse cases.
So home schooling is clearly overrepresented in severe and fatal cases of abuse. And these cases are so horrific that one is too many.

Related stories:


Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

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
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
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
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Virtual Charters in Hot Water Again. Accusations of Fraud Prompt $150M Lawsuit
Indiana officials seek to recoup more than $150 million they say was either wrongly obtained or misspent by a consortium of virtual schools.
Arika Herron, The Indianapolis Star
2 min read
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. Rokita filed a lawsuit against a group of online charter schools accused of defrauding the state out of millions of dollars Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
School Choice & Charters How the Pandemic Helped Fuel the Private School Choice Movement
State lawmakers got a new talking point as they pushed to create and expand programs to send students to private schools.
8 min read
Collage showing two boys in classroom during pandemic wearing masks with cropped photo of feet and arrows going in different directions.
Collage by Gina Tomko/EducationWeek (Images: Getty)
School Choice & Charters Opinion Taking Stock After 30 Years of Charter Schools
Rick Hess speaks with Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, on charter schools turning 30.
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty
Getty