An official with the Ohio Department of Education told the Washington Post that the agency would investigate the group’s compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Stephanie K. Siddens called the lessons “racist, antisemitic, and fascist.”
“There is absolutely no place for hate-filled, divisive and hurtful instruction in Ohio’s schools, including our state’s home-schooling community,” she said in a statement.
Despite these strong words, there’s a limit to how much oversight the state wields. The story of this group, known as “Dissident Homeschool” on the online platform Telegram, underscores just how many regulatory gray areas surround home schooling.
Curriculum is one. Home-schoolers in Ohio are required to cover certain subjects, but how they teach them—what materials and instructional methods they use—is up to them.
This is the case across the United States, said Carmen Longoria-Green, the board chair of Coalition for Responsible Home Education, an advocacy and research group. While the majority of states—29 plus the District of Columbia—require certain subjects be taught, no states mandate or evaluate specific home-school curricula.
Home-schoolers are a broad and diverse group with different motivations and instructional priorities, and this flexibility can benefit them. Some military families choose the option to provide stability for children who have to move to a different base every few years. A growing number of Black parents have chosen to home-school to teach children African American history and culture that is minimized or excluded from public schools.
But it can also provide an open door for extremist ideology and what Longoria-Green calls “white-supremacist-lite” curriculum.
Here are three things to know about how home schooling operates in the United States, and how this incident connects to broader debates about public education today.
1. Home-schooling is not highly regulated
States set their own guidelines for home schooling, which vary widely. Only 13 states and D.C. require instructors to have qualifications, like a high school diploma, according to the Education Commission of the States. Twenty-three states and D.C. have attendance requirements. Only two states require parents to undergo background checks before beginning home schooling.
“Ohio actually has more regulation than most states,” said Longoria-Green. It requires parents to provide 900 hours of instruction, teach a list of specified subjects, and submit an assessment of students’ work.
In recent years, high-profile incidents of child abuse and death at the hands of home-school parents have rekindled debates over increasing safety regulations. Advocates of these stronger guardrails say that they’re necessary for child welfare and will only affect the small minority of homeschooling parents who are putting their children at risk. But opponents argue that these laws would stigmatize home-schoolers and facilitate government overreach.
One of these opponents to increased regulation is the Home School Legal Defense Association, an advocacy group founded in 1983 by Baptist minister Michael Farris. A 2015 ProPublica investigation outlined how the organization has blocked state legislation, such as bills that would have required parents to notify the state that they’re home-schooling or proposals to mandate that home-schooled students take assessments to demonstrate academic progress.
The HSLDA emerged out of a conservative Christian movement to expand homeschooling in the 1980s and 90s—in part a response to Supreme Court decisions that fortified the separation of church and state in schools.
In a statement, HSLDA described the “Dissident Homeschool” group as an outlier.
“The repulsive beliefs and actions of one troubled and extreme fringe couple exploiting home-school freedom should not harm the liberty and parental rights of millions of American families who responsibly home school and who raise their children to be contributing members of society,” it read. “It would be a mistake to regulate the extraordinarily diverse home-schooling community—many of whom choose homeschooling to protect their children from racism—based on the bad acts of a tiny fringe.”
But Longoria-Green said that while explicit neo-Nazi ideology isn’t the norm, several home-schooling curricula push Christian nationalist ideas.
Her organization advocates mandatory tests for home-schooled students. “The assessment should be sufficient so that you can actually tell whether the children are receiving only an alternative version of reality in their home-schooling education,” she said.
2. The home-school movement helped give birth to the parents’ rights rhetoric
The “home-school freedom” that the HSLDA advocates is deeply intertwined with the parents’ rights movement that has swept through state legislatures over the past few years.
The Washington Post and Slate have both traced the connections between the conservative Christian wing of the home-schooling community and recent political efforts to give parents authority over what books are in kids’ classrooms and libraries, and what lessons they’re studying in public school.
Farris, the founder of HSLDA, is now the counselor to the CEO and president of Alliance Defending Freedom. The Arizona-based conservative legal advocacy group lists parents’ rights among its core issues, claiming that public schools are “indoctrinating students in harmful views of human sexuality and race, injecting ideas from critical race and critical gender theories into classrooms.”
For a list of states that have put restrictions on how teachers can discuss race or sex in the classroom, or passed these parental rights laws, see below:
The map below shows which states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.
It will be updated as new information becomes available.
Click here for more information on the measures and variations from state to state.
3. The Ohio news comes at a complicated time for Holocaust education
The lessons that the neo-Nazi group used are deeply hurtful to Holocaust survivors, and they misrepresent history, said Gretchen Skidmore, the director of education initiatives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in a statement.
“It is also dangerous,” she said. “Recent years have seen a rise in antisemitism—including violent antisemitism—in this country. It is important for students to understand the devastating consequences of the actions of Hitler and the Nazi party, along with their collaborators, during the Holocaust. Educational efforts should be focused on helping students understand the dangers of antisemitism and other forms of hatred and examining how and why the Holocaust happened.”
At least 18 states require Holocaust and genocide education by law. The majority of that legislation passed after President Donald Trump took office and the country experienced a sharp increase in anti-Semitic acts, according toananalysis from Axios of data from the National Council of State Legislatures.
Still, educators and advocates are concerned about how recent legislation banning discussion of “divisive concepts” in classrooms and mandating teachers to show both sides of “controversial” topics could interfere with accurate Holocaust education.
An Indiana state senator said that under a proposed bill, teachers should be “impartial” on Nazis. In one Texas district, an administrator told teachers that they should include “opposing” views on the Holocaust. Both later apologized for these comments.
In Ohio, where the homeschooling group is located, a state representative said students could learn about the Holocaust from varied perspectives, including that of a Nazi soldier.