Ohio State Sen. Capri Cafaro (D) has introduced a bill that thrusts the state into a battle over homeschooling freedom and the rights of parents to choose how to educate their children.
Senate Bill 248 was introduced by Cafaro in the wake of the tragic death of homeschooler Teddy Foltz-Tedesco in January of this year. Teddy was beaten to death at the age of 14 by his mother’s boyfriend, Zaryl Bush.
According to WKBN First News, teachers had suspected abuse in Teddy’s Struthers, Ohio home prior to his mother’s decision to remove him from public school with the stated intention to homeschool him.
Though no direct link has been discovered between the fact that Teddy was homeschooled and the abuse he suffered, the bill, dubbed Teddy’s Law, would require parents or guardians wishing to homeschool their child to go through a home evaluation and interviews by local child protective services. In addition, the legislation would create a database of previous or outstanding alleged abuse claims.
“The objective there is to make sure the child services agency has all the information on that family that is looking to homeschool that child and then they refer that ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ should this child be educated at home, and they pass that along to the superintendent of schools and the process goes from there,” said Cafaro.
Cafaro added that the bill is designed to facilitate the sharing of information about children so that caseworkers and school administrators would have the same information when a student’s individual situation is assessed.
“Make sure there is a checks and balances so children like Teddy Foltz-Tedesco don’t fall through the cracks which happened so tragically earlier this year,” she said.
Teddy’s mother, Shain Widdersheim, pleaded guilty to four counts of child endangering and obstructing justice in connection with the murder of her son, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Bush, her boyfriend, was sentenced to life in prison with a chance of parole after 33 years.
According to Michael Donnelly of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), who is serving as an attorney to assist Ohio members of HSLDA, the focus of the tragedy of Teddy’s death should be that every news report about the case indicates that neighbors, family, police, public school teachers, and others knew about the abuse for years. He points out the tragic failure of those who were responsible for protecting Teddy from known abuse.
“SB 248 is pursuing the wrong strategy for addressing underlying problems that led to Teddy’s tragic death,” Donnelly said in a press release. “This bill does not solve the failure of government agents to act in the face of known abuse in this case.”
Police, teachers and social workers apparently knew Teddy had been abused for years–why wasn’t something done? Instead of focusing on and fixing these failures, Senator Cafaro’s misguided bill violates fundamental American values–parents have a fundamental right to direct their children’s education without unwarranted government interference and citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
In an email interview with Breitbart News, Donnelly said, “SB 248 is the most onerous restriction I’ve ever seen proposed for homeschooling anywhere.”
“The law would require all parents to submit to government interviews before homeschooling. It’s just not credible to argue that this is a serious attempt to strengthen child protection systems and prevent the tragic deaths of children like Teddy Foltz,” he said.
Donnelly also said that, in addition to the fact that the proposed legislation does not address the problem that led to Teddy’s tragic death, the bill is also unwieldy in its demands on the state and could end up causing more victims of abuse to fall through the cracks.
“Practically speaking the law would require social workers to make education decisions – something they aren’t really qualified to do,” Donnelly said. “Is the Ohio legislature going to authorize hiring the hundreds of new ‘homeschooling agents’ to interview the tens of thousands of families who homeschool in Ohio? Or will they just tolerate the further stretching of child protection resources so that more children like Teddy do not receive the attention they deserve?”
Donnelly, who is HSLDA’s Director of International Affairs as well, said his concern is that SB 248 is more about exerting control over homeschooling parents than preventing child abuse. He discussed the similarities between the standard articulated by the proposed Ohio law and that embodied in the United Nations treaties like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRDP).
The treaties, Donnelly said, “substitute the judgment of government agents for parents.”
“Tragically, some parents do mistreat children. In such cases, government should act to protect children and punish perpetrators,” he added. “But, rather than assuming that all parents are bad, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized in case after case what most people believe to be true – that parents generally act in the best interests of their children. SB 248 assumes the reverse and in this way is fundamentally un-American.”