Homeschoolers: ‘We Will Not Be Scapegoats’ for the Failure of Government Agencies to Protect Children

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AP Photo/Jens Meyer

Homeschooling families on both coasts of the United States say they are being blamed by state bureaucrats attempting to burden them with intrusive regulations following the failure of government agencies and public schools to protect children from serious child abuse.

In California, nearly a thousand homeschooling parents traveled to attend a legislative committee hearing in Sacramento to defeat a bill that sought first to mandate fire inspections of their homes and then to demand private information about the names and addresses of homeschooling families.

The bill was proposed following the horrific case of the Turpin parents who said they were homeschooling their children when all the while they were torturing and starving them.

As gwire.com reported, Assemblyman Jose Medina, a Democrat, said he wrote the bill because of the Turpin case.

“When the Turpin case happened,” Medina said, “I, like many others in my district … looked in the law, looked for what may have been able to be done to avoid that incident.”

Republican Kevin Kiley, however, said using the Turpin case to create law was not good policy.

“That is an extreme outlier case,” he asserted. “Any data set will have extreme outlier cases.”

When Kiley asked Medina what problem in the homeschool community his bill would solve, Medina replied, “I do not see a problem with the homeschool community at all. This bill is not an attempt in any way to attack homeschooling. It is not an attempt to solve a problem with homeschooling.”

The bill, nevertheless, attempted to burden homeschooling families with regulations that would require them to report to the government.

During the hearing, only two people spoke in favor of Medina’s bill, which subsequently died.

#AB2756 was just defeated in the Assembly Education Committee,” tweeted Kiley. “Major victory for all the homeschool educators, parents, and students who came to the Capitol and made their voice heard”:

In Connecticut, as in California, government bureaucrats are attempting to regulate homeschooling families following a tragedy that was not about homeschooling, at the same time they claim they are not attacking parents who choose to educate their children at home.

At the center of a hearing in Hartford on April 26 was the tragic death of Matthew Tirado, an autistic teen who died in 2017 following alleged prolonged abuse and neglect by his mother – who was ultimately arrested and pled guilty to a charge of Manslaughter in the First Degree. Katiria Tirado apparently pulled her son out of a Hartford school – but never actually “homeschooled” him.

Amid a room full of homeschooling families, Sarah Eagan, who heads the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) presented her “memo,” which homeschoolers and co-chairman state Sen. Len Suzio (R) stated they had only heard about as they walked into the hearing.

In response to the criticism that she did not provide sufficient time for “stakeholders” to read her memo prior to the hearing, Eagan said she was pressed for time.

However, as was observed by attendees, when Eagan did post the memo to her office’s website in the early morning, the Hartford Courant managed to almost immediately publish an article with the headline, “Hundreds Of Connecticut Children Home Schooled In Households Where Abuse, Neglect Suspected.”

Eagan said as part of her office’s investigation of Tirado’s death, she reviewed information from six school districts – but only would identify Hartford as one of the districts – regarding students who were withdrawn from school to be homeschooled and whose families had prior involvement with the Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Eagan said that her study from the six school districts found that over a three-year period, 380 students were withdrawn to be homeschooled, and that 138 of these children (36 percent) lived in families that were the subject of at least one prior accepted report to DCF for suspected abuse or neglect.

“The majority of these families had a history of multiple prior reports to DCF of suspected child abuse or neglect,” the memo read. “OCA also learned that none of the six districts had protocols to conduct follow up with the withdrawn student or his/her family, such as an assessment of academic progress or a portfolio review of work, as suggested by the State Department of Education in previously-issued agency guidance.”

“The lack of regulation in Connecticut for homeschooling leaves an unclear framework for parents, districts, and, where there are concerns of abuse or neglect, for DCF to follow,” the Child Advocate concluded.

Like Medina in California, Eagan insisted she was not attempting to attack homeschoolers, but to focus on “understanding the processes by which children are withdrawn from school.”

Nevertheless, her recommendation is to regulate homeschooling in Connecticut: “OCA strongly recommends that Connecticut stakeholders consider the unintended consequences of having no clear regulation for homeschooling and the impact on the safety net for children.”

Attorney Deborah Stevenson of National Home Education Legal Defense (NHELD), however, asserted to members of the state legislature and various government bureaucrats at the hearing that Hartford Public Schools, DCF, the Child Advocate’s Office, the State Department of Education, and the Connecticut Judiciary all could have intervened to save Tirado.

“In the Tirado case, the mom was arrested … but she’s not the only one responsible in that whole case,” Stevenson asserted. “All of the agencies involved could have saved Matthew Tirado’s life but they didn’t. They also contributed to his death.”’

Stevenson continued:

Homeschooling parents will not be the scapegoats for the failure and incompetence of these agencies. Homeschoolers are not going to be the scapegoats for the failed child protection system, not going to be scapegoats for the failed educational system, and not going to be scapegoats for the failed judicial system. No one in the legislature should listen to the Child Advocate’s recommendations for changing any laws, especially when she is the only one who has seen any of the facts and evidence here. We made FOI requests of all these agencies in February to obtain the underlying information so we could all be on the same page to have a dialogue, to look at things rationally … we have received zero, nothing from the Child Advocate, zero, nothing from DCF.

In his testimony, Peter Kamakawiwoole, an attorney with Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), educated attendees about homeschooling families and particularly addressed the common misconception that homeschooled children are isolated from others. Homeschooling families, by and large, join larger homeschooling co-ops, classes and other activities, he said.

“When we’re talking about homeschoolers who are isolated, we are talking about a very, very small number of children if any at all,” he continued, adding there have been no studies or data showing correlation between being homeschooled and isolation.

The HSLDA attorney discussed a national child abuse commission report that studied abuse for two years in multiple states. The primary risk factor for child abuse and neglect was found to be prior contact with child protective services, he said. Another significant risk factor identified by the commission is the age of the child. Of all children in the U.S. who suffered from an abuse fatality, 75 percent have been under the age of three years – which is not of compulsory school attendance age, he observed.

Kamakawiwoole cited additional risk factors from the study, including drug abuse in the home, having a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend in the home, and a prior history of domestic violence.

“Nowhere in the 160-page report is there any mention of educational setting and no mention of homeschooling as well,” he said.

Addressing the fact that there are various levels of regulation of homeschooling in existence among states in the U.S., Kamakawiwoole also observed, “There is no data to suggest that child abuse and neglect fatalities are lower in states with high regulation and higher in states with low or no regulations.”

In a subsequent letter to HSLDA homeschooling families, Kamakawiwoole noted that Eagan’s report “fails to clarify that there is a fundamental difference between ‘accepted’ reports to DCF … and ‘substantiated’ reports.

“Yet outside of the six ‘case examples,’ the phrase ‘substantiation’ appears only once in the OCA’s report,” he observed.

Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC) is supporting the homeschooling community in the state.

“As Attorney Stevenson makes clear, the issue is not homeschooling,” FIC said in an email to supporters. “The issue is neglect. We must hold the state to its responsibility to clean up its own house and not scapegoat homeschoolers for the state’s own failures.”

In a statement to Breitbart News, Stevenson said Child Advocate Eagan “has her priorities skewed.”

“Matthew Tirado was never withdrawn from public school,” she said. “He was enrolled until the day he died. Why, then, is the Child Advocate focusing on homeschooling when homeschooling had nothing to do with Matthew? The Child Advocate’s priorities should be focused on why all of the state agencies involved failed to prevent this child’s death, and on appropriate sanctions for those involved.”

Breitbart News emailed the Connecticut Child Advocate’s office to request an interview with Eagan but received no response to the request.

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