from Mike Donnelly, HSLDA Attorney
Takoda Collins in 2019. Teddy Tedesco in 2012. Two children tragically dead, apparently at the hands of their caregivers.
In both cases, Ohio children’s services investigators were warned several times by people who suspected the children were being abused. Both children were also removed from public school allegedly to be homeschooled.
But reading media reports from Dayton 24/7 and WOSU public radio would lead one to conclude that these children are dead because all homeschooling families lack sufficient oversight. Blaming a lack of homeschool regulations for the death of Takoda Collins is not only irresponsible—it is dangerous.
In Takoda’s case, a brother, teachers, and even the boy’s mother contacted police and children’s services about suspected abuse as early as 2016. In May of 2019, a year after Takoda had been withdrawn from public school, police visited the boy’s home and declared that “everything seemed taken care of.”
The same is true in Teddy’s sad situation.
Understandably, people are now asking why authorities didn’t act in the face of obvious and serious risks.
The answer is not because of homeschooling regulations. It is well documented by national data that most screened-in reports of abuse or neglect are investigated and determined to be unfounded.
Because child protection resources are limited, they are stretched so thin that an adequate response to serious situations is unlikely to develop. Well-meaning child protection authorities are hindered, and more children are put at risk by unnecessarily intrusive and lengthy investigative protocols and overly broad screening guidelines.
FOCUS ON THE FACTS
A major problem in Takoda’s case is that the media appear to be misdiagnosing the problem. By focusing on errors and inaccuracies, reporters are making it more difficult for policy makers to have an informed and fact-based debate.
There have been several stories about this tragedy. And while it is highly appropriate for the news to report on such a tragic incident, it is also important the media get the facts right and make an effort to present multiple perspectives in what is a complicated policy issue.
For example, WOSU’s Debbie Holmes quotes a so-called “national homeschool advocacy group” saying that “Ohio does require a home check every year.” As anyone who knows Ohio homeschooling law can attest, this is patently false.
Holmes quotes a spokesperson for a tiny pro-government regulation activist website that actively works to promote more control over law-abiding homeschooling families.
MISREADING THE LAW
A Dayton 24/7 article compounds errors by quoting Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli who said that “when homeschooling first started, students were required to report to the school a couple of times a year . . . depending on the school district policy . . . and then the law changed”.
The problem is that this was NEVER true. There has never been a requirement that homeschooled students “report” to the school “a couple times a year.” Even before 1989, when parents had to get approval from superintendents, there was never any such requirement.
Since 1989, homeschooling has been regulated according to O.A.C 3301-34, which has changed very little; and none of the changes have been substantive.
It appears that media in Ohio are willing to report inaccurate information from non-credible sources to advance the idea that the death of children from abuse can be solved by more regulation of homeschooling.
Instead of relying on non-credible, politically motivated sources, media and the public would be better served if reporters consulted real experts like the Home School Legal Defense Association, which IS a national advocacy group with over 35 years of demonstrated credibility and hundreds of thousands of current and former members. We favor child-welfare reform that would result in fewer cases like Teddy’s and Takoda’s.
Arguments in favor of more regulation as a way of preventing tragedies like these are not only faulty logically, they also fundamentally contradict American ideals of justice. In America, we presume people are innocent until proven guilty. In America we don’t impose unconstitutional burdens like home visits on tens of thousands of innocent families because of one criminal act.
There is simply no research-based evidence to suggest that children who are homeschooled are at a greater risk of abuse or neglect. In fact, the contrary is more likely to be true. A blue-ribbon commission assembled at the national level to investigate fatalities from child abuse or neglect found no linkage between a child’s educational setting and likelihood of being a fatality.
National news reporting also suggests that the incidence of abuse or neglect in schools may be as high as 10%. There is no reason to think abuse in homeschools is remotely near this level of frequency. And the attempt to link homeschooling regulation to the cause of Takoda’s death only masks the real failure here—the failure of authorities to take action.
If policy makers follow the media bandwagon calling for more regulations on homeschooling in the wake of the tragedies here, they are more likely to create a situation that puts children more at risk.
Some argue that placing more regulations on law-abiding families might have stopped these tragedies. There is no reason to think this is true. Criminals do bad things regardless of what the law states.
Takoda was known to be at risk, and there were numerous reports before and after he was allegedly homeschooled.
A more commonsense and effective policy reform would be to require more stringent guidelines for screening allegations of abuse and neglect so that only legitimate concerns are investigated. This would allow child protection authorities to give the appropriate level of attention to serious cases.
Another policy reform would be to allow caseworkers to follow a graduated investigative approach so that a full, lengthy, and unnecessarily intrusive investigation could be avoided. This would free up more resources so that cases like Takoda’s could receive the attention they deserve.
The United States Supreme Court has affirmed that parents can and should be presumed to act in their child’s best interests. But even when that doesn’t happen, there are sufficient laws to protect all children and punish those parents who transgress.
Free societies must operate on these notions. Failure by the government to execute its duty to protect in one case, such as what appears to have happened here, should not make an entire population of otherwise loving and law-abiding parents subject to undue burdens.
WHAT’S BEST FOR FAMILIES
Research has consistently shown that homeschooling yields exceptional academic and social outcomes. Homeschooled children are free to learn based on their interests, learning styles and individual capability.
HSLDA will continue to defend the Ohio homeschooling community from unnecessary and burdensome regulation. We will also continue to work for meaningful child welfare reform that respects American notions of fairness and due process.
If you or someone you know is not a member of HSLDA, will you consider taking a moment today to join or recommend us?