June 8, 2016
As homeschool alumni, we are always grieved to hear about homeschooled children whose lives end tragically early. This week Rodica and Emil Radita of Calgary, Canada, have been on trial for the 2013 death of their homeschooled son Alexandru Radita. Alex was fifteen years old when he died of complications related to untreated diabetes. His death sheds light on the dangers of faith healing and on the problems that can arise when child services agencies fail to communicate across state or province lines. But his death also points to another problem—the intersection between homeschooling and medical neglect.
In most states, mechanisms for ensuring that school-aged children receive medical care are tied to schooling. Children who attend school are required to have periodic physicals, vision and hearing screenings, and screenings for scoliosis and other conditions. A child’s teacher may notice signs of a possible health problem, and school nurses are often on hand to provide help and guidance. As a last resort, school officials may forward information about parents who are not meeting their children’s medical needs to social services. Homeschooled students do not have these resources available to them—homeschoolers are almost universally exempt from state medical requirements for children who attend school, and are at risk of being isolated from individuals who might recognize and intervene in cases of medical neglect. Some homeschool alumni face lifelong health problems that could have been solved through early medical intervention.
Alex Radita is not the first homeschooled child to die as a result of medical neglect. In 2011, Christina Glenn, an eight-year-old homeschooled girl in New Jersey, died of a broken bone. Her mother belonged to a high-control religious community and did not seek medical care for Christina when her femur shattered due to malnutrition. That same year in Wales, eight-year-old Dylan Seabridge died of scurvy after his parents failed to seek medical care for him. There are other names as well: Aaron Norman, Lance Plank, Amanda Bates, Jessica Crank, Hannah Davenport, Aidan Bossingham, Neil Beagley, Madeline Neumann, Willie Robinson, Hannah Carroll, Christopher Forder, and Eric Cottam were all homeschooled and died of medical neglect. In each case, there were no school officials to notice a child’s ill health or signs of a medical condition, no teachers or school nurses to say something to a parent or make a report.
Lawmakers in Canada and elsewhere need to improve inter-agency communication and laws surrounding faith healing, but we would be remiss if we let the role homeschooling played in this tragedy slip from our collective radar. It appears that Alex’s parents evaded the medical requirements child services set for them by leaving the province, but this evasion would have been only temporary had they enrolled him in school once there. Had Alex been attending school it is almost certain that teachers would have noticed the signs of his condition and his eventual deterioration. But Alex did not attend school. Alex was homeschooled. Indeed, Alex’s parents were permitted to homeschool him despite the fact that their neglect of his medical needs was so severe that he was removed from home for a year. To our knowledge, no state or province prohibits homeschooling in cases where children have previously been removed from the home due to maltreatment. As homeschool alumni, we believe it is critically important to call attention to the role homeschooling can play in concealing child abuse or neglect.
This is a problem that can be fixed. Homeschool parents should be required to meet the same medical benchmarks with regards to their children that parents of children in public school are required to meet. If public school children are required to have a physical, homeschooled children should be required to have a physical, too. Homeschooled children should meet with a teacher or other professional individual at least annually, ideally as part of an academic evaluation. The decision to homeschool should grant parents neither the ability to opt their children out of medical evaluations nor the opportunity to isolate them completely from outside contact. Homeschooled children deserve better, and the homeschooling community as a whole would benefit from better standards and greater protections for its youngest members.
Alex Radita’s death should serve as a wakeup call for all of us. It is too late to save Alex, but we can—and should—take action to protect other homeschooled children who may find themselves in situations like his in the future.
The board of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.