CRHE’s Rachel Coleman Testifies in Iowa

For Immediate Release: Iowa lawmakers hear testimony on protections for at-risk homeschooled children

Canton, Ma. 03/14/2017—On Monday, March 6th, Rachel Coleman, Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, testified before Iowa Government Oversight Committee Members in Des Moines, Iowa. In January, Iowa Senator Matt McCoy introduced SF 138, which would require quarterly well checks for homeschooled children. While SF 138 has not been able to move out of committee this session, Sen. McCoy has pledged to revise this legislation and introduce a new bill next year. Sen. McCoy introduced SF 138 in response to the death of Natalie Finn, a sixteen-year-old homeschooled child who died of starvation and severe abuse in October 2016. Coleman’s testimony on Monday was part of a series of three hearings designed to further explore the role homeschooling can play in hiding child abuse.

“Homeschooling gives parents power,” Coleman said in her testimony. “When that power is exercised wisely, the experience can be profoundly positive; when that power is exercised in malicious and abusive ways, children can die.” Coleman suggested revisions to Sen. McCoy’s bill and argued that Iowa is well suited to such legislation. “Iowa’s homeschool law includes three different legal avenues for homeschooling, offering the perfect opportunity to give parents options while ensuring student safety,” Coleman told the committee.  

Coleman drew attention to themes CRHE has identified in its Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database, which catalogues cases of severe or fatal abuse in homeschool settings. “A history of past child services reports and intervention is the number one theme we see in the homeschool child fatalities we review,” Coleman told the committee members. “In many of these cases, homeschooling begins after the closure of a child services case or child abuse investigation.” Other themes include social isolation, food deprivation, adoption, and special needs. “When homeschooling occurs in an abusive home, the ordinary safeguards in place to protect school-age children disappear,” Coleman said.

“We recommend preventing homeschooling in cases where parents have been convicted of violent crimes, sexual offenses, crimes against children, or other offenses that would disqualify them from teaching or volunteering in a public school,” Coleman stated, pointing to the first of its three recommendations. CRHE also recommends a flagging system to catch cases where parents begin to homeschool after a founded child abuse claim or a history of child abuse reports. “Parents who use homeschooling as a cover for abuse frequently have concerning histories of involvement with child protective services,” Coleman explained. Finally, CRHE recommends ensuring that homeschooled students have contact with mandatory reporters such as certified teachers or healthcare professionals.

Coleman finished her testimony by describing a moving conversation with the grandmother of Adrian Jones, a homeschooled child whose father and stepmother fed his body to the family’s pigs after starving him to death. “I was shaking when the conversation ended,” Coleman told the committee members. “I cannot imagine what it must be like for his grandmother to have to live with this every day.”

“It does not have to be this way,” Coleman told those assembled. “We can—and must—do better by these children.”

Click here to read the full text of Coleman’s written testimony.

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.

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