Kentucky Senate Bill 181 Would Create Protections for At-Risk Homeschooled Children

For Immediate Release: Lawmakers should act now to prevent abusive parents from using homeschooling to isolate their children and conceal abuse

Canton, Ma. 02/22/2017—Last week, Kentucky Senate Democratic Leader Ray Jones of Pikeville introduced Senate Bill 181, which would prohibit parents found to have abused their children from homeschooling them. Jones told reporters that he introduced the bill in response to the discovery that an 8-year-old homeschooled girl in Berea, Kentucky, had been subjected to months of torture by her parents, who removed her from school to homeschool her after a substantiated abuse claim. “We are pleased with Sen. Jones’ bill and urge the Kentucky legislature to act,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “We have documented hundreds of cases like the one in Berea, where children are withdrawn from school to be homeschooled after a substantiated abuse claim. These children often go on to be tortured or even die.”

CRHE runs the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database, which catalogues cases across the country where abuse and neglect occur under the guise of homeschooling. In many of these cases, parents withdraw a child to homeschool after teachers demonstrate a willingness to report signs of abuse, thus preventing future reports. Barbara Knox, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, observed this phenomenon in a 2014 study of child torture: 47% of the school-aged cases she reviewed involved homeschooling, which she wrote was “designed to further isolate the child” and “typically occurred after closure of a previously opened CPS case.”

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Berea girl’s parents evaded social workers’ efforts to follow up on the case by denying them entry to the home; the case was improperly closed due to lack of progress. Ordinarily social workers can access a child at the child’s school, but this is not possible when a child is homeschooled. The girl’s case is similar to that of Teddy Foltz-Tedesco, an Ohio boy who was withdrawn from school after a teacher made a report of suspected child abuse; his parents denied social workers access to their home, and the case went nowhere. But Teddy’s abuse continued—he suffered internal bleeding and brain contusions, which led to his death in early 2013. Other Kentucky children have suffered a similar fate. Michaela Watkins, a 10-year-old homeschooled girl in Clark County whose case was known to child services, died of severe abuse in 2007. And just this month, Joseph Bishop of Ludlow died of severe medical neglect; he was removed to homeschool two years before his death despite an open child services case.

“In too many cases, abusive parents take advantage of the homeschool law to conceal abuse,” said Coleman. “Legislators need to take this problem seriously and do something about it.” CRHE recommends preventing parents who have committed violent crimes, sexual offenses, or crimes against children from homeschooling. Pennsylvania is currently the only state to have such a provision (see 24 P.S. § 13-1327.1(b)(1)), while Arkansas prohibits homeschooling when there is a registered sex offender in the home (see Ark. § Code 6-15-508); neither state currently enforces these provisions in a meaningful way. CRHE also recommends creating a flagging system to prevent homeschooling in cases with previous histories of child services involvement, like that in the Berea case. No state currently has such a provision, though lawmakers in several states have proposed various versions.

“SB 181 would offer vital protections to homeschooled children,” said Coleman. “We urge Kentucky lawmakers to consider Sen. Jones’ bill. No child should be abused in secret without anyone to go to for help.”

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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