Alumni Group Calls on TX Lawmakers to Grant Homeschoolers Sports Access

For Immediate Release: Everyone wins when homeschooled students are allowed to play on public school sports teams

Canton, Ma., 02/13/2019—On February 4th, Rep. James Frank introduced House Bill 1324 into the Texas state legislature. This bill would outline standards for homeschooled students’ participation in public school athletics. High school athletics programs in public schools are governed by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), which currently requires participants to be full time students at the schools they represent, barring homeschoolers. HB 1324 would force the UIL to change its eligibility criteria. “We urge lawmakers to support HB 1324,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “It is well-documented that access to public school athletics programs benefits homeschooled students without creating problems for either public schools or other students.”

While critics allege that allowing homeschooled students to participate in public school athletics programs takes opportunities away from other students, the evidence for this is sparse. “In a 2012 survey, state athletic associations that allow homeschooled students to compete on public school teams reported that this policy had not created problems for them,” said Coleman. “Further, research suggests that homeschooled students tend to gravitate toward activities without a limit on participants, such as cross country running or tennis.”

HB 1324 also contains provisions designed to prevent abuse of the system, barring homeschooled students from participating during the remainder of any school year in which they were previously enrolled in school and requiring homeschooled participants to achieve an average or above average score on a standardized test.

In 2016, CRHE conducted a survey of 150 homeschool graduates’ athletics experiences and found that participants overwhelmingly believed that athletic participation was beneficial to homeschooled students (87%) and that public school athletics should be made available to homeschooled students (80%). Many participants noted that community athletics programs were often limited: “Once I reached junior high age there were no longer any community sports available,” wrote one participant; another noted that public school athletics programs “are very often the only access for students like myself who grew up in underprivileged areas.”

Survey respondents who were homeschooled in Texas overwhelmingly supported granting homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs. “Many homeschool students are athletically/physically underdeveloped because they do not have access to such programs,” Bea wrote of her experience. Without access to public school athletics, Dan wrote, “homeschoolers are left with few, often expensive options to participate in organized sports.” Faith noted that participation in public school athletics can expose homeschooled students “to others outside their own social group and to mandatory reporters.”

Currently, 30 states grant homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs, putting Texas in the minority. “Granting homeschooled children access to public school athletics improves homeschool outcomes,” said Coleman. “We urge Texas lawmakers to support the state’s homeschooled students by supporting HB 1324.”

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.

Homeschool Alumni Support South Dakota HB 1110

For Immediate Release: When parents fail to report children’s births, children struggle to prove their own existence

Canton, Ma., 01/31/2019—With the introduction of House Bill 1110, South Dakota has once again proven itself at the forefront of the country in ensuring that children have access to basic identification documents. South Dakota law currently requires parents to report births, but does not offer any penalty for failure to do so. HB 1110 would change this, helping ensure that children’s births are reported and birth certificates issued.

“We know first hand the problems that can happen when children do not have birth certificates,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. “Children who reach adulthood without birth certificates or any identifying documents will face serious challenges.”

HB 1110 is motivated by reports of unreported births on a polygamist FLDS compound located in South Dakota. Coleman draws connections between these concerns and the gripping story of Alecia Pennington, who made waves in 2015 when she reported that her Texas parents had never obtained a birth certificate for her, leaving her unable to obtain a driver’s license or get a job. Pennington, like the children on the South Dakota compound, was not born at a hospital.

“By denying children access to identification documents, parents can control children long into adulthood,” said Coleman. “This is especially the case for children who are homeschooled, who may not have access to formal academic records. In some cases, particularly those where children grow up in controlling or cult-like environments, they may also not have medical records.”

South Dakota is one of only five states that requires homeschooling parents to provide a copy of their children’s birth certificates when they file paperwork to homeschool. “South Dakota’s homeschool birth certificate requirement makes the state a leader on this issue,” said Coleman. “It is far easier to obtain a delayed birth certificate for a young child than it is for an adult. By ensuring that all children who reach school age have birth certificates, South Dakota helps ensure that its young adults will not face the problems Pennington faced.” Creating a penalty for failing to report a child’s birth would do more to extend the state’s protection of its student’s identification documents.  

Lawmakers have expressed concern about the FLDS compound in the past, raising questions about whether the children living there are legally enrolled as homeschooled students. CRHE encourages all homeschooling families to follow their state’s homeschool laws.

“We urge lawmakers to pass HB 1110,” said Coleman. “Every child should have access to their identification documents, as well as an 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.

Alumni Group Urges SC Lawmakers to Give Homeschoolers Access to the ACT

For Immediate Release: ACT and AP testing offer homeschooled students crucial external avenues for documenting their education

Canton, Ma., 01/30/2019—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) is calling for South Carolina lawmakers to pass House Bill 3049, which would grant homeschooled students access to AP and ACT testing in their local public schools subject to the same fees other students pay.

“We urge lawmakers to pass HB 3049,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE, a national nonprofit founded by homeschool graduates to advocate for homeschooled children. “The ACT and AP tests play a crucial role in helping homeschooled students document mastery of subjects they have studied to show college admissions officers,” she added. “These students need access to these tests.”

Because homeschooling parents typically create their children’s diplomas and transcripts, leaving these documents open to potential bias, colleges and universities often depend on external documentation of a student’s education, such as ACT test scores and the results of AP tests, to evaluate their academic achievement. In a 2003 dissertation, Richard Barno found that admissions officers placed more weight on homeschooled students’ ACT scores than they did on other students’ ACT scores. “It is crucially important that homeschooled students have access to these tests,” said Coleman. “For some students, particularly in rural areas, public schools may be their only avenue for access to these exams.”

CRHE has long expressed concern about data pointing to a low college attendance rate for homeschool graduates. “While the vast majority of colleges admit homeschool graduates today, we still get emails from homeschool graduates struggling with the documentation college admissions officials want to see,” said Coleman. “We advise parents homeschooling children of high school age to use AP tests to to help verify their children’s studies.” Ensuring that homeschooled students have access to ACT and AP testing can help more homeschoolers access higher education.

Many public high schools have allowed homeschooled students to participate in ACT and AP testing on their campuses for years without incident. Homeschooled students pay the same testing fees that other students pay, and take the same tests, which are proctored by the same teachers. “Ensuring that homeschooled students have access to these exams does not create a burden for public schools, and the good such access does for homeschooled students cannot be underestimated,” said Coleman. “We urge South Carolina lawmakers to pass HB 3049.”  

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.

Alumni Group Calls on MS Lawmakers to Grant Homeschoolers Sports Access

For Immediate Release: Everyone wins when homeschooled students are allowed to play on public school sports teams

Canton, Ma., 01/30/2019—On January 11th, Mississippi state representative William Arnold introduced House Bill 118, granting homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs. “We urge lawmakers to support HB 118, and other efforts to grant homeschooled students access to public school athletics,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “Access to public school athletics programs benefits homeschooled students without creating problems for either public schools or other students.”

While critics allege that allowing homeschooled students to participate in public school athletics programs takes opportunities away from other students, the evidence for this is sparse. “In a 2012 survey, state athletic associations that allow homeschooled students to compete on public school teams reported that this policy had not created problems for them,” said Coleman. “Further, research suggests that homeschooled students tend to gravitate toward activities without a limit on participants, such as cross country running or tennis.”

In 2016, CRHE conducted a survey of 150 homeschool graduates’ athletics experiences and found that participants overwhelmingly believed that athletic participation was beneficial to homeschooled students (87%) and that public school athletics should be made available to homeschooled students (80%). Many participants noted that community athletics programs were often limited: “Once I reached junior high age there were no longer any community sports available,” wrote one participant; another noted that public school athletics programs “are very often the only access for students like myself who grew up in underprivileged areas.”

Currently, 30 states grant homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs, putting Connecticut in the minority. “Granting homeschooled children access to public school athletics improves homeschool outcomes,” said Coleman. “We urge Mississippi lawmakers to support the state’s homeschooled students by supporting HB 118.”

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.

Alumni Group Calls on MO Lawmakers to Grant Homeschoolers Sports Access

For Immediate Release: Everyone wins when homeschooled students are allowed to play on public school sports teams

Canton, Ma., 01/30/2019—If Missouri lawmakers pass Senate Bill 130, homeschooled students may finally be able to participate on public school athletics teams governed by the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA). SB 130, which would force the MSHSAA to change its current policy by barring public schools from participating in statewide activities associations which prohibit homeschoolers, was introduced by Sen. Ed Emery and has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. “We urge lawmakers to support SB 130,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “It is well-documented that access to public school athletics programs benefits homeschooled students without creating problems for either public schools or other students.”

While critics allege that allowing homeschooled students to participate in public school athletics programs takes opportunities away from other students, the evidence for this is sparse. “In a 2012 survey, state athletic associations that allow homeschooled students to compete on public school teams reported that this policy had not created problems for them,” said Coleman. “Further, research suggests that homeschooled students tend to gravitate toward activities without a limit on participants, such as cross country running or tennis.”

In 2016, CRHE conducted a survey of 150 homeschool graduates’ athletics experiences and found that participants overwhelmingly believed that athletic participation was beneficial to homeschooled students (87%) and that public school athletics should be made available to homeschooled students (80%). Many participants noted that community athletics programs were often limited: “Once I reached junior high age there were no longer any community sports available,” wrote one participant; another noted that public school athletics programs “are very often the only access for students like myself who grew up in underprivileged areas.”

Dawn, who was homeschooled in Missouri, supports making public school athletics available to homeschooled students. When asked how she thinks participation in public school athletics programs would have affected her education, she said “it would have built confidence and been a place for creativity and positive peer relationships,” adding that “it is important for homeschoolers to be plugged into local community in some way.” Marie, also homeschooled in Missouri, agrees. “Anything that helps integrate homeschool kids into their wider local community, giving them adults as role models and other people who can spot possible abuse, is almost always a good thing,” she says.

Currently, 30 states grant homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs, putting Missouri in the minority. “Granting homeschooled children access to public school athletics improves homeschool outcomes,” said Coleman. “We urge Missouri lawmakers to support the state’s homeschooled students by supporting SB 130.”

View our statement online here:
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.

Alumni Group Calls on CT Lawmakers to Grant Homeschoolers Sports Access

For Immediate Release: Everyone wins when homeschooled students are allowed to play on public school sports teams

Canton, Ma., 01/30/2019—On January 10th, Reps. Tami Zawistowski and Vincent Candelora introduced House Bill 5082 into the Connecticut state legislature. This bill would force the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) to revise its requirement that student athletes to be enrolled full-time at the public school they represent in order to allow homeschooled students to participate. “We urge lawmakers to support HB 5080,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “It is well-documented that access to public school athletics programs benefits homeschooled students without creating problems for either public schools or other students.”

While critics allege that allowing homeschooled students to participate in public school athletics programs takes opportunities away from other students, the evidence for this is sparse. “In a 2012 survey, state athletic associations that allow homeschooled students to compete on public school teams reported that this policy had not created problems for them,” said Coleman. “Further, research suggests that homeschooled students tend to gravitate toward activities without a limit on participants, such as cross country running or tennis.”

In 2016, CRHE conducted a survey of 150 homeschool graduates’ athletics experiences and found that participants overwhelmingly believed that athletic participation was beneficial to homeschooled students (87%) and that public school athletics should be made available to homeschooled students (80%). Many participants noted that community athletics programs were often limited: “Once I reached junior high age there were no longer any community sports available,” wrote one participant; another noted that public school athletics programs “are very often the only access for students like myself who grew up in underprivileged areas.”

Currently, 30 states grant homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs, putting Connecticut in the minority. “Granting homeschooled children access to public school athletics improves homeschool outcomes,” said Coleman. “We urge Connecticut lawmakers to support the state’s homeschooled students by supporting HB 5082.”

View our statement online here:
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.

SD Lawmakers Should Keep Homeschool Assessments

For Immediate Release: Supporting homeschooled students means supporting assessments

Canton, Ma., 01/29/2019—Advocates for homeschooled students are urging South Dakota lawmakers to reject House Bill 1065, which would eliminate the state’s testing requirements for homeschooled students. HB 1065 was introduced by the State Affairs office at the request of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and is currently being considered by the House Education committee. “We urge lawmakers to oppose HB 1065,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a national nonprofit organization founded by homeschool alumni in 2013. “If this bill is signed into law, there will be no longer be any check to ensure that homeschooled children are being educated — and it is the children who will suffer,” Coleman added.

Currently, students who are homeschooled in South Dakota are required to take a single standardized test during grades 4, 8, and 11. “This requirement is not burdensome,” said Coleman. “Ensuring that homeschooled children are tested every few years ensures that parents will be able to recognize and correct potential deficiencies in their education.” The scores are kept on file by the local school district; students are flagged if subsequent tests show a lack of progress. “There is mounting evidence that homeschooled students nationwide underperform in math and under attend college,” noted Coleman. “Students who do attend college appear to be less likely to major in STEM fields. This is not the time to remove the only accountability measure South Dakota provides for homeschooling families.”

Many homeschool graduates argue that assessment requirements improve the quality of education homeschooled students receive. Caitlin T., who was homeschooled in grades K-12, speaks positively of her years being homeschooled in Pennsylvania, which required parents to submit portfolios of their children’s work. After her family moved to New Jersey, she says, “things fell apart.” “Without oversight, there was no need to think about compiling a portfolio … no one was there to check up on us or offer help as I entered harder subjects.” Coleman adds that assessment requirements can help parents, too. Assessment requirements can also help homeschooling parents, providing them with benchmarks to meet.

“Assessments help ensure that homeschooling is provided in good faith,” Coleman notes. In recent years, a growing number of studies examined cases where abusive parents have used homeschooling to isolate their children.  In a 2014 study of child torture, University of Wisconsin pediatrician Barbara Knox found that 47% of the school-age cases she examined involved homeschooling. In 2018, Sarah Egan, the Child Advocate of Connecticut, found that 36% of children removed from school to be homeschooled lived in families subject to past child abuse or neglect reports; 90% of these these involved founded or multiple reports. “Assessments offer a general check on homeschooled children’s wellbeing,” said Coleman, “and they make it harder for abusive parents to take advantage of the homeschool law.”

“We need policies that center the needs of the roughly 4,000 children being homeschooled in South Dakota today,” said Coleman. “We can’t afford to gamble with these children’s well-being. We urge lawmakers to reject HB 1065.”
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.

Homeschooling Used to Hide Colorado Child Abuse Death: Pattern Implicated

For Immediate Release: Lax Homeschooling Laws Offer Abusive Parents a Way to Hide Child Fatalities

Canton, Ma., 01/14/2019—On December 23, the body of 7-year-old Caden McWilliams was discovered in a storage unit in Denver, Colorado. Police believe that Caden was already dead in August 2018 when his mother, Elisha Pankey, notified his elementary school that he would be homeschooled, and that Pankey used homeschooling to hide his death and conceal her crime. “Caden is not the only child whose death has been concealed by homeschooling,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a national nonprofit organization run by homeschool alumni. “The fact that parents can homeschool children who are dead without school districts finding out throws into stark relief how inadequate current homeschool laws are.”

When the bodies of Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry were discovered in a Detroit freezer in 2015, the children had already been dead for two years. No one had reported them missing, and there was no school to notice the children’s truancy and make contact with the family. Because Michigan, like many other states, does not ensure that homeschooled students have contact with officials or mandatory reporters, the children’s deaths went unnoticed.

Minnet and Jasmine Bowman’s bodies were stored in a Maryland freezer for two years before their deaths were discovered. Christian Choate of Indiana had been buried for two years before officials learned of his death. In North Carolina, Erica Lynn Parsons’ death was not reported for two years; it took longer for officials to locate her body. Other cases have gone unnoticed for far longer. Austin and Edward Bryant had not been seen for over six years when they were reported missing in Colorado; their bodies were never found. Adam Herr’s death was not reported to Kansas authorities for nine years. In each of these cases, homeschooling allowed abusive parents to conceal their children’s deaths.

Coleman believes things can be different, and points to the cases of Timothy Boss and Janiya Thomas as a starting point. Both children were murdered by their parents. At the time of their deaths, each child lived in a state that mandated annual assessments for homeschooled students. In each case, school district officials contacted the child’s parents when their required assessments were not turned in. In each case, their parents told officials that they had left the state to live with relatives. “If district officials had followed up on these claims, these children’s deaths could have been discovered,” said Coleman. “Additionally, barring parents with concerning child welfare histories from homeschooling might prevent some of these cases entirely. We can create policies that make it harder for parents use homeschooling to conceal abuse and disappear children.”

After Stoni and Stephen’s bodies were discovered in Detroit, Stephanie Chang, a Michigan lawmaker, introduced a bill that would have required homeschooling children to document at least two mandatory reporter contacts for their children each year. The goal? To ensure that homeschooling could not be used to hide a child fatality. While Chang’s bill died in committee, Coleman hopes its introduction will encourage other lawmakers to create their own solutions.

“It is outrageous that we have so few protections for homeschooled children that parents can literally homeschool dead children and no one can tell the difference,” said Coleman.

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.

Virginia Bill to Block Homeschool Birth Certificate Requirement Should Be Opposed

For Immediate Release: House bill would prevent school districts from verifying identity of homeschooled students

Canton, Ma., 01/14/2019—Virginia House Bill 2654, introduced by Delegate Christopher Head this week, would prevent school districts from asking homeschooling parents for any more information than that which is explicitly outlined in the state’s current homeschool statute. This bill appears to stem from a case in Franklin County, part of Del. Head’s district, where a homeschooling couple has challenged the district’s policy of requiring parents to submit a copy of a child’s birth certificate when registering their intent to homeschool.

“In public schools, millions of parents across the country provide school officials with copies of their child’s birth certificate every year in order to verify their child’s identity and age,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a national nonprofit founded by homeschool alumni. “We urge Virginia lawmakers to oppose HB 2654 as an overreaction to a completely reasonable request.”

In July, Kirk and Kristen Sosebee filed a complaint against the Franklin County School Board, seeking an injunction against the Board’s policy of requiring homeschooling parents, like other parents, to provide a copy of their child’s birth certificate and proof of residence when enrolling the child in the district for the first time. The Sosobees, represented by a lawyer from the Home School Legal Defense Association, a right-wing group that opposes oversight for homeschooling, argued that the policy altered state law by adding to it. In December, Franklin County Circuit Judge Stacey Moreau denied the couple’s injunction and found that the school board’s requirement was reasonable and in compliance with state law.

“Allowing school districts to verify students’ basic information is in children’s best interests,” said Coleman. Coleman’s organization maintains a database of cases where parents have taken advantage of lax homeschool laws to conceal abuse and neglect, and, in some cases, to traffic children, such as through disrupted adoption. “Requiring parents to submit a copy of their child’s birth certificate has the potential to help child abuse victims like Esther Combs, who was enslaved by individuals who were not her parents or guardians,” Coleman added.

Coleman also pointed to the case of Alicia Pennington, a homeschooled Texas girl who reached adulthood without a birth certificate and struggled to prove her citizenship to government officials. “We have spoken with a number of homeschool graduates who were born at home and whose parents intentionally did not secure birth certificates for them,” she said. “Requiring parents to submit a copy of their children’s birth certificates when they begin homeschooling could ensure that children like Alicia receive a birth certificate while they are still children.”

Homeschool statutes in Arizona, Louisiana, North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota already require all homeschooling parents to submit a copy of their children’s birth certificates. “The Franklin County School Board’s policy is reasonable, unobtrusive, and sensitive to the needs of the child,” said Coleman. “Lawmakers should reject HB 2654.”

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.

The Homeschool Community Has a Problem with Disabilities (and How to Fix It)

We received the following text from a homeschooling mother who is active in her homeschool community. In her article, which she asked us to share anonymously, she speaks from her personal experience about the importance of homeschooling parents being able to recognize disabilities and find help for their children. We similarly discussed homeschooling parents’ responsibility for recognizing disabilities in our article on getting started homeschooling.


Homeschooling can be a great experience for many families, and I have enjoyed the homeschooling journey my children and I have been on for the past decade.  However, there is an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. It’s the issue of children with undiagnosed and/or untreated disabilities in the homeschooling community.  It’s an issue of medical neglect, and, in my experience, it’s widespread.

Issues that I see going undiagnosed are ADHD, anxiety, depression, dyslexia, dyscalculia, autism spectrum disorder, eyesight problems, hearing problems, processing disorders, and speech issues. I spent most of my career working in classrooms, and some of these issues are glaring.

Why are parents reticent about getting their child evaluated?  There are a variety of reasons, but usually they genuinely don’t see the issue, even though other adult around them do.  Sometimes there seems to be willful ignorance, and I wonder if it’s related to an internal disconnect between their belief that if they didn’t vaccinate, practiced extended breastfeeding, and only fed their child organic foods, their child’s brain would be “perfect.”  It doesn’t work that way.

Another issue is that the homeschooling community can be very insular, and the issues are so widespread that they’re normalized.  When the children are very young, neurodiversity is seen as a benefit of homeschooling. However, as the children age up, and schoolwork becomes more rigorous, parents of neurotypical children tend to start drifting away from the open-to-the-public co ops and classes and meetups.  Children working at grade level quietly get invited to their own co ops and classes, so the kids who are left in the public groups are disproportionately affected by behavior and learning issues. Thus, these issues become normalized, and parents can’t see anything different about their own child.

When my oldest was in early elementary school, I bragged about the neurodiversity of our co op, and how this was the future of education.  By the time he was in about 4th grade, however, we couldn’t afford to spend money or time on classes that had to be taught at a level many years younger than what a neurotypical child could handle, while serious behavior issues from several students made the classroom unsafe.  My children were bitten, hit, kicked, had furniture thrown at them by other children who clearly had disabilities. The breaking point for our family attending any public co ops or classes came when a child who was very obviously on the spectrum, but completely undiagnosed, developed a crush on my 5th grade daughter, and would follow her around, and then get angry when she tried to play with someone else.  His rage included throwing things and screaming obscenities at her. I needed to protect my daughter, and I could no longer teach her that she needed to make behavioral allowances for other children with disabilities when I felt that her safety was at risk. Adults looked on, and whispered that there was something obviously “going on” with the boy, but hints to the mother went ignored.

And that is another issue.  Homeschooling friendships can feel tenuous.  Communities are tight, and often our entire community, and nobody wants to be left out.  So people are extremely wary of speaking to another parent about their child’s behavior and learning needs.  People will lie because they don’t want to deliver bad news. “Do you think there’s something wrong?” is met with a shifty eyed “No!  I’m sure he’s fine. Kids learn differently. He’s just a free spirit.” Nobody wants to be an asshole about somebody else’s child, even though telling a parent that they might want to seek an evaluation is, objectively, not being an asshole.  It can seem that way in a conversation, though. Schools have trained guidance counselors who know how to have this difficult conversation with parents. It’s easier to smooth things over and tell the concerned parent only happy things, than to rock the boat and risk ostracism.

There is also a strong thread of “crunchy” parenting in the homeschooling community, and the root of crunchy parenting is that a parent’s decisions can make or break the child.  And by “parents,” we all know that I really mean mothers. If you don’t breastfeed, your child will get sick more often and lose IQ points. If you feed your child any number of things, ranging from red dye to gluten to non-organic food, they will have a whole range of behavioral disorders.  If you vaccinate your child, they will have behavior problems and possibly even autism. The list goes on. So what happens if you do everything “right,” and there’s still obviously something “wrong” with your child? Well, obviously the problem is that you DIDN’T do everything right. Anything the matter with the child is the fault of the mother, and probably because she did something disdainfully termed “mainstream.”  The only way to solve the issue is to try a completely inconvenient and improbable diet, and spend a few hundred dollars on some sort of treatment that big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about. I’m being sarcastic, but these are truthfully the solutions I hear given for kids who have violent tantrums, flap their arms, and genuinely can’t read other people’s emotions.

The basic truth that kids learn at their own speed is distorted to the extreme sometimes, which is a purposeful and dangerous normalization of clear signs that there is a real issue.  Yes, it’s true that there is a range for most skills. But it’s also true that the earlier an issue is identified, the better the chances that it can be remediated. I see parents of 9 or 10 year olds worried about their child’s reading being told not to worry about it, because all children learn differently, and because the concept that there’s a timeline that kids need to learn on is a public school construct.  This is just not true.

Some parents know that there’s an issue, but are afraid to seek out a diagnosis.  Homeschooling breeds fear of authority figures. Yes, there are school officials who overstep, and people who disapprove of homeschooling, but in general homeschooling has gone mainstream.  However, there is absolutely a fear amongst homeschooling families that if they bring their child to someone who might be able to identify a special need, it will open a can of worms that leads directly to social services showing up at their door.  I see parents who know that their child is struggling decide to wait until the child catches up on reading, or writing, or behavior, before seeking out help. The result is that the child falls further and further behind, and the parent is even more reticent to bring their child to get help.  Practicing medical neglect can not be the answer to being afraid of charges of educational neglect. For what it’s worth, I have never heard of any family in my area being accused of educational neglect, or of anyone ever having a social worker show up at their door. Yet the fear is there among so many families.

I think that the problem is getting worse.  When I started homeschooling, I didn’t see this segregation between neurotypical and neurodiverse students, and I didn’t see the behavior problems that I see now.  Friends who run co ops and classes say the same thing. I recently contacted a museum about a homeschool class they offered for many years, and was told that the behavior problems were getting so bad, and there were so many kids who needed a 1:1 aid, that they had to stop offering the classes because the teachers didn’t feel safe. I think that this is because schools have fewer resources yet more mandates to help students with disabilities, so they don’t evaluate or remediate students with mild disabilities, leaving those students to flounder in school, until their parents pull them out.

This is the number one issue I see in homeschooling today, and it’s something that needs to be fixed.  We’re actively harming children by not getting them services that they need, and services that they’re entitled to.  We’re blaming parents (mostly mothers) for poor parenting or poor teaching because of neurological differences that a child was born with.  Homeschooling parents who are afraid that medical authority figures will accuse them of neglect for homeschooling are actually and literally practicing medical neglect by not seeking the diagnosis and treatment that their children need.

So what can be done?

First of all, homeschoolers need to accept the idea that there is nothing “wrong” with children who aren’t neurotypical.  I know I’ve used that word throughout this essay, because it’s what I hear. There is so much fear around parenting decisions leading to undesirable outcomes that it makes these outcomes seem like the end of the world.  Whether you breastfeed or introduced solids at 4 months has NOTHING to do with your child’s ADHD. We need to stop fear mongering parenting to new parents, particularly in the crunchy community, where a completely illogical and disproportionate amount of weight is put on decisions that really aren’t important in the long run.  We need to stop making learning and behavioral disabilities seem like the end of the world, and like something that could have been prevented if you’d just been a better mother.

Secondly, we need to start being willing to have open discussions about neurological differences, and the idea that our own children aren’t immune to them.  This is the hardest part, because it involves difficult conversations. We need to be open to the idea that sometimes someone outside our family, with different experiences than us, can see truths about our child that we might not be able to.  This is hard in a movement that’s literally built around parents’ rights, but if we don’t face the truth that parents don’t know everything about their child, and sometimes don’t make the best decisions for their child, then it’s the children who are suffering.  I don’t know if it’s fair to expect people to be more willing to have an honest discussion with another parent about their child’s needs. That’s a hard discussion to have. But we at least need to do our best to set up an environment where parents can feel safe to talk about this topic.

We need to stop the paranoia about doctors, neurologists, social workers, and other specialists.  They can tell the difference between imperfect homeschooling, parenting, and actual neurological differences.  There might be some out there who “blame homeschooling,” but I would bet that the vast majority do not. I think it should also be on school districts and private practices to reach out to homeschoolers to let them know the services that are available, and to assure them that testing, diagnosis, and therapies do not need to interfere with homeschooling.  I know parents who won’t get their child tested, because they think that means their child will need to attend public school: this is not true.

I see kids hurting, parents floundering, and a whole community that’s suffering.  And it’s something that we need to deal with as a community, because I truly believe that the issue is cultural.


For more resources for homeschooling parents, click here.