For Immediate Release: Lax Homeschool Laws Implicated in Boy’s Disappearance
Canton, Ma., 4/21/16—Ten years ago, nine-year-old Colt Clark was reported missing by his aunt and uncle, who alleged that he had run away. After a decade of unanswered questions, police have filed murder charges against the Seminole County couple based on allegations of severe beatings, whippings, and torture leveled against them by Colt’s now-adult brother, Homer. Critically, both brothers were homeschooled, which prevented them from having the same daily contact with mandatory reporters as other children. “This case mirrors many of the patterns we’ve seen in other homeschool abuse cases,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a nonprofit founded by homeschool graduates. “We need to critically examine the ways homeschooling can be used to hide or cover up child abuse.”
Colt’s aunt and uncle were also his foster parents, and the child had a social worker assigned to his case. In the month leading up to his disappearance, Colt’s social worker tried several times to see the child, but was prevented from doing so by his aunt and uncle, who made excuses for his absence. “When a child attends school, a social worker can go to the school and interview them there,” Coleman noted. “When a child is homeschooled, the social worker has to gain access to their home, which gives the parents or guardians added opportunity to stonewall an investigation.” A couple in Ohio used similar excuses to prevent social workers from gaining access to fourteen-year-old Teddy Foltz-Tedesco; the homeschooled child died at his stepfather’s hands a year later. In Colt’s case, it was after the social worker made it clear to his aunt and uncle that she would no longer accept excuses that the couple reported him missing, claiming he had run away.
Homeschooling has played a role in a number of high-profile child abuse fatalities in the last few years. In the fall of 2014, a Florida public school official attempting to follow up regarding a homeschooled student’s annual academic assessment was told the child had moved to another state; young Janiya Thomas was found dead in her mother’s freezer a year later. In March 2015, Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry’s bodies were also found in their mother’s freezer; the two children’s deaths had gone unreported for almost two years. In fall 2015, Adrian Jones’ Kansas parents attempted to cover up his death at their hands by feeding his body to their pigs; that he was missing did not come to light until two months later. In a 2014 study of child torture, nearly 50% of the children studied were homeschooled.
Oklahoma has some of the most lax oversight of homeschooling in the country; parents are not required to notify education officials that they are homeschooling, and there are no educational requirements or assessments of any kind. Colt is the third known homeschooled child to die of child abuse in Oklahoma in past decade. This number is higher than expected given the number of child fatalities in the state and the percentage of school-age children homeschooled. In 2008, eleven-year-old Cheyenne Wolf, a disabled girl in Bokchito, was beaten to death by her parents; her body was concealed in storage bags and her death did not come to light for over a year. In 2011, ten-year-old Marcus Holloway was locked in a room and starved to death by his parents in Fort Sill. The state has a long list of additional severe child abuse or neglect cases that involve homeschooling as well. “We need to acknowledge the role homeschooling can play in hiding child abuse and take steps to prevent these sorts of cases from happening,” said Coleman. “These children should not be forgotten.”
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. http://www.responsiblehomeschooling.org