Thirteen Starved, Chained California Children were Homeschooled

For Immediate Release: Lax homeschool laws give parents the ability to isolate their children, hide abuse

Canton, Ma., 01/16/2018—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit group that advocates for homeschooled children, has learned that the thirteen Turpin children, found emaciated and chained in a home in Perris, California, on Sunday, were homeschooled. “This case fits a pattern we’ve seen of isolation and imprisonment in abusive homeschooling situations,” said Rachel Coleman, a homeschool alumna who helped found CRHE in 2013 and currently serves as the organization’s executive director.

The Turpin family. Image credit news.au.com.

CRHE maintains a database of severe and fatal abuse cases in homeschooling situations and has identified a number of themes that characterize such cases. “Many of the cases in our database involve food deprivation and imprisonment,” said Coleman. “Calista Springer, who died in a house fire in 2009, was chained to her bed like these children.” In other cases, children have been locked in bedrooms or kept in cages. “We know that many homeschooling parents provide their children with a safe and child-centered home environment,” Coleman stated. “Unfortunately, current law provides nothing to stop families like the Turpins from using homeschooling to isolate and imprison their children.”

In California, homeschooling parents are required to register as individual private schools with the state or enroll their children in a private “umbrella” school. David Turpin, the children’s father, registered his homeschool, which he named “Sandcastle Day School,” with the state of California each year after moving there in 2010. For families who register as individual private schools with the state, nothing more is required. Parents do not need to submit assessments of their children’s academic progress or show any evidence of homeschooling, and there is nothing done to ensure that homeschooled children have contact with mandatory reporters.

A neighbor of the Turpins reported that “the kids were invisible.” The children’s grandparents, who lived out of state, told reporters that they stayed in regular contact with the Turpin parents, but not with the children. “When a homeschool abuse case comes to light, it is not uncommon for neighbors or relatives to report having little contact with the children,” said Coleman. In a 2014 study of child torture, University of Wisconsin pediatrician Barbara Knox found that 47% of the school-aged victims she examined were removed from school to be homeschooled; another 29% were never enrolled in school.

CRHE recommends mandating annual academic assessments to consist of either a standardized test administered by a certified teacher or a portfolio review conducted by a similarly licensed professional. The organization, which has a board made up of homeschool alumni, also recommends requiring homeschooled students to have regular doctor visits. “Contact with mandatory reporters is critical,” said Coleman. “While children homeschooled in positive, healthy environments typically have regular contact with mandatory reporters, absent any law to the contrary children like the Turpins may be completely isolated.”

Seven of the thirteen Turpin children rescued on Sunday were adults; the oldest was 29. “In cases where homeschooled children are isolated and not educated, it can be very difficult for them to leave,” Coleman stated. “The older Turpin children may not have had driver’s licenses or any form of identification, and were likely not given high school diplomas or any other educational records by their parents.” CRHE has come across many cases where abusive homeschooling parents have used their complete control over their children’s records to control them well into adulthood. “Concern about younger siblings may also keep older children at home,” Coleman added. CRHE recommends that states maintain annual academic records on file for each homeschooled child and make those records available once they turn 18. “No adult should be in a position where they feel they cannot leave home,” 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.

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