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August 2, 2011

Response to Alarming Recommendations by Miami-Dade County Grand Jury

On July 25, 2011, the Miami-Dade grand jury released several sweeping recommendations in a detailed report on the Nubia Barahona case. The murder of 10-year-old Nubia, apparently at the hands of her adoptive parents earlier this year in Florida, was a heinous crime for which the perpetrators should be severely punished, if convicted. Her death was all the more tragic because, as the grand jury report makes clear, if governmental officials had properly followed existing procedures, it likely could have been prevented.

While it is right to conduct a thorough review in the aftermath of tragic events in an effort to prevent similar tragedies, it is also important not to overreact. Unfortunately, the grand jury report overreacts in its recommendations to amend Florida’s homeschool laws because of Nubia’s adoptive parents’ claim that they were homeschooling her for the seven months leading up to her death.

The grand jury recommends that the law be amended to require every notice of intent for a home education program to “be forwarded to DCF to determine if any reports have been made to the DCF Hotline.” The grand jury went on to recommend that if parents had ever been the subject of a Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigation, they were to be immediately subject to a new investigation by DCF and required to submit to a period of monitoring, even if the previous investigation completely cleared them.

These overreaching recommendations are of great concern to Home School Legal Defense Association, the local homeschool community in Florida, and the wider homeschool movement around the country. The recommendations are stunning because they assume that the lawful decision of parents to teach their children at home must be examined by DCF every single time. Even more concerning, is the grand jury’s declaration that if parents had been falsely reported up to seven years ago and completely exonerated, they would be subject to an investigation and undetermined period of monitoring by DCF.

While the purpose of such an investigation is “to make sure motives are pure and covert child abuse is not the true goal,” these recommendations go well beyond the realm of reason and what is warranted by this terrible situation. They would result in parents who choose a valid and legal educational option in Florida being treated as suspected criminals. Additionally, these recommendations would not have prevented the events in this case. While Nubia was a public school student, her adoptive parents had been investigated multiple times by the DCF for serious allegations of abuse and neglect. These investigations occurred while they were foster parents, during the adoption of the children, and afterward. In fact, they pulled the children out of the public school in the middle of yet another DCF investigation.

While many serious concerns about Nubia’s adoptive family were reported time and time again, state officials failed to properly follow up on them, resulting in the death of a young girl. The solution to this tragedy is not to treat everyone who chooses home education with suspicion or to investigate and supervise every family who had ever been the subject of an earlier report to DCF. The recommendation is not practical, is not legal, and would likely be held unconstitutional as well.

According to Florida DCF statistics, in 2009 there were 204,202 reports of child abuse or neglect. Of those referrals, 153,733 were actually investigated. Over 50,000 of the reports made in 2009 were determined to not involve any type of abuse and neglect.

Of the 153,733 reports that were actually investigated, 123,486 were determined to be “unsubstantiated.” In other words, in over 80% of all reports investigated in Florida, there was “not sufficient evidence under State law to conclude or suspect that the child was maltreated or at-risk of being maltreated.” According to the recommendations by the Miami-Dade grand jury, innocent families like these would be subjected to another investigation if they ever decided to homeschool their children.

While these recommendations carry no legal authority and can only be acted upon by the Florida legislature, HSLDA is closely following this situation and will immediately notify our members and friends should the legislature decide to act on the recommendations. Until then, know that HSLDA is determined to vigorously fight for the right of parents, presumed innocent by the law, to teach their children at home.

 Other Resources

Read the Miami-Dade grand jury report online >> (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)