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April 10, 2012

Paper: Death By Homeschooling

Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly answers questions and assists members with legal issues in Ohio. He and his wife homeschool their children. Read more >>

If coverage by the Dayton Daily News and other media organizations is any indication, Ohio homeschoolers may face attempts to enact more intrusive home education laws.

In an article prompted by the death of 14-year-old Makayla Norman, who suffered from severe cerebral palsy, the Dayton paper drew a connection between the tragedy and purportedly lax homeschooling laws. The paper supported its accusation with a questionable interpretation of comments by Attorney General Mike DeWine, making it appear he is calling for more legislative oversight of homeschoolers in the Buckeye State.

The link between Makayla’s death and homeschooling is tenuous if not misleading, especially since The Daily News reported at least three medical professionals were involved in providing care to Mikayla. The only link reported by the paper to homeschooling was that the girl’s family notified authorities of their intent to homeschool her beginning about age 5, and then apparently did not notify thereafter. What’s more, it seems the attorney general’s investigation into the tragedy was actually sparked by suspected Medicare fraud.

Unfortunately, these facts were buried under the media’s general implication that homeschoolers all over the country are putting children at risk because of loose oversight.

Same Old Story

This narrative is often dredged up when a child with even a tenuous connection to homeschooling dies or is injured under suspicious or tragic circumstances. Yet, in virtually all such cases, social workers have already been involved with such situations because of other concerns. Dayton Daily News reporters Margo Kissell and Mary McCarty certainly pursued the homeschool angle in the Norman tragedy. It looks as though they and their compatriots cornered DeWine and made it appear as if he really thinks that homeschoolers need more oversight. To his credit, DeWine also noted that this is an atypical case and that the majority of homeschool families are conscientious.

Unfortunately the press chose to highlight the negative.

Mike Donnelly, HSLDA staff attorney, says that when one of the Daily News reporters contacted him for general information about homeschool laws she revealed nothing about the death of a child.

“Margo Kissell called me and told me she was doing a ‘story about homeschooling.’ She never once mentioned that the story was in connection with a dead child from a ‘homeschooling family,’ ” Donnelly recalled. “She asked me questions, as reporters often do, about our view on regulations. I told her that HSLDA believes that in our federal republic it is up to states to decide these issues; but that all things being equal, low or no regulation of home educating families is just fine.”

Donnelly subsequently wrote the Dayton Daily News, taking it to task for portraying the Norman tragedy out of context. He stated:

“The tiny number of cases where homeschooling families are involved in allegations of serious abuse or neglect have shown that these families were usually already on the radar screen of social services. In these cases, the tragic results are usually related to a failure of social services or other agencies not following proper procedures. With over 2 million children, the national homeschooling population has demonstrated that it produces excellent results by providing children with a safe and nurturing environment and producing superior academic results.”

Opponents of homeschooling frequently couch their objections under the guise of child protection to mask the real reason they dislike this form of education: They don’t like what many homeschoolers teach their kids. So they argue that children in homeschooling families are at risk because they are “off the grid” and not “in the community.” Studies by the federal government have shown, however, that only a minority of reports of child abuse and neglect come from educational professionals with most coming from other mandated reporters, neighbors and others. Different studies also show that homeschoolers are quite active in the community, participating in at least five regular activities outside of the home per child, on average.

Again, behind this failed argument lies the true reason would-be reformers target homeschoolers. They fear the influence homeschool parents have over their children, especially given the fact most of these parents wish to teach their faith and values—usually, Christian values.

Statist Solution

For advocates of radical social change who often disdain traditional religious values as “intolerant” or “narrow-minded”—laws that grant homeschool freedom are simply “intolerable.” For these, parents can’t be trusted and only the government can and should be in control of educating children. This idea of total state control over education, of course, runs counter to the principles of limited and enumerated powers that our government is founded upon. What’s more, documents such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights recognize that parents have a prior right to choose what kind of education their children receive, including private education.

Unfortunately, there are some opponents of homeschooling who go so far as to favor the kind of educational totalitarianism that exist in states such as Germany and Sweden. There, parents who attempt to exercise their human right to teach their children as they see fit face real persecution. Attempts to spread the philosophy behind this oppression have even touched North America.

In Alberta, Canada, in March, homeschoolers and other parental rights advocates rallied against a proposed law that would have required all educators to teach what the government dictates. California’s Senate Bill 48 required schools to teach that homosexual relationships are “normal”—something many disagree with as a matter of morality and religion. The fact that homeschoolers are outside the “control” of the state frustrates people who have a different vision for society. So, whenever they can, they encourage more regulation—something that we here at HSLDA are always watching for and, with your support, ready to stand against.