Takoda Collins in 2019. Teddy Tedesco in 2012. Two children tragically dead, apparently at the hands of their caregivers.
In both cases, Ohio children’s services investigators were warned several times by people who suspected the children were being abused. Both children were also removed from public school allegedly to be homeschooled.
But reading media reports from Dayton 24/7 and WOSU public radio would lead one to conclude that these children are dead because all homeschooling families lack sufficient oversight. Blaming a lack of homeschool regulations for the deaths of Takoda Collins and Teddy Tedesco is not only irresponsible—it will divert resources from effective solutions to ineffective ones.
In Takoda’s case, a brother, teachers, and even the boy’s mother contacted police and children’s services about suspected abuse as early as 2016. In May of 2019, a year after Takoda had been withdrawn from public school, police visited the boy’s home and declared that “everything seemed taken care of.”
The same was true in Teddy’s situation.
Understandably, people are now asking why authorities didn’t act in the face of obvious and serious risks.
The answer is not because of a lack of homeschooling regulations. The problems are limited child protection resources, overly broad screening guidelines, and unnecessarily intrusive and lengthy investigative protocols.
National data indicate that most screened-in reports of abuse or neglect are determined to be unfounded after they are investigated. Well-meaning child protection authorities are stretched so thin by this deluge of unfounded reports that adequate responses to serious situations are unlikely to develop.
Focus on the Facts
A major issue in Takoda’s case is that the media appear to be misdiagnosing the problem. By focusing on errors and inaccuracies, reporters are making it more difficult for policy makers to have an informed and fact-based debate.
There have been several stories about this tragedy. If the media want to provoke a truly effective response, it is important that they get the facts right and present multiple perspectives in what is a complicated policy issue.
For example, WOSU’s Debbie Holmes quotes a so-called “national homeschool advocacy group” saying that “Ohio does require a home check every year.” This is patently false.
The advocacy group quoted actively works to promote more control over law-abiding homeschooling families. Meanwhile, Holmes failed to reach out to HSLDA for the perspective of those who believe children can be protected without additional homeschool regulations.
Misreading the Law
A Dayton 24/7 article compounds errors by quoting Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli who said that “when homeschooling first started, students were required to report to the school a couple of times a year … depending on the school district policy … and then the law changed.”
This was never true. There has never been a requirement that homeschooled students “report” to the school “a couple times a year.” Even before 1989, when homeschooling parents had to get approval from superintendents, there was never any such requirement.
Since 1989, homeschooling has been regulated according to Ohio Administrative Code 3301-34, which has changed very little; and none of the changes have been substantive.
It appears that media in Ohio are willing to report inaccurate information to advance the idea that the death of children from abuse can be solved by more regulation of homeschooling.
Home School Legal Defense Association has over 35 years of expertise in homeschooling law. We believe homeschool regulations are not a solution for child abuse. Rather, we favor child-welfare reform that would result in fewer cases like Teddy’s and Takoda’s.
What Is Best for Children?
The idea that more homeschool regulation could make a meaningful difference in the incidence of child abuse falls when we consider that Teddy and Takoda were both known to be at risk and were subjects of numerous reports to the authorities. How could a few additional regulations prevent situations that child abuse investigators and law enforcement could not?
Arguments in favor of more regulation assume that homeschooling families are guilty until proven innocent—that they need to prove they are not child abusers before they can exercise their right to homeschool. But it is unjust to blame the vast majority of parents who have the best interests of their children at heart for the actions of a few intent on flouting the law.
In fact, doing so merely restricts parents’ freedom to do what’s best for their kids in an ineffective attempt to prevent child abuse.
A more commonsense and effective policy reform would be to require more stringent guidelines for screening allegations of abuse and neglect so that only legitimate concerns are investigated. This would allow child protection authorities to give the appropriate level of attention to serious cases.
Another policy reform would be to allow caseworkers to follow a graduated investigative approach so that full, lengthy, and unnecessarily intrusive investigations could be avoided where they are not warranted. This would free up more resources so that cases like Takoda’s could receive the attention they deserve.
The United States Supreme Court has affirmed that parents can and should be presumed to act in their children’s best interests. When parents do not do so, there are sufficient laws in place to punish them and protect all children. Failure by the government to execute its duty should not subject an entire population of otherwise loving and law-abiding parents to undue burdens.
Research has consistently shown that homeschooling yields exceptional academic and social outcomes. Homeschooled children are free to learn based on their interests, learning styles, and individual capabilities. Regulations such as those being proposed in Ohio merely restrict this freedom.
HSLDA will continue to defend the Ohio homeschooling community from unnecessary and burdensome regulation. We will also continue to work for meaningful child welfare reform that respects fairness and due process.