One of the states that has traditionally been more accepting of homeschooling, Iowa, could soon enact a new rule subjecting parents who choose to exercise their right to educate their kids to regular home visits.
S.F. 138, which was introduced by Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy, requires school districts to carry out quarterly home visits to check on the “health and safety” of children who are homeschooled. The home visits will occur with the parents’ consent and may entail interviews and observation. The school district could obtain a court order to enter the residence if parents refuse to comply, however.
Currently, the state does not require families to undergo assessments or file anything if they choose to homeschool. The state of Iowa is estimated to have around 15,135 homeschoolers for the 2016-2017 school year, which is three percent of the state’s school-aged children.
The bill was introduced after 16-year-old Natalie Finn, who was not enrolled in school, died of cardiac arrest after starving to death. Home School Legal Defense Association Attorney Scott Woodruff said the bill was “a well-intended but misguided response” and sent a letter urging senators to reject the bill. He pointed out that homeschooling did not appear as a risk factor in a comprehensive report by the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.
In the case of the girl who died, neighbors reported their concerns to police in the months leading up to her death but nothing was done about it. Ironically, the aforementioned report said that a previous report to social services was the “single strongest predictor” of children’s potential risk of death; homeschooling did not appear anywhere in the report.
Woodruff’s letter points to the example of Hillsborough County, where nine kids died because of maltreatment in just two years. In light of the fact that a report to social services was found to be the most important risk factor, the county’s agencies took a closer look at open cases and new cases alike based on those documentable risk factors. The result? Deaths related to abuse there were eliminated entirely. Had West Des Moines followed Hillsborough County’s lead, Woodruff believes that Finn might still be alive today because officials would have noticed the many abuse and neglect reports made against her family.
Similarly, Wichita, Kansas, was spurred into action after six children died from neglect or abuse in just nine months back in 2008. The community invested extra time, resources and money to the areas where these children hailed from, and they managed to stop maltreatment deaths entirely from 2011 to 2013 as a result.
Finn’s is an unfortunate case, but most parents who homeschool their children are actually very involved in their children’s lives. Homeschooling a child does not put them in danger, and there is no reason they need to be checked up on simply because they do not attend public school. It does not make sense for Iowa to devote resources to checking up on kids who are homeschooled when there are more effective ways to curtail abuse and prevent tragedies.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that those behind the bill are aware of this flawed reasoning and have other motivations instead; many school districts try to intimidate homeschoolers and get more children into the public school system, where the government can control what they are taught, demand they get vaccines, and get more funding.
Last summer, the Clinton County school district in Kentucky started randomly auditing homeschooling families to examine their attendance and academic records in a move that many people felt was motivated by money. The district lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding because the homeschooled students were not taught in public schools.
Parents often homeschool their children instead of sending them to public school because they want less government involvement in their child’s lives, not more. Without any official allegations of neglect or abuse, it’s hard to believe the state would be allowed to simply enter people’s homes at will and “inspect” them just because they choose to homeschool.
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