Homeschool Legislative Alert: Bill to Protect At-Risk Children in Pennsylvania

In a post earlier today I detailed HSLDA’s success in killing a homeschool registration bill in Texas a decade ago as an example of how that organization operates. Reader Marian had a suggestion:

You know, the senator probably killed the bill because he heard a thousand phone messages against it, and few or no messages for it. But people who would have supported it probably knew nothing about it, because it was a fairly small bill with not a lot of hoopla.

All that to say, as much as I would hate to put money in their coffers, perhaps you, or other bloggers with far reaching influence, should subscribe to HSLDA (does it cost a lot to be a member? I bet some of your readers would pitch in) so that you can get these emails in real time, pass the messages along to your bloggers, and then those who live in the appropriate state can flood the senator with counter messages in approval of the bill. We could fight HSLDA with their own bad medicine.

So I want to take a moment, right now, today, to offer you just such an opportunity. If you have a blog you can use to publicize this, or facebook, or whatever, please do.

A group of Pennsylvania state senators recently unveiled a bipartisan package to overhaul the state’s child protection laws (click here for more). This overhaul is intended to follow up on the recommendations of last year’s Task Force on Child Prevention that took place in the state. One part of this package is Senate Bill 32 (read text here). SB 32 would require a school district to notify the county’s child protective services when a student is withdrawn from school to homeschool if that student or one of her family members has been the subject of a “founded or indicated report” of child abuse or neglect in the previous eighteen months. Child protective services would then be required to monitor this “at risk” family for the first six months they homeschool (if there is no indication of abuse or neglect during this time, the additional oversight is then terminated).

Here is the crucial text:

Section 223.1. Duty to Notify County.

(a) The school district in which the child resides shall notify the county whenever a child enrolls in a home school program or cyber charter school, is truant or fails to register for school upon attaining compulsory school age if:

(1) A child or another child in the child’s household has been the subject of a founded or indicated report or received general protective services within the last eighteen months.

(2) The parent or other person the child resides with has been the subject of a report within the last eighteen months.

(b) Upon receipt of the notice under subsection (a), the county agency shall promptly perform a safety and risk assessment. A subsequent safety and risk assessment shall be performed if the county agency has determined that a risk of abuse exists. If after a six-month safety and risk assessment it is determined that no risk of abuse exists, no further assessment may be made, except upon receipt of a report under 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 Subch. B (relating to provisions and responsibilities for reporting suspected child abuse).

The bill goes on to offer definitions of key terms. The definition of an “indicated report” makes it clear that this bill isn’t going after anyone who has had a child abuse tip called in, but rather those who have had child abuse investigations “substantiated”:

“Indicated report.” A child abuse report made pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to child protective services) if an investigation by the county agency or the Department of Public Welfare determines that substantial evidence of the alleged abuse exists based on any of the following:

(1) Available medical evidence.

(2) The child protective service investigation.

(3) An admission of the acts of abuse by the perpetrator.

If this bill had been in place in Michigan when Calista Springer was withdrawn to be homeschooled almost a decade ago, she might not have died. This law might also have protected Christian Choate—and Nubia Barahona. And others too. This bill may have been influenced by some of these cases—especially Nubia’s, which resulted in a task force calling for reform of the state’s homeschooling regulations.

SB 32 is designed as a way to monitor and protect the well-being of children who are known to be at risk for child abuse or neglect based on prior incidences. When these children are pulled from the schools to be homeschooled, these children no longer have daily contact with teachers and other adults, who serve as state mandated reporters and potential resources for the students, thus placing them at greater risk for abuse. This bill, based on a report from the state’s Task Force on Child Protection, seeks to remedy that—and it does so without actually prohibit families under current or recent child abuse investigation from homeschooling. Further, this bill does not affect families who have never had substantiated child abuse charges against them, or families who have been free from such charges for at least 18 months.

Senate Bill 32 has my 100% support. There really isn’t anything not to like about it—and to be honest, it seems like common sense. But you’re probably not surprised to learn that HSLDA is 100% against it. HSLDA has been rallying up its supporters against the bill, both through its e-lert service and through various conservative media outlets and social networking sites. As the organization explains:

No study has ever concluded that the incidence of child abuse is higher in families who teach their children at home. This is because there is simply no connection between homeschooling and child abuse.

HSLDA’s argument, then, is that because there is no study showing that child abuse is higher in homeschooling families, families under child abuse investigation should be allowed to homeschool without additional monitoring. What HSLDA ignores is that homeschooling can serve as an enabler for abuse by removing the children from regular outside observation and thus giving parents the space to abuse their children without having to worry that their abuse will be noticed by a teacher or guidance counselor. But then, given HSLDA’s track record on this issue, I can’t say I’m surprised. Spending even a second actually caring about abused children would be setting a new precedent for the organization.

HSLDA has urged its members to call their state senators. If you live in Pennsylvania, I would urge you to do the same (find your state senators here). The bill is currently in the senate education committee. It needs to be put on the agenda, voted on, and then moved out of committee and on to the state legislature. The Democratic minority chair of the education committee is Andrew Dinniman (contact him here) and the Republican majority chair is Paul Clymer (contact him here). I’m not going to give you a word-for-word statement to read from like HSLDA often does its members, because that’s not how I roll. If you call, just tell them how you feel about SB 32, however that happens to be.

Let me know if this is the sort of thing you’d be interested in in the future!

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Heatherjanes

    I will be picking up my phone to make calls. It is sensible legislation and the HSLDA people are so wrong, so foolish, blind, and power-hungry, to come out against something that makes such good sense. It is their lack of perspective on this issue and others that makes homeschool horror stories more common.

  • Rye

    Thank you for doing this, Libby Anne. I just sent emails to both Dinniman and Clymer. Here’s my email, in case anyone wants something to copy.

    Dear _____,

    I support SB 32.

    I was homeschooled ____, from ____. The national homeschool PAC, HSLDA, has issued a massive email alert, asking their members to oppose SB 32 because it requires a school district to notify the county’s child protective services when a student is withdrawn from school to homeschool if that student or one of her family members has been the subject of a “founded or indicated report” of child abuse or neglect in the previous eighteen months.

    But I want you to know that HSLDA does not speak for all homeschoolers. HSLDA has a troubling relationship between homeschool advocacy and tinkering with child welfare laws. As a former homeschooler, I believe fully in protecting children from abuse.

    It is because of my experience in homeschooling as well as the fact that I take abuse seriously, that I support SB 32. There is no reason why children who are already at risk for child abuse or neglect based on prior incidences with their parents should be withdrawn and isolated by the same parents.

    This is common sense.

    Please know that there are homeschoolers out here that support SB 32. Protecting kids is so very important.



    • Rosa

      that is a great letter, Rye

  • Tracey

    Can we still do this if we don’t live in Pennsylvania?

    • Libby Anne

      Sure, but it will probably mean the most coming from constituents. Of course, that’s assuming they ask, and they may not!

    • Firemind

      And if you know people in Pennsylvania, share this with them. Hell, link it on Facebook, share it on Twitter… the whole nine yards.

  • Rye

    I sent emails. No requirement to be from PA to send emails.

  • Conuly

    Seems reasonable to me, especially with the provision that reduces the likelihood of grudge reporting.

  • K

    Sooooooooooooo HSLDA thinks it is perfectly okay for child abusers to homeschool their children? Theyre trying to kill children arent they? I see no reason for them to be against this rule, unless they are actively trying to promote child abuse. They are promoting child abuse by fighting this, and remaining silent when children die.

  • Phil Y

    I have a better idea. Instead of only watching kids that are being Homeschooled, why not have the state keep an eye on those families that have been reported for child abuse regardless of where they are schooled? Why are they targeting home schooled children? You mentioned two cases where this might have helped, but how many children in regular public and private schools are being abused? How many have died from abuse while attending public/private school? My wife and I had home schooled all 5 of our sons through high school. All have gone on to college and earned their degrees with honors. My oldest is now going for his PhD. Not bad for home schooled kids.

    • Andie

      Great idea, Phil. When abuse and neglect are suspected, EVERY child deserves to be protected. Homeschoolers should join with public school parents in this fight for children; we should all refuse to support legislation that protects parents who abuse homeschooling freedoms to keep their abused children out of the public eye.

      Teachers in public and private schools are mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect. The laws already exist. It is completely conceivable for abusive parents to claim to be homeschooling when they are merely covering up abuse and neglect.

      If you’re not abusing kids? You should have nothing to worry about.

      • Tony

        “If you’re not abusing kids? You should have nothing to worry about.”
        Do you mind if I call in an anonymous tip to report you just because of ‘suspicion’? Perhaps you are unaware of what all is involved in an investigation. An innocent person just does not walk away from an inquiry unscathed. I know a few people who have had vengeful family or neighbors call in anonymous tips. They’ve gone through hell because of this. Broad daylight visits in front of all to see and word travels. These people have suffered because of being wrongfully accused. It is easy to make a call just to spite someone. It is everything that follows that makes this a major issue. SO forgive me if there are people who are a little reluctant to give carte blanche to an agency that can easily abuse power and wrongfully wreck a family’s life. So, I would disagree with your assertion that if innocent one has nothing to worry about.

      • Andie

        See, this is why I have to seriously question why homeschoolers do not invite government oversight. If there was a clearinghouse for homeschoolers, a DCS investigator could contact the clearinghouse for information and not have to deal with going to the house and disrupting the family. Anonymous tips are not as treated with as much weight as a tip from a credible source.

        As a daughter of a DCS investigator and someone who has worked in child welfare in many capacities for many years, the first thing that an investigator wants to do is keep a child safe…and the last thing that an investigator wishes to do is to disrupt the family unit if at all possible. Investigators are people who do not wish to see children harmed or neglected, and they hate bogus calls as much as anyone else might. They waste valuable time when they could be dealing with real cases of abuse and neglect.

        In order for an investigator to actually perform an investigation inside a home, the family must consent unless a judge signs a warrant. For a judge to sign a warrant involves a number of probable causes. Judges aren’t real fans of signing warrants to have no return, and investigators who want credibility with a judge for future cases are going to take care to provide that probable cause.

        Nobody wants to remove kids from their parents. But if those kids do not have basic, minimal care? You bet I want those kids removed and that family investigated. And then I want the problems corrected and that family reunified as quickly as possible.

  • Heatherjanes

    Um, no it doesn’t seem you actually do have a better idea. You seem to have misdirection and a misunderstanding. The two homeschooling bills are part of a list of bills designed to help better protect children from multiple angles and in multiple educational settings. Homeschooling is just one angle and a pretty necessary one to cover at that.
    Also, your family’s happy homeschool story, as uplifting as it might be, does nothing to prove or disprove anyone else’s homeschool story or keep at-risk kids safe. Every family is different and allowing people who are found or believed to be mistreating their children (like my family did) to just pull them out and hide them from mandatory reporters is irresponsible at best, cold hearted and callous at worst. Sensible legislation to try and patch up a hole that it is easy for children to fall into and be permanently harmed or die in is a great idea. No matter how many PhD’s you, I, or your oldest child get, that fact stands.

  • Steve

    In Pennsylvania it’s not abuse when you harm or kill your child for religious reasons. See Section iii:

    ” If, upon investigation, the county agency determines that a child has not been provided needed medical or surgical care because of seriously held religious beliefs of the child’s parents, guardian or person responsible for the child’s welfare, which beliefs are consistent with those of a bona fide religion, the child will not be deemed to be physically or mentally abused”

    A couple there just murdered their second child with faith healing. They only got 10 years probation for the first one:

    • The_L

      That has to be one of the most disgusting state laws I’ve read.

  • Tony

    I am curious how this does anything. By this point the family is already on the radar. They’ve already had a report or reports filed against them. How would this prevent abuse? How would it have prevented any of the mentioned cases? To me this sounds like redundancy.

    • Rosa

      if there are no further complaints, probably no further check-ins from CPS will happen. If they take the child home and don’t let them outdoors again – which is not something people homeschooling for educational purposes are likely to do, but is something abusers claiming to homeschool might do – there won’t be any further complaints.

      If the child is in school, whichever signs promted the earlier reports are more likely to be noticed. Also, since some of the worst child abuse cases involve witholding food, going to school ensures the child gets at least one meal a day (and behaviors that often stem from food-witholding or scarcity at home, like eating out of the trash or hiding food are likely to be noticed as well.)

  • Lori

    Yes, please post other alerts. Thank you for the research and resources you provided.

  • Tony

    Here is a great example of a school system and parents both cooperating on abuse.

  • Paula

    I got to know a girl pretty well from the time she was 15 to when she turned 18 and moved away. She claimed she was being home-schooled. From the time she was in 5th grade, she finally admitted, her father had just kept her out of school to abuse her and make her his own personal slave. She was NOT home-schooled. Her brothers were mistreated too. All the older kids had left before they turned 18. Most of them were pretty screwed up. Home-schooling is sometimes just an excuse, a cover-up. I’m sure there are good parents who want to home-school their kids, but too many times there’s just no way for a kid to say he or she is being abused. They are isolated and insulated and brainwashed into thinking there’s no way out. I think there MUST be some accountability so that the government, yes the government, can verify the child is being educated. Sometimes it’s just BS.

  • saramaimon

    6 months? thats not enough!

  • kisekileia

    Maybe someone should start a petition for this.

  • Fina

    ….wow, thats one huge non-sequitur from HSDLA!

    Even if its true that there is absolutely no connection between homeschooling and abuse – that’s not what the bill is all about.
    Instead it is about when homeschooling and abuse happen to occur at once.
    So really their statement would only make sense if they believe that that can NOT happen, ever. Which of course would be a connection between homeschooling and abuse, clearly visible in any study “hey look, homeschooled children are never abused. Thats an amazing find”. Well if so i’d very much like to see that study (/sarcasm)

  • K

    Exactly why are they against this? Unless of course they are actively trying to get kids killed.
    I bet most of these people are pro life, but dont care about killing children who have been born.
    Just cause they dont want child abusers homeschooling kids, doesnt mean that the government wants to ban homeschooling or anything.
    I think theyre aware that they are protecting child abusers, thats why they give people advice on how to avoid CPS.

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