I’ve Had Enough: My Reply to HSLDA’s Response

HSLDA has now offered an official response to my post about their defense of child abusers. Interestingly, they didn’t bother to link to my article, or even mention it by name. Were they worried that people would actually read it for themselves, and then not find their response convincing? Regardless, their response actually confirms that I had my details correct in that post, and also cements the concerns and problems I have with them as an organization. In this post I will look at their statement and offer my response.

First, because some of you reading this may not be regulars here, I want to take a moment to lay out my credentials. I am a homeschool alumna. I was homeschooled from kindergarten all the way through high school, and my parents were HSLDA members that entire time. I grew up reading every issue of the Home School Court Report, and when I was in high school I traveled to Patrick Henry College to attend a summer camp taught by Michael Farris himself. I’m not some outsider without experience with homeschooling.

Today I have two young children of my own. They are not yet school age, but I intend to put them in public school. While I received a decent education being homeschooled—I attended college on scholarship—I am making a different choice for my children. I’m not anti-homeschooling, and I absolutely want to keep homeschooling available as an educational option. I do, however, believe that there should be reasonable regulations on homeschooling to ensure that homeschooled children are being educated.

With that out of the way, let’s turn to HSLDA’s response.

“HSLDA does not condone child abuse”

The response starts with this:

It has come to our attention that HSLDA has recently been accused of condoning child abuse. HSLDA does not and will not ever condone nor defend child abuse.

Let me pose a question to HSLDA: What is child abuse? It’s easy to speak against something without defining it. Even though HSLDA continually says that it only supports “reasonable” corporal punishment, in practice HSLDA a track record of working against bills that would ban excessive corporal punishment. For example, in 2010 HSLDA opposed a Florida bill that it described as follows:

Includes inappropriate or excessively harsh corporal discipline in the definition of “criminal conduct” for purposes of protective investigations. Prohibits parents, legal custodians, or caregivers from inflicting such corporal discipline. Provides penalties and applicability.

Why did they oppose this bill? Well, because in addition to things like fractured skulls and disfigurement, the bill banned discipline that resulted in “significant bruises and welts,” including it under the definition of “excessive corporal punishment. In another example, HSLDA opposed a 2012 Mississippi bill that would have made it illegal to:

Whip, strike or otherwise abuse any child except as a result of reasonable discipline, in self-defense or in order to prevent bodily harm to a third party.

Because this bill lists reasonable discipline as an exemption from the prohibition on whipping or striking children, it would not have banned corporal punishment. In fact, it would have enshrined it as legal. It would only require that corporal punishment be reasonable. HSLDA opposed it and successfully mobilized homeschoolers to defeat it. Need I point out that this was not a homeschool issue?

HSLDA may claim that it does not condone or defend child abuse, but it appears that its words do not match its actions. Words are easy—it’s actions that matter.

The Cases: The Gravelles and the Carrolls

Now on to the next part of HSLDA’s statement:

HSLDA receives hundreds of calls each year from parents who are under investigation by CPS, often based on false, anonymous, trivial, or malicious reports. The vast majority of these are determined by CPS or a court to be unfounded and are dismissed. Because of this, we do not immediately assume that everyone who is the subject of an investigation is guilty of child abuse or neglect.

As a service to our members, we help homeschool families navigate the legal landscape in the early stages of an investigation before all the facts come to light. This could include helping families know their constitutional rights, helping them understand the legal process, or referring them to a local attorney. If the allegations include homeschooling, we generally will either assist their local attorney to defend homeschooling or represent the family on homeschool matters.

This is clearly a reference to HSLDA’s handling of the Gravelle case. In that case, HSLDA’s Scott Somerville spoke to Michael Gravelle after accusations of child abuse surfaced and then spoke publicly in Gravelle’s defense, even calling him “a hero.” Gravelle was accused, among other things, of keeping his children in cages, something he was not shy to admit. He claimed that he kept the children in cages to protect them, because of their special needs. I don’t know for sure what Gravelle told Somerville, but given that Gravelle never denied keeping his children in cages, and given that that is what he was accused of, it seems fairly certain that Somerville knew about the cages when he called Gravelle “a hero” and choose to believe Gravelle’s insistence that the cages were there to protect the children.

It’s true that we shouldn’t assume someone is guilty just because they are accused of it. But I don’t think it’s fair to automatically assume that they are innocent either (I’m not talking about in a court of law, where the assumption is, and should be, innocent until proven guilty). I think the correct course of action for us as individuals is to take a good look into the facts of the case before assuming one way or the other.

I don’t know how HSLDA determines whether HSLDA members who are accused of child abuse are guilty or not. I’d love to know more about how they go about this, especially given their extreme reticence to ever let child protective services speak to a homeschooled child alone. Does HSLDA do what is needed to make sure that the parents are not guilty with the abuse they are accused of before coaching them in how to ensure that child protective services never gets to speak with their children alone? How would HSLDA even know whether the allegations are true? Do they speak to the children, or just assume that the parents’ denial of the accusations must be truth? These questions are why HSLDA’s handling of the Gravelle case concerns me.

Back to HSLDA’s statement:

Of the three examples mentioned in a recent article, we did not represent two of the families and in the third we were involved on the question of homeschooling alone after the other issues were resolved by the court.

This is just what I said in my article. My interest in the Gravelle case involved Somerville’s verbal defense of the Gravelle parents, not legal representation, and as I stated quite clearly, the Jackson parents are being defended by an attorney affiliated with HSLDA rather than HSLDA itself. And in the Carroll case, as I stated, HSLDA defended the parents’ right to homeschool after they had been tried for and convicted of child neglect leading to the death of a child.

So let me turn to the Carroll case.

In late 1992 or early 1993, the Carrolls were indicted for involuntary manslaughter in relation to their 6 year old daughter Hannah’s death and pled guilty to child neglect leading to the death of a child. Four more children died in their care in the nine months after Hannah’s death. While three of these deaths—Chloe, Noah, and Molly—were determined to be natural or not conclusive, the coroner ruled Josiah’s death, like Hannah’s, a homicide—something the Carrolls did not dispute but has never been prosecuted. In December 1993 Samuel and Isaiah were removed from the Carrolls’ care, but were returned to them in May 1995, with the requirement that the Carrolls be subject to protective supervision. The Carrolls immediately began petitioning to end the protective supervision, and continued to do so every couple of months from this point on. In August 1995 the Carrolls decided to homeschool, citing religious reasons. A judge initially ordered them to keep their sons in a special public school program for children with disabilities. HSLDA intervened, defending the Carrolls’ right to homeschool.

It is true that HSLDA only dealt with the issue of homeschooling in the Carroll case. But in getting involved, HSLDA was defending the right to homeschool of a couple who had admitted to child neglect leading to the death of a child. I think it’s hard to separate these things out, really. At issue is this: Does HSLDA think that anyone at all should be allowed to homeschool, or just those who have not shown themselves to be irresponsible parents? It gets only harder to separate these things out when reading what HSLDA said regarding the Carrolls in the Home School Court Report:

Tim and Kathleen Carroll are a loving Christian couple who have adopted 10 special needs children over the course of their marriage. As a result of the unfortunate death of 4 of these severely handicapped children, the Carrolls have faced criminal prosecution and children’s services intervention for the last three years. Though their oldest child, a 19-year-old, is not permitted to live at home, the custody of all of their minor children has been returned to them. The only issue remaining to be decided is whether Mr. and Mrs. Carroll may be permitted to home school a 12-year-old child with cerebral palsy and a 7-year-old child with Down’s syndrome.

In other words, HSLDA was clearly defending the couple’s character, not just their right to homeschool. HSLDA took on the case as a question of whether people should be able to homeschool special needs children, and represented it as such to their member families. In fact, the Home School Court Report article didn’t even let on that the couple had pled guilty to child neglect leading to the death of a child, that two of the deaths had been ruled homicides, or that five children had died in their care within nine months. That seems more than a bit misleading to me.

Here’s the Rub

Now let’s look at the last section of HSLDA’s statement:

We believe that every child deserves a healthy upbringing and that parents have the high honor and duty to meet that child’s needs.

Does HSLDA do anything to ensure that homeschooled children have a healthy upbringing? Does HSLDA do anything to ensure that parents fulfill their duty to meet their homeschooled children’s needs? Believing that children deserve these things only goes so far if you simultaneously work against any safeguard that might ensure that they actually receive them.

For 30 years we have been zealously advocating for the right of thousands of parents to responsibly homeschool their children.

Actually, no, for 30 years HSLDA has been zealously advocating for any parent’s right to homechool, responsibly or not. HSLDA has opposed laws that would provide extra monitoring when parents with previous substantiated abuse cases against them choose to homeschool. HSLDA has opposed any requirements or oversight of homeschooling whatsoever. So no, HSLDA has not limited its advocacy to those who “responsibly” homeschool.

To the extent that any statements we may have made could be misunderstood to suggest that we condone the abusive actions of some we repudiate them wholeheartedly and unequivocally.

Why would you repudiate statements just because they might be “misunderstood” rather than simply saying that people are misunderstanding your statements? Look, either say that people are misunderstanding what you’re saying and explain where they are misunderstanding it, or admit you messed up and take it back. This paragraph reads like some sort of weird technical legal maneuvering.

Where I’m Coming From

I think part of the problem here is that HSLDA members, including the ones commenting favorably on HSLDA’s statement, are coming from the perspective of homeschool parents. I’m not. I have never been a homeschool parent. What I have been is a homeschooled child. I think a lot of homeschooled children, even those who had fairly good homeschooling experiences, as I did, are aware that there are abusive homeschool parents out there, and homeschool parents who are not giving their children good educations, or even any education at all. We’ve seen it. We watched it happen to others, if not to us. And because we were homeschooled children, we think the rights of homeschooled children are worth defending.

But HSLDA doesn’t exist to protect the needs of homeschooled children. It exists to protect parents’ right to homecshool—any parent’s right to homeschool—even if those parents are abusive or neglectful. Even as they insist that they only defend parents’ right to homeschool, and not child abuse, HSLDA never speaks against allowing abusive or neglectful parents to homeschool. And while most homeschool parents are not abusive, some homeschool parents are, and the results are not pretty.

What is HSLDA’s solution? I’ll quote Christopher Klicka from a 2004 article:

We want to maximize parental freedom. We want the honor system.

The honor system? Really? HSLDA is really going to stand there and tell me that the only thing they want protecting homeschooled children is the honor system? I have news for HSLDA: Abusive parents don’t care about the honor system. Relying on the honor system to make sure that homeschooled children have the healthy upbringing they deserve is not enough. Homeschooled children need safeguards to ensure that their parents actually educate them, not “the honor system.”

And while I’m quoting Klicka, let me offer another:

If children have rights, they could refuse to be home-schooled, plus it takes away parents’ rights to physically discipline their children.

Klicka’s “if” indicates that he does not believe children have rights. But children do have rights—they have been ruled persons within the meaning of that term’s use in the Bill of Rights. I think I get where HSLDA is going with this, though, and I don’t like it. The byline of HSLDA’s affiliated parentalrights.org is “Protecting Children by Empowering Parents.” It seems as though HSLDA thinks parents will always act in their children’s best interests, so children don’t need rights. Interestingly, this is something that was once said about slaves, and about women. The thing is, we know for a fact that parents don’t always act in their children’s best interests—that some parents abuse and neglect their children—and that is why we, as a society, have granted children rights. But that’s not something HSLDA is willing to accept.

And one more from Klicka:

Mr. Klicka added that the only regulation he found “reasonable” was that families notify authorities of their plans to home school.

In other words, HSLDA doesn’t think it’s “reasonable” to restrict the ability of convicted child abusers or sex offenders to homeschool their children. HSLDA doesn’t think it’s “reasonable” to require additional oversight when those with open child abuse investigations against them opt to homeschool. HSLDA doesn’t think it’s “reasonable” to actually require that homeschool parents give their children an education.

You know what? I’ve had enough. Homeschooled children deserve more than this.

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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.


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