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

Homeschool Legislative Alert: Bill to Protect At-Risk Children in Pennsylvania April 24, 2013

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 SB 32 would require a school district to notify the county’s child protective services when a student is withdrawn from school to homeschool if that student or one of her family members has been the subject of a “founded or indicated report” of child abuse or neglect in the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!

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