HSLDA has finally responded to The Old Schoolhouse scandal. As you may remember, this scandal involves prominent homeschool speakers and publishers Paul and Gena Suarez hiding and covering up child sexual abuse and protecting child molesters from exposure. Earlier this year Gena Suarez’s sister and fellow homeschool speaker, Jenefer Igarashi, became so concerned by her sister’s actions that she determined she had to do something about it and reached out to other homeschool leaders, including current HSLDA president Michael Smith. Smith never responded, and reportedly told another homeschool leader that HSLDA would not get involved.
Here, a week after the scandal broke, is HSLDA’s first and (so far) only statement:
Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. HSLDA does not condone covering up sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a crime and should always be reported to the police.
In addition, HSLDA does not get involved in conflicts between families or individuals. Professionals trained in mediation and arbitration are better suited than us to resolve civil disputes. Our mission is to protect the homeschooling rights of our member families, not to be the police force of the homeschooling movement.
So HSLDA does not condone covering up child abuse, but will not get involved when it learns about child abuser coverups, because they are not “the police force of the homeschooling movement.” Okay, but here’s the thing. There’s this, from an article published on Think Progress last month:
The CRHE’s Rachel Coleman told ThinkProgress that she spoke with Michael Farris about abuse and neglect of homeschooling children late last year and that Farris “expressed concern that if HSLDA couldn’t deal with the abuse problem, homeschooling might end up banned.” But, she said, Farris said he preferred “self-policing” rather than regulation: “He said he wanted to change the culture of Christian homeschooling such that people will say something and speak up when they have concerns,” and that “parents are children’s first protectors [and] a grandparent or aunt or uncle should step in to protect children if their parents fall down on the job.” Coleman noted that this approach is problematic, as without a child abuse finding by social services, relatives have no legal power to help a child if the parents refuse to let them in.
Jim Mason, senior counsel for HSLDA told ThinkProgress that while he was “not privy to the conversation,” the organization is taking the stories of abuse and neglect seriously. “We are addressing the issue now out of a two-fold concern: we care about children and families; and we wish for homeschooling to thrive in an environment of liberty,” he said, and, the organization does “believe that the homeschooling community is well-suited to address the issues raised by Rachel without further government regulation.”
It is incredibly hypocritical for HSLDA to verbally promote self-policing but then refuse to participate in said self-policing. It is hypocritical for an organization to say that child sexual abuse should never be covered up but do nothing when another homeschool leader makes them aware of a child sexual abuser coverup and asks for their advice and support in dealing with it.
To me it sounds as though HSLDA is happy to talk a good talk, but when it comes to walking a good walk it is self interest that takes precedent. The Old Schoolhouse is a very popular publication in Christian homeschooling circles, and Great Homeschool Conventions, which is backing up the Suarezes and blacklisting Jenefer Igarashi for speaking out, has come to dominate the homeschool convention circuit. HSLDA does not appear to be willing to either challenge these individuals or organizations privately or expose their actions publicly. And as Homeschoolers Anonymous reported, “The Old Schoolhouse remains an HSLDA-suggested resource promoted to HSLDA members at a special discounted rate.”
Once again, money and status matter more than children’s lives.