If a bill introduced by four Democrats in the Ohio Senate last week becomes law, it would be the most radical homeschooling law in the country, stripping parents of their constitutionally guaranteed right to direct the education of their children and requiring interrogations by social workers before homeschooling is permitted. Home School Legal Defense Association’s Michael Donnelly said SB 248 is “breathtakingly onerous in its scope” and called it the “worst-ever” homeschool law that has been proposed.
Sponsored by Capri Cafaro (D-Hubbard), SB 248 — Teddy’s Law — was proffered in reaction to the very tragic death of Teddy Foltz-Tedesco in January 2013. Teddy and his 10-year-old twin brothers were abused by Zaryl Bush for at least five years while the boys’ mother, Shain Widdersheim, stood by and allowed the torture and beatings to continue. Teddy ultimately died from a severe beating by Bush, who was sentenced to 33 years to life for the murder while the mother received a sentence of 15 years for allowing the abuse.
Widdersheim had withdrawn the boys from school — allegedly teaching them at home — after teachers began to suspect abuse. Relatives and neighbors say they reported the abuse to the children services board (CSB) on repeated occasion but were rebuffed. Widdersheim’s sister was one of them. “We called, multiple times we did,” she said, sobbing. “They wouldn’t do anything. They told us we were lying.”
Sen. Cafaro said her bill would protect children like Teddy. “The objective there is to make sure the child services agency has all the information on that family that is looking to home school that child and then they refer that ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ should this child be educated at home, and they pass that along to the superintendent of schools and the process goes from there,” said Cafaro.
The proposed law would require parents desiring to homeschool or enroll their children in an online school (public or private) to pass a background check. [For the sake of simplicity I will use the term “homeschooling” to refer to both homeschooling and e-schooling as they both have the same requirements under this bill.] A finding that a parent or anyone else in the home had “a record or report of any investigation at any time” could result in denial of the right to homeschool. Note that the standard is not guilt, merely a “record or report of an investigation.” This could be from a vindictive ex-wife, a busybody neighbor who is concerned about seeing children in the yard during school hours, or simply someone at the grocery store who doesn’t approve of the way you scolded your irritable child.
In addition to the background check, the parent requesting “permission” to homeschool must submit to an
interrogation interview by a “public children services agency.” The law would require children to be interviewed separately from their parents. Based upon the interview, the request for permission to homeschool could be denied if the social worker decides that home education would not be “in the best interest of the child.” According to ParentalRights.org, the “best interest” standard is a severe departure from American law. “[E]xcept in cases where a parent has been proven to be “unfit,” American law presumes that the parent is acting in the best interests of the child, and defers to that parent’s decision.”
If parents (and children) manage to pass the background check and the initial interrogation, they will still need to pass two additional “interviews” during the school year until they can go four straight years without arousing the suspicions of social workers before they are free from the intrusive investigations.
In addition to the interrogations and the background checks, anyone in the home who pings the statewide automated child welfare information system must submit to an intervention program. The intervention would include behavioral counseling sessions and classes on “parenting, decision-making, personal or household finance, and homeschooling.” Oh, and also, “any other services the department and the state board determine to be necessary for the success of the program.” Participants will be assessed to “determine successful completion of the program.” That should effectively counteract most of that right-wing brainwashing.
Ohio first adopted homeschooling regulations in 1989 to “to safeguard the primary right of parents to provide the education for their child(ren).” Rather than asking for permission to homeschool, Ohio parents “notify” the superintendent of their “intent” to education their children at home. It’s a very important distinction and one that SB 248 flagrantly violates.
SB 248 is built on the faulty presumption that homeschooling parents are guilty until proven innocent of child abuse and that surveilling these families will prevent the abuse. Of course, I want all child abusers caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law, but this new law is not the answer to heart-wrenching cases like the terrible abuse of Teddy Foltz-Tedesco and his brothers. SB 248 would not have prevented the failures of the children services board that ignored repeated pleas for help from neighbors, teachers, and family members. A three year study by the National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research (NCCAPR) found that like Teddy, 39% of children who died from maltreatment had previously been involved with or were known to child protective services. In the case of Teddy Foltz-Tedosco, authorities did not enforce the laws already in place that could have protected him. This was not a homeschooling problem, it was a crime against a child that was ignored by the people who had the power to stop it. New laws will not prevent abuse when the laws already on the books are not being enforced. And certainly, adding more than 100,000 children to the case loads of already overburdened government social workers will exacerbate the problem of children who are genuinely being abused falling through the cracks.
The logic — if you can call it that — behind this law seems to be that parents cannot be trusted with their own children. Unless they are under the watchful eye of state officials, children face great peril and so there must be new laws enacted in order to mitigate the risk. This ignores the fact, of course, that children from birth to age six are the most likely to die from child abuse — they account for 76% of fatalities. Will the next step be to subject all parents to interrogations by social workers from birth until the time they enroll their children in the safe bubble of the public school? And why stop there? After all, many children are abused at home and become experts at hiding and excusing the bumps and bruises. Shouldn’t we hire armies of government agents to keep an eye on what’s going on in the home after school? Not only that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, violent victimization rates at school were 34 per 1,000 students ages 12–14 and 14 per 1,000 students ages 15–18. Shouldn’t the government just require semi-annual interrogations of all students to solve the school violence problem? You can see the absurdity of this logic.
Once Cafaro’s bill is assigned to a committee it will receive at least one hearing and will likely not proceed beyond that point. Already, Cafaro and the bill’s other sponsors have been inundated with calls and emails demanding that they withdraw it. Cafaro felt so much heat that she posted a letter on her Facebook page trying to explain her reasons for introducing the bill — and promptly received a hundred comments, all of them against it.
The concern really isn’t that this bill will become law — barring a major shift in the Republican General Assembly in Ohio, it won’t. The cause for alarm comes when a bill like this reveals the plans the Left has for our children and for our country. Capri Cafaro, who was a participant in the Clinton Global Initiative, really buys into the “it takes a village to raise a child” doctrine and wants to make sure the state has its hooks in our children. Cafaro and her compatriots realize that every homeschooled child has enormous potential to escape the brainwashed group-think that is so prevalent in our society. If they must brand homeschooling parents as child abusers in order to further their progressive goals, we already know that in their minds, the ends justify the means. They cannot afford to let 110,000 Ohio children slip from their grasp and they will take extraordinary measures to find a way to criminalize behavior that doesn’t conform to their vision.