A new bill introduced into the record in Illinois by state Rep. Monica Bristow would, if passed, send government agents to investigate the homes of every homeschooling family in the state. The bill reads, in part:
[A]fter a home-schooling registration form is submitted, the State Board of Education must request a Child Protective Service Unit of the Department of Children and Family Services to investigate the home in which the home schooling will occur to ensure there is no suspected child abuse or neglect in the home.
Not only would Illinoisans’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure be trampled, but they would be subjected to government inspections every two years, according to the text of HB 3560.
Illinois is well-known for it’s failing public school system — it is so bad that over 70 percent of Chicago public school eighth-graders are basically illiterate. Homeschooling families in Illinois were outraged that the government was attempting to interfere with homeschoolers, who consistently score much higher on tests than public school students. David Smith of the Illinois Family Institute immediately got on the phone with lobbyists for homeschooling advocacy groups to start petitioning Bristow to reconsider this vast invasion of privacy.
“I became aware of the bill around 11 p.m. in the evening, and around twelve hours later, it was dead,” Smith told PJM. Bristow’s office was overwhelmed with phone calls and even in-person visits from homeschoolers from around the state who objected to being in her crosshairs. “Homeschoolers are very motivated to keep their freedoms in Illinois,” continued Smith. “It’s very important that representatives get educated on the great work of the vast majority of homeschool families, which are way outperforming the public schools.”
Not only that, but some Illinois residents commenting on the new bill said the state needs to investigate public school teachers first. “The Chicago Tribune did an investigation into public schools and sex abuse and found over 500 claims of sexual abuse over 10 years,” said Smith. “That’s one assault a week and those are just the ones that get reported. God knows how many go unreported.”
Smith is correct. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2018:
After the Tribune threatened to file a lawsuit to force public disclosure of basic CPS documents and data related to sexual misconduct, the district acknowledged that its Law Department had investigated 430 reports that school employees had sexually abused, assaulted or harassed students since 2011.
In 230 of these cases, or more than half, investigators found credible evidence of misconduct, the district said.
But CPS supplied only raw numbers — revealing nothing about what happened or which schools were involved.
To better quantify the frequency of abuse in Chicago’s schools, reporters obtained and analyzed Chicago police data on such crimes from 2008 through 2017. Police investigated 523 reports that children were sexually assaulted or abused inside city public schools during that 10-year period, or an average of one report each week, the data show.
Smith, a homeschooling father and advocate for homeschooling families, always has his ear to the ground for signs of government intrusion into home education. “Another bill in Illinois sponsored by Kimberly Lightfoot is trying to make compulsory attendance in school from the current age of six down to five,” Smith told PJM, “and we have had verbal confirmation that she intends to get it down to three. They want total control over our kids from birth until death.”
Compulsory education currently isn’t required until age six. The lowering of the schooling age puts an undue burden on homeschooling families. Smith continued, “My recommendation is that homeschool parents need to stay politically engaged and known by their lawmakers.” He and many homeschoolers around the country actively seek out their representatives to get to know them so that the myths about homeschoolers are diffused. “There is a constant push to punish all of us for the actions of a few,” said Smith, referring to high-profile cases of homeschoolers who have abused their children.
Siccing child welfare agents on a family that has not been credibly accused of a crime against children is a dangerous and terrifying event for innocent families. Many “investigations” where no abuse or neglect is found result in the removal of children from a family and years of court battles that can bankrupt a family. The Rembises, a homeschooling family with eleven children, reported that child welfare removed all of their children illegally even though the investigation said they were healthy and happy. It took them a year to get their children back.
Several phone calls and messages by PJM went unreturned by Repr. Bristow, a Democrat. Republican representatives were less difficult to get on the record. Rep. Margo McDermed told PJM, “I was shocked by the bill and have no idea where it came from.” The Illinois homeschooling community is large and influential in the state because of the underperforming public system. “I heard from my constituents right away about this,” said McDermed. “They were not happy.”
State Rep. Darren Bailey told PJM, “It is certainly interesting that one of the few privileges we have in Illinois regarding freedom of education came under attack. While I certainly understand the premise behind this in light of recent activities in California, we as lawmakers should always make sure that current law is being followed and we are not making new ones to blanket those who are following the law.”
The case in California of lesbian homeschooling parents who killed all six of their foster children was not the fault of homeschooling but of an incompetent child welfare system. The family was investigated, but the children were not removed from the home even after Sarah Hart plead guilty to domestic assault against one of the children in 2011. Four reports of child abuse were on the record over seven years, but nothing was done to save the children from starvation, whippings, and more. As the child welfare system was finally catching up to the Hart family, the couple drove with their children over a cliff to their deaths.
Homeschooling parents do not deserve to be lumped into the same category as ritual abusers or punished for the crimes of others.
“I am thrilled that democracy won in this instance,” continued Bailey. “Concerned citizens rallied and the bill was pulled. We must be informed and involved!”
PJM will continue to reach out to Rep. Bristow for a statement on her bill, which has been tabled — for now.