The abuse at the suburban home in Riverside County was shocking: Thirteen siblings, emaciated, chained to the furniture, living in filth.
Since last weekend’s arrest of David and Louise Turpin on suspicion of torture and child endangerment, Californians have wondered how such a thing could have gone undetected for years. Here’s how: The couple exploited California’s lax home-schooling laws to keep authorities from finding out what they were doing to their kids.
California law requires children ages 6 to 18 to attend a full-time school, either public or private. But there’s a loophole for parents who want sole control over their children’s education: Merely by filing an affidavit, they can register their homes as private schools.
Public schools are regulated by the state, required to meet certain standards. Private schools don’t depend on state funding and have no mandated standards.
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Their instructors need no credential beyond being “capable of teaching.” If parents are teaching their own children, they need no fingerprinting or background checks.
The state Department of Education doesn’t approve, monitor, inspect or oversee home schools. No one monitors their academic performance and standardized testing is not required.
When Delaine Eastin, then state superintendent of public instruction, hinted in 2002 that home-school teachers should be credentialed, the Home School Legal Defense Association, a national lobby, raised a ruckus that lasted until she termed out a year later. The group reappeared in 2008 to after a California appellate court threatened to outlaw home schooling without a credential. The court eventually reversed the ruling.
As in Perris, that case involved a home schooling child abuser exposed by a runaway daughter. Such cases are not the norm, but among child abusers, home schooling isn’t rare.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education, which advocates for tougher regulation, has a database of home-school abuses, from starved children to teens locked in cages. A 2014 study of extreme child abuse done by a University of Wisconsin pediatrician found that in nearly half of the cases, abusers had pulled their children out of classes to home-school; another 29 percent had never enrolled their children in a school.
CRHE believes home-schooled students should have to interact at least annually with certified teachers and doctors, who are mandated to report child abuse if they suspect it. It’s a good idea.
We also need more and better data.
Since home-school advocates have viewed research attempts as government intrusion, we don’t even know how many California students are being home-schooled. Nationally, the estimate is from 1 million to 2 million.
Meaningful research on academic performance is virtually nonexistent, according to Rob Reich, a Stanford political scientist. Most of what’s out there, he wrote in an overview arguing for better regulation, is biased by unrepresentative samples, or paid for by advocates.
Assembly members Susan Talamantes-Eggman, D-Stockton, and Jose Medina, D-Riverside, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson are exploring ways to tighten California’s laws.
At a minimum, said Reich, states should mandate periodic standardized testing and a home-school curriculum that meets basic academic standards.
None of these proposals is easy politically. As with the recent tightening of the state’s vaccine laws, entrenched and emotional interests will fight. But no one should get to abuse a child and pass it off as education. Parents aren’t the only ones with rights.