Commentary: Don't let child abusers hide behind home schooling

Utah home schools bypass the teacher and school safety net of mandatory reporting to social services and other authorities when child neglect and abuse is evident. Far too many abusers use this unregulated Utah home school option to avoid discovery and accountability.

According to The Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a 2014 study of severe abuse cases involving school-age children also tend to involve homeschooling. (Barbara Knox, pediatrician at University of Wisconsin.) Child abuse researchers found that, in 47 percent of the school-aged child torture cases they examined, a child was pulled from school to be home schooled.

The researchers wrote that “this ‘homeschooling’ appears to have been designed to further isolate the child” and that it “typically occurred after a closure of a previously opened CPS (child protective services) case.” Further, the children’s isolation “was accompanied by an escalation of physically abusive events.” Lawmakers in a growing number of states have seen the consequences of abusive parents using homeschooling to hide their abuse, and are taking action to prevent such cases.

A Feb. 7 Mother Jones magazine article titled “A California Couple Abused Their 13 Kids — and Weak Homeschooling Rules Helped Them Do It” showed how this is also done in Utah with our comparably weak homeschooling regulation.

I ask our Utah legislators to write and pass a bill that protects Utah’s good home schools while also stopping their use to cover up abuse. As we know, sadly, our state of Utah is often found leading the nation in cases of the worst state drivers, opioid addiction and teen suicides, etc. Let’s instead become known for setting a great example to other states in reduction of child neglect and abuse with reasonable standards for home schools.

The Home School Legal Defense Association, HSLDA, shows a map of the United States with each state noted by color for their degree of lax regulation of home schools ( https://hslda.org/laws/) It is important to note that Utah, compared to the rest of the states, is listed as very unregulated or lax in its responsibility to protect children.

The map also shows states that have passed legislation and funded oversight expense with regular school-allocated funds per child, as they do with charter schools. The model bill that Utah could adopt includes:

  • Require parent/guardian background checks for criminal and child protective service cases.

  • Require agreement to follow minimum standards and curriculum that can be measured annually for grade level competency to maintain their home school license.

  • Require an annual unscheduled visit to the home school by a mandated reporter like a teacher or social worker.

Through a bill requiring these minimums for homeschooling licensing, we can make Utah a much safer state for our children at minimal expense.

In discussing this issue with teachers, I’ve found they agree that when home schooled children return to school, they are often not prepared at their grade levels. I asked what percentage of the students are prepared? They agreed less than 5 percent to 10 percent are at grade level.

Such new home school regulations would protect the reputations of exceptional home schools while eliminating the worst ones that don’t prepare children to function in our society with a good education and social skills. These regulations would prevent the very worst parents like the family that created a private torture home for their 13 kids because there is now no accountability or access to mandated reporters like teachers and nurses when children are in Utah home schools.

Cheryl Nunn

Cheryl Nunn, Layton, is a financial advisor and, at the age of 63, has recently become the adoptive mother of two young girls. She is running as a Democrat for the Utah House of Representatives, District 16.