May 9, 2003

Ohio Newspaper Accuses Homeschooling

Two back-to-back stories in the Akron Beacon Journal suggest that homeschooling is a threat to children. The first story, published on Friday, May 2, is headlined, "Legislator sees risk in homeschooling." The subtitle states, "He worries abusive parents may see practice as way to avoid teachers who might detect mistreatment." The next day, the Beacon Journal published a "grotesque case" of six malnourished kids who "weren't missed at school because, according to authorities, they weren't enrolled; the mother had filed paperwork to home-school at least three of the children this year." Together, the two stories sent shockwaves through the homeschool community.

If the Beacon Journal had not set the stage for a homeschool crisis in the first article, few people would have noticed the homeschool connection in the second. The sad story of Mary Rowles, as reported in article two, is one more example of a child protective service system failure. According to the newspaper, Summit County Children's Services Board (CSB) got its first call about Mary's first child when he was only three months old. It was the first of many complaints involving Mary and her six children over the course of 14 years, but "they all went nowhere." According to the Beacon Journal, Mary's six children have at least three different fathers. Concerned family members had reported abuse time after time to social services, which "followed up on at least some of the reports but ultimately concluded the allegations were unsubstantiated."

The paper reports that the children's stepmother, Lisa Postlethwaite says, "I knew those children were desperate, so I would call CSB again with what I heard…they (CSB) acted like I was crying wolf." Instead, Mrs. Postlethwaite was accused of child abuse against her own daughter, and police were called in to investigate (these charges were later dropped).

The case, as reported in the Beacon Journal, highlights all the worst features of a system that has failed: truthful allegations of abuse that were ignored over and over, while false allegations in retaliation were taken seriously. This is typical of a system that accepts anonymous reports. Home School Legal Defense Association has seen social workers so overwhelmed with false or frivolous allegations of abuse that they miss the truly horrific cases. Homeschoolers are often subject to relentless investigations over the most minor reports. (One family, in North Carolina, has been in court for three years because their two-year-old daughter was alleged to have run outside without any clothes on.) But instead of calling for reform of the unreliable child protection system, the Beacon Journal has called for a new scrutiny of homeschoolers.

The Beacon Journal claimed that State Senator John Carey "sees a 'risk in homeschooling,'" but Senator Carey was quick to correct the record. Senator Carey says,

I do not want to be seen as an enemy of the home school [children] and their parents. I support parent[s] who home school their children and believe these to be good people, just as [are] those who send their child to school everyday. I believe that my comments were misconstrued as I mentioned I had raised concern regarding abusive parents under the guise of home schooling. I did not mention proposing legislation regarding more regulation on home schooling.

Homeschoolers must be prepared for sensationalistic journalism and knee-jerk legislation. With only 2% of the school-aged population being educated at home, it is all too easy for journalists and legislators to blame homeschooling for a case like this. It is much harder to tackle the difficult task of reforming the child protective services system that ignored this case for 14 years.