December 8, 2015

Background Check for Most Parents?

Mike Donnelly Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly answers questions and assists members regarding legal issues in Ohio. He and his wife homeschool.

A state lawmaker who once proposed legislation that HSLDA called the “worst ever” has introduced a new bill that raises concerns even though it doesn’t directly target homeschoolers.

In December 2013, Ohio State Senator Capri Cafaro introduced a bill that would have required homeschooling parents to undergo background checks and would have given discretion to social workers over a family’s decision to homeschool. Cafaro said she introduced the bill in response to the tragic beating death of Teddy Foltz. Within weeks Cafaro withdrew the ill-fated proposal after receiving thousands of contacts from concerned citizens—mostly homeschooling parents.

Under Investigation

Senator Cafaro’s new bill is quite different and does not directly affect those under the homeschooling regulations. This new bill would require that school officials conduct a background check on every family enrolling in a private or public school to determine if there was an open social services investigation. If the school discovers that there is or was an investigation, it would be required to report that information to the local CPS office who would be obligated to continue the investigation or open a new one.

The bill specifically excludes families who are educating under the homeschool regulation, but not families who are privately educating their children at home pursuant to Ohio’s -08 regulation (Ohio Administrative Code 3301-35-08). The bill also delegates rule-making authority to the state board of education.

HSLDA opposes this bill for several reasons. First, the bill would affect families who homeschool under the -08 rule, since non-public and non-chartered schools would be required to conduct background checks and to report findings made. Second, HSLDA has concerns about expanding access to sensitive state databases.

Too Much

We commend Senator Cafaro for seeking to improve the ability of state workers to prevent child abuse. However, this bill takes an overly broad approach by presuming that every family should undergo background checks.

Senator Cafaro did contact HSLDA about the bill and spoke with Mike Donnelly, HSLDA’s attorney for Ohio members. Donnelly encouraged the senator to leave homeschoolers out of the bill, but also raised concerns about the overly broad approach she proposed.

Furthermore, Senator Cafaro’s bill would not prevent another tragedy like the death of Teddy Foltz. Teddy was kept from school, and it has never been proven that his mother ever said she was homeschooling. Local child protection authorities were aware that Teddy was being abused and failed to intervene.

Instead of opening up access to sensitive databases and mandating background checks on millions of Ohio families, HSLDA believes that CPS improvements should focus on better training, requiring that current policies be followed. This will allow social workers to focus on serious cases instead of following a one-size-fits-all approach that mandates an overly intrusive and broad investigation for non-serious allegations.

HSLDA condemns child abuse and affirms the role of authorities in detecting and preventing abuse. When too few social workers are chasing too many allegations, many of them anonymous and trivial, it reduces the ability of the system to prevent tragedies. HSLDA encourages Senator Cafaro to invest time and energy in solutions more likely to prevent situations like the Teddy Foltz case, rather than the proposed approach of investigating every family that enrolls in a public or private school in Ohio.

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