Teddy's Law vs homeschooler's civil rights

teddy's law and homeschool civil rights

We’ve recently been practicing essay writing in our Composition class. One type of essay is the argumentative or persuasive essay, in which one attempts to convince their audience to agree with a particular proposal and take action. 

I imagine for a United States Senator, crafting a piece of legislation is the Persuasive Essay on steroids.

Recently, Senator Capri Cafaro, and co-sponsors - Senators Brown, Turner, and Schiavoni, proposed Senate Bill 248, also called Teddy’s Law.

Backstory: A boy named Teddy Foltz-Tedesco was murdered in January 2013 after years of abuse. The news reports I’ve read reveal that Teddy had been abused for years by his mother and her boyfriend, Zaryl Bush. After teachers reported suspected abuse to authorities, Teddy’s mother withdrew him from public school, allegedly to homeschool him. Article after article tells the story of a dysfunctional home, and of neighbors, friends, family, police, and teachers who were convinced that Teddy was being abused, and notified social services, hoping that Child Protective Services, would, you know, protect him. In the end, Bush beat Teddy so severely that he died of his injuries. Zaryl Bush and Teddy’s mother are both in prison, but justice was served too late to save Teddy.

The above-mentioned Senators were so moved by this tragedy that they decided to do something about it, and wrote a draft of a bill to address the issue. This bill, SB 248, requires

a public children services agency to recommend whether a child should be admitted to an internet or computer based community school or excused by a school district superintendent from attendance at school for home education.

In other words, no later than five (5) days after a parent removes a child from school to school at home, or sends in a notification to homeschool, social services must meet face-to-face with parents and also interview their child(ren) and anyone else who lives in the home. The social workers would then make a recommendation for or against homeschooling, based on whether or not they consider home education to be in the child’s best interest.

The point of the bill is supposedly to prevent an abusive parent from removing their child from school in order to avoid scrutiny. The problem is that it is tantamount to killing a fly with a chainsaw. Not only are you going to have a hard time hitting the fly, but you are quite likely to destroy half the house in the process.

I have tremendous respect for anyone who serves in public office, but I’m seriously confused as to why these senators failed to produce a draft that I would have accepted from one of my kids, much less a bill to be introduced for discussion and debate with the intent to pass it into a law. As a teacher, I would get out my Red Pen and in the margins I would write, “faulty assumptions, points do not address the issue, poorly worded, overkill”.

It would be sensible  and reasonable to first investigate the lack of action by social services in Teddy’s case, and possibly reform and restructure CPS so that abuse allegations are properly handled and perpetrators quickly brought to justice.

It would also make sense to prevent parents accused of abuse and currently under investigation from removing their child from school until the case is closed, one way or the other.

Some of the faulty assumptions in this proposal are:

  • Homeschoolers are a suspect demographic for child abuse. 
  • Children are safer in public schools.
  • When children are in public schools, abuse and neglect is spotted and reported.
  • Reports of child abuse are always properly dealt with by CPS.
  • Children who attend public schools are less likely to be abused at home because they are not in the home as much.
  • Homeschoolers should waive their civil rights and submit to being investigated without reasonable cause because it would save children's lives.
  • Our Child Protective Services workers have the resources to investigate the 30,000+ homeschooling families in the state of Ohio.
  • Investigating homeschooling families in particular would prevent child abuse from occurring.

What is wrong with these assumptions?

  • Many studies have been done in an attempt to define the factors that contribute to child abuse. None have shown any indication that homeschoolers are more likely to abuse than others.
  • However, what these studies do show is that there are some correlations between the age of the parent, the age of the child, the education level of the parent, and the family’s socioeconomic status. If a Senator wishes to focus on a particular demographic, why not start where the evidence tells you to start?
  • Over 80% of all child deaths from abuse happen to children under compulsory school age. Using Senator Cafaro's reasoning, we should instead propose a bill that investigates every family with children under 6 years old.
  • Child abuse also tends to occur when parents are young, lack education, and are poor. Why doesn’t SB 248 send social workers to interview these parents?
  • According to the study "Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature” somewhere between 6 to 10 percent of public school students will be victims of sexual abuse or harassment before graduation. This could mean that over 4 million children currently enrolled in school will experience sexual abuse before they graduate. By those numbers, Senator Cafaro should propose a bill abolishing public schools!
  • Children are typically home on evenings, weekends, and during the summer. Would this bill have been proposed had Teddy been killed in June instead of January?
  • Teachers do not always spot abuse, but when they do, and report it, CPS does not always follow up in time to save the child - case in point, Teddy Foltz-Tedesco. Is it OK to say "Duh!"
  • Child care providers are responsible for 13% of child deaths by abuse and neglect. It is therefore incorrect to assume children are safer at daycare or school.
  • If 30,000 law-abiding homeschoolers are investigated each year, how many real cases of abuse will fall into the cracks?
  • SB 248 makes it acceptable to investigate someone without reasonable cause, thus violating their civil rights, discriminating against them based on their educational choice.
  • When people say “But if it saves just one child, it’s worth it”, then why not target the demographics with proven correlations between certain characteristics and child abuse?

The most tragic effect of this bill, in my opinion, is the controversy that has arisen over it. Instead of mourning the death of Teddy, and focusing on the problems that allowed his abusers to brutalize and then murder him, we as homeschoolers are once again embroiled in a fight for our civil rights.

I do not want to write this post. I want abusers to be reported, investigated, prosecuted, and given a sentence consistent with the cruelty of their deeds and acts as a deterrent to others.

I want Teddy’s family to be comforted by the idea that his death was not in vain, and even though justice was not done in time to save Teddy, that other children could be saved from his fate by solid legislation and the enforcement of those laws.

Instead, they seem confused, frustrated, and saddened that anyone would fight against Teddy’s Law.

But the fact remains that as long as legislators propose poorly written and unConstitutional legislation, there will be citizens who fight to preserve their civil rights under the Constitution of the United States.