A 17-year-old girl escaped through the window of a suburban California home, called 911, and reported that her 12 siblings were held hostage. The Sheriff was shocked to discover them in a filthy, foul-smelling house, pale and malnourished.
The 6 adults looked like children. The 29-year-old weighed 82 pounds. Three kids were chained to the furniture. Parents Louise and David Turpin were arrested on charges of torture and child endangerment. As the victims begin their long physical and emotional recovery, we pray the victims will find healing and comfort.
Was This Abuse Enabled by California’s Homeschool Laws?
The initial reports noted that David Turpin was the principal of a private school with 6 children, located at the home address. It might seem that he was running a business. But those of us who homeschool in California recognized that the Turpins had filed a PSA.
There are three legal methods to homeschool in California:
1) With a local public school district or charter school independent study program. This method comes with monthly accountability to a state-employed teacher.
2) A Private School Satellite Program (PSP). A PSP is an umbrella school that provides some accountability, offers activities and field trips, and handles paperwork.
3) A family can register as a private school. A Private School Affidavit (PSA) is filed directly with the state. Any family can do this, with a minimal amount of paperwork. Once registered, it’s just as if they were a large private school: They must keep local laws for zoning, health, and safety, but otherwise the state doesn’t interfere. A PSA homeschool is governed by laws against child abuse, just like any other school and family.
Homeschoolers use all three methods. But the CA state budget prevents the reporting of how many PSAs are filed with fewer than 6 children.
Why Not Require Check-ins of Homeschoolers to Prevent Abuse?
The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and others wasted no time in calling for stricter regulation. Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside) is “looking into” legislation. If the PSA can be used by abusers, should we change the laws?
No. Look at the cost. Do we want the government knocking down the doors of law-abiding families? This would be a dangerous infringement of 4th Amendment (search and seizure) rights. Do we want the government “checking up” on kids too young for school, the most frequent victims of abuse? Public schools do not catch (or properly address) all cases of abuse, yet no one suggests that CPS visit all homes.
Look at the facts. It’s not fair to treat homeschoolers as if they are more likely to be abusers. In fact, homeschooled children are 257 percent less likely to experience child abuse.
This is an Issue of Abuse, Not of Homeschooling
And look at the reality. Regulating homeschoolers wouldn’t prevent abuse. Plenty of public school children are abused, sometimes by their teachers. Even when CPS is involved, there is no guarantee children will be protected, as in the case of Gabriel Fernandez.
Did the Turpins use the homeschooling laws in California to shelter their abuse? No doubt. And yes, 6 of the children were of school age. But 7 were not, including a toddler and 6 adults. A Private School Affidavit was not needed to keep their adult children hostage.
These were abusive parents. If the PSA option was not available, they would have found some other way. It’s surprising that they even bothered to register at all!
Homeschool Freedom is Worth Protecting
2.3 million children nationwide are homeschooled. Punishing the many for the crimes of the few would be a tragedy. By and large, homeschooling families sacrifice a lot to provide their children with the best possible care.
Homeschoolers do better academically, whether regulated or not. Homeschooling allows parents to remove their children from public schools if their kids are bullied or bored, and to provide more individualized instruction to special needs and gifted children. Homeschooled children can pursue their academic interests, and have time for athletic, musical, artistic, and entrepreneurial pursuits.
Homeschooling is a right, one of many valid educational options. The Supreme Court has decided that parents are responsible for their children’s education. Homeschooling is vital to the health, future, and diversity of our nation.
Abuse — whenever, wherever, and however it occurs — is despicable and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Changing homeschool laws will not protect children from abuse. Abusive parents would just find another way. Extra regulations would be an unfair burden on law-abiding parents. Restrictions could rob parents of the freedom to educate their children in a way that uniquely fits their needs.
Marni Chediak is a graduate of Stanford University. Before becoming a mom, she worked in various management positions for AT&T and General Mills. She has been homeschooling her 3 children in Southern California for the past 6 years. She is currently an English grammar and writing tutor in her local Classical Conversations community.