Reacting to allegations of torture and abuse of Riverside County homeschool children by their parents, one lawmaker wants to shine the light of regulation to prevent further tragedies.

Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside) is proposing a law that he says would create more accountability for families that educate their children at home.

His legislation follows up on the case out of Perris, where police arrested parents David and Louise Turpin in January for alleged torture and child endangerment. The Turpins are accused of mistreating their children, including depriving them of food and chaining them to their beds. The parents homeschooled their children.

Medina’s plan is to treat the private homes used by homeschoolers just like traditional private school facilities. That would put them under the same fire code and under the jurisdiction of the local fire marshal.

Under California law, homeschools are considered private schools. Thus they must register with the state and provide basic information.

Medina said that AB 2756 would “tighten up existing laws on private school oversight and data collection.”

Changes to Ed Code

California’s homeschool parents must submit an affidavit to the state education department stating the names of the people running the school, contacts, and enrollment information.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education, an advocacy group founded by homeschool alumni, estimates there are 193,582 homeschoolers in California.

The bill requires two major changes to the Education Code.

First, it would require private schools (including homeschools) to list the nature of the learning facility. Examples include conventional or traditional private schools, online schools, and homeschools operated by parents, guardians, or other individuals.

Secondly, the state Superintendent would be required to provide a list of all registered private school to the state fire marshal. Current law only requires the state to publish a list of private schools with six or more students.

The state marshal would then be required to share that list with local fire authorities, who would perform annual inspections.

In essence, this would mean the local fire department would be required to inspect a private home, once a year, of every family that opts to homeschool.

Medina’s Reasoning for the Bill

Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside)

“The horrific child abuse case in Perris, California raised questions about the lack of oversight of private schools. As homeschooling is included in the state’s definition of private school, we currently have very little information on the nature of private school entities across California. My bill, AB 2756, will tighten up existing law to be inclusive of all private school learning environments and collect more information to achieve a better understanding of the private school landscape in California,” Medina said in a news release.

“We currently have very little information on the nature of private school entities across California. My bill, AB 2756, will tighten up existing law.” —Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside)

“I believe it is important to have different education options, such as private schools, to meet each child’s individual needs. However, the state has a responsibility to ensure that each child is in a safe learning environment.”

Medina is joined by Assemblymembers Susan Eggman (D-Modesto) and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) as authors of the bill. Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona) is listed as a co-author.

More Work for Fire Inspectors

Fresno Deputy Fire Chief Ted Semonious

Fresno Deputy Fire Chief Ted Semonious says such a mandate would mean more buildings for his department to inspect.

“It would increase the workload. There is no doubt about that,” Semonious said.

But what exactly they would look for in a home used for private education has yet to be determined.

“You are putting the fire inspectors out to look for social problems. That is not our role.”—Fresno Deputy Fire Chief Ted Semonious

“There is nothing in our fire code (to inspect inside a home) other than home health care. There is probably more language that has to be written in the fire code to make it practical,” Semonious said.

Some items required in a school but not necessarily found in a home include a sprinkler system, exit signs, and easy-to-use door handles. Semonious said more research would be needed from the state fire marshal for guidance.

Another aspect Semonious is concerned about: The implied role fire inspectors would take on in monitoring the health and well-being of homeschool students.

“You are putting the fire inspectors out to look for social problems. That is not our role. If that is the intent, there needs to be further training,” Semonious said.

Homeschool Advocates Object

Mike Smith of HSLDA

The bill is meeting resistance from the Home School Legal Defense Association.

“We oppose the bill because of the obvious privacy violations.  There is no evidence to conclude that homeschoolers are more likely to have fire and safety hazards in their homes than any other families,” said HSLDA president Mike Smith.

“The bill addresses the abuse and neglect allegations occurring out of the Turpin family in Perris.  So, the intended purpose is really for fire marshals to try to observe the children in the home to make sure they are not being abused.  Again, there is no justification for this as there is no evidence to support the notion that homeschoolers are more likely to abuse or neglect their children than other parents, and no other parents are not required to open their homes to inspections because they have children,” Smith said.

 

Homeschool Alumni Group Tacitly Supports

Rachel Coleman of CRHE

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education say they support Medina’s bill, with the caveat that they would rather see homeschoolers have their own set of laws.

“If homeschoolers in California want to homeschool under the private school law, they should have to follow the same requirements as private schools do, including inspections by the fire department,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE.

“It is a call for more conversation. We support the bill, as we do not support exemptions from the current (homeschool) law. We think we can do better, with a dedicated law for homeschoolers,” Coleman said.

That would include regulations for academic assessment and medical requirements, neither of which are mandated by state law.

Local Data on Homeschoolers Limited

Neither the Fresno County Office of Education nor the California Department of Education could provide exact numbers of homeschoolers in Fresno. Data on the state website lists private schools, but for only schools with six or more students. In the city of Fresno, 19 private schools enrolling 2,914 students (as of 2017) are registered with the state. Most appear to be affiliated with a religious institution.

Next for the Bill

The bill, introduced Feb. 16, needs to wait 31 days before any action can be taken (March 19). It will then be assigned to one or more committees, likely the Assembly education committee.

Related

4 Responses

  1. Kayla Wildman

    California already has agencies in place to “catch” child abuse and intervene: Child Protective Services. The problem regarding the Turpin family was not homeschooling; it was that CPS failed in its mission in this case. The proper first step is NOT to increase regulation of homeschooling, but to investigate why CPS didn’t find the Turpin family and intervene years earlier. Apparently neighbors noticed strange and disturbing things about the Turpin family and the children. Did any neighbors call CPS? If yes, how did CPS respond? If no, why didn’t neighbors call?

    Two common reasons people don’t call CPS when they suspect child abuse are (1) “CPS won’t do anything.” and (2) “CPS just makes a mess of things — there are so many good families that CPS investigates and hassles without any good reason. They take kids away from good parents and put the kids in bad foster homes! Even when kids are being abused, sometimes the foster homes are even worse! I don’t trust CPS to actually make things better for kids!” These beliefs come from personal experience and from accounts of CPS failures that people hear from friends, family members, and others.

    So the real solution to horrific abuse like the Turpin family is to FIX CPS.

    Regulating homeschooling to prevent child abuse because of the Turpin family makes as much sense as saying, “A criminal committed a crime at night and used a black SUV to escape in the dark. Therefore, we’re going to send our firefighters out to inspect every black SUV in the state for evidence of criminal activity, at least once a year.”

    Reply
  2. Ernest Dempsey

    Posted on my blog. I believe parents have reason to worry over the expanding authority of the state over their homes and families. An Orwellian society already seems to be materializing in California.

    Reply
  3. Liam

    We invite the entire Perris Valley community to participate. ” As of Monday, the Perris Bright Futures Fund is active and is accepting donations.

    Reply
  4. John Stutgard

    How would ordinary Americans react if President Trump were to announce on national TV that in the name of “protecting children and families,” he was to introduce and support passage of legislation mandating that every family containing any child under the age 18 in the country would be required to undergo a rigorous inspection of their house by their local government fire department. Any house that had any deficiency or defect that did not pass the fire code would undergo an immediate mandatory inspection by their local Child Protection Service agency in order to determine whether there was just cause to forcibly remove the child from the home and place him in emergency temporary government-approved foster care due to risk of “child neglect” due to the deficiency.

    What response do you think you would get from the American people if President Trump was to announce this new bill to the American people? You can bet that there would be a huge backlash from the American people. Americans would not accept such a draconian violation of their privacy.

    Well, this is virtually what is being proposed in California for all families who choose to educate their children without full time enrollment in a public school or off-site private school. This is not reasonable, since child abuse and neglect is NOT an increase risk for homeschooling families.

    If you allow the government the power to take away the privacy rights of homeschooling families, you will be next. It will not be a major step to next take away privacy rights of all families that have a child in it.

    Say NO to this draconian, tyrannical bill.

    Reply

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