Two California parents were arrested over the weekend when police found 12 of their 13 children in filthy conditions, some chained to beds and starving.
Neighbors and acquaintances told news outlets that they’re shocked by the allegations and horrified that such abuse was allowed to continue unchecked so close to other neighbors. The parents have been charged with child endangerment and torture.
But this story isn’t just one of child abuse and endangerment; it’s also one about an education system that allows home-schools to operate with relatively little oversight, say education advocates who are pushing for stricter home-school rules.
The grandparents of the couple’s children, who range in age from 2 to 29, told the Los Angeles Times that they hadn’t seen the family for several years and that the children were home-schooled. Public records back this up. The father, David Turpin, is listed in the California School Directory as the principal of a school located in the family’s home. The school, called Sandcastle Day School, is listed as serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade. State records show that the school was listed as non-religious, with six pupils in a range of grades, the L.A. Times reported.
Beyond giving this basic information to the state, though, the so-called school wasn’t required to do much else.
Parents in California who decide to home-school their children can operate as a private school. These parents are required to notify the state of their decision, providing information on such things as their home address, enrollment practices and courses of study, according to information collected by the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.
Schools should give instruction in English, cover the branches of study required in public school and keep a record of attendance, according to state rules, but there is no specific mechanism to make sure requirements are enforced
Private school employees must generally undergo criminal background checks, but parents who teach family members are exempt from this rule. These parents are not required to have any specific teaching or education credentials.
Students at these schools aren’t required to take any specific assessments or show evidence of academic progress.
Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, has been tracking cases of child abuse in home-school settings. She says this case shows the type of abuse that can flourish when children are isolated from the outside world.
“While there are many home-schooling families who provide an excellent education, there’s nothing in the law to ensure that happens. So a family like this could completely isolate their children,” said Coleman.
Coleman’s group wants states like California to require mandatory doctor visits for home-schooled students, or at least some form of contact with someone who would be required to report signs of abuse. Public school employees can often act as first responders to evidence of child abuse, but home-school students don’t always have access to adults outside the home.
“Kids in these situations don’t have the resources as kids who attend public schools, like a guidance counselor they can go to, or a teacher they can go to,” said Coleman. “In most states you can be convicted of child abuse and go on to home-school your children.”
HuffPost reached out to the Home School Legal Defense Fund, a group that advocates for home-schooling parents, for comment on the case. They did not respond by Tuesday evening.
There are advantages to home-schooling. Some research suggests that home-schooled students score higher on college-entrance tests than do other students.
Home-schooling has been on the rise, and home-school families report a wide array of reasons for their decision. Parents might use home-schooling as a way to help a child with special needs or a child victimized by school bullying.
In 1999, about 1.7 percent of all students ages 5 through 17 were home-schooled. By 2012, this number had grown to 3.4 percent, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.