Homeschooling In Spotlight Following The Death Of Takoda Collins
Investigations into the death of 10-year-old Takoda Collins are continuing. Despite years of alleged abuse by his father, Al Mclean, and complaints from school officials, Mclean removed the boy from school in order to homeschool him.
Now, some people are saying it’s time for Ohio to change its homeschooling laws. They say Takoda’s case is a wake-up call — and changes in state law are necessary in order to protect students who are at risk of child abuse.
To discover more about the ins and outs of homeschooling, and what protections are in place for children at risk, WYSO’s Jerry Kenney spoke with Milton Gaither, a professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Gaither has written extensively on homeschooling in America, and is the author of the book “Homeschool: An American History.”
Jerry Kenney: Professor Milton Gaither, thanks for joining us today. You currently serve as the co-Director of Research at the International Center for Home Education Research and I’m curious to know where your interest in the subject of homeschooling began?
Milton Gaither: It's a very interesting topic historically, because what you had is in the 1970s, two different groups, people on the radical left and on the radical right, made the same move at almost exactly the same time. A decade before nobody was doing homeschooling, a decade after on both sides of the extremes, people are moving to homeschooling.
JK: So, the case of Takoda Collins here in Dayton has, on some level, brought the subject of homeschooling into the spotlight. It appears that Takoda's father filed the paperwork to start homeschooling him, but that paperwork was only a couple of forms he had to mail in and he never had to meet with school officials. People in the community are asking now if there aren't some changes in law that need to happen to protect children who may be being abused.
MG: Right. That's the sort of discussion that's being had all over the country. Here's the basic story — in the last 20 and 30 years, the regulations that were put into place for homeschooling when the various states, and many states in the early 1980s either explicitly made homeschooling legal or changed their laws to make it more clearly legal, and when they did so, they often put various regulations in. Those regulations have been steadily eroded over the decades by determined advocacy organizations, most prominently the Home School Legal Defense Association, which would love to have no regulation of homeschooling at all.
HSLDA is very motivated, very well-funded, and they do a great job lobbying for their agenda at state legislatures. So, when an issue like what you're having to deal with here in Ohio comes up, people for a moment started to say, "why is there so little regulation of homeschooling?" but then they forget about the issue and they go back to their business. Homeschoolers do not forget about the issue. They're there, year after year after year, and anytime a legislature in any state in the country suggests increasing regulations on public schooling, that legislator is going to be attacked by homeschool advocates, phone calls and e-mails constantly, and that legislation has very little chance of success. Hardly ever does it get success and more, much more successful are efforts to rollback legislation. That's what we've seen over the last 20 years consistently as a rollback of regulations rather than an increase of them.
JK: And so, is abuse of homeschooled kids a wider issue than we realize? You mentioned the public's tendency to let an issue go. Is there a concerted effort by people to get some changes in place?
MG: There is a concerted effort. It does happen — whether it happens more frequently now than it has in the past, impossible to say. Homeschool advocates will be quick to point out that, you know, abuse is not something that's closer to home schooling. Plenty of children get abused and are not homeschooled. And, of course, they're correct about that.
So, the degree, the direction, impossible to say. There are multiple cases like this that happened year after year after year. If you want a good example of that, there's a web site that's maintained by a woman named Rachel Coleman and some other people named Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, and they keep a running tally of these kinds of anecdotes as they emerge. But, remember, we are dealing here with anecdotes, we don't have statistical data on what percentage of homeschoolers are abused and how that is relative to people who don't go to home schools or something like that.
JK: So I believe Ohio law only requires a simple application and notification to school officials. Can schools or should schools, regardless of the law, take more of a stand to deny those applications if abuse is suspected?
MG: Well, the schools have to obey the law. If the law does not give them the prerogative to do so, they cannot do that. If they try to do so, they will likely be sued and they will lose. So, if you want to do something in terms of increasing surveyance of homeschooling families, you're going to have to do that at the government level. You can't do it in the local school, given the fact that all the states now do have school laws about homeschooling.
JK: That is in fact what several teachers within the school system here have done. What haven't we talked about here that people should know?
MG: I think the thing to point out is that if you wanted to make some sort of change along these lines at the legislative level, you're going to have a kind of some kind of grassroots organization that's going to have to be funded. It's going to have to be consistent. I think a good analogy is, is the debate we've had in the country over gun rights. You know, the NRA is a well-funded and motivated constituency. People who want to regulate firearms tend to do so right in the wake of some kind of crisis that we've just had, and then they forget about the issue. I see a parallel here. So, something like with what the teachers, you say, are doing, if that becomes more of a movement that's willing to last for multiple years, maybe something could get done. Short of that, there's not going to be a change in Ohio.
JK: Milton Gaither is a professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Milton, thanks so much for your time and the information today.
MG: Thank you.