The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) applauds Iowa state representative Mary Mascher’s introduction of House Bill 182. “Before 2013, Iowa had one of the best laws in the country for protecting homeschooled children,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE. “Rep. Mascher’s bill would restore accountability to the state’s homeschool statute.” CRHE is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children.
“Over the past three years, Iowa has seen a series of high profile deaths among children who were homeschooled,” said Coleman. “These tragedies point to the need to restore Iowa’s previous homeschool law, which required students to have annual assessments and gave them access to mandatory reporters.” The child deaths include 16-year-old Natalie Finn, who starved to death in October 2016. After Natalie’s death, Malayia Knapp went public with her own history of abuse; Malayia ran away from her abusive parents in 2015. Next, in May 2017, the body of 16-year-old Sabrina Ray was discovered in her parents’ basement. All three girls were homeschooled.
“A growing body of research suggests that homeschooling offers abusive parents a way to isolate and mistreat their children without detection,” Coleman said. In 2014, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin found that 47% of the school-age child torture victims she studied were removed from school to be homeschooled; in 2018, a state official in Connecticut found that 36% of children removed from school to be homeschooled lived in families that were subject to at least one prior child abuse or neglect report.
Before 2013, Iowa did more to protect the interests of homeschooled children than nearly any other state. The state’s “competent private instruction” statute allowed parents to choose between a) homeschooling with the support of a certified teacher or b) having their children’s academic progress assessed annually by standardized test or portfolio review. This made Iowa’s homeschooling law one of most effective the country at protecting homeschooled children, offering both homeschooled students and homeschooling parents the support they needed to thrive. In 2005, the state’s robust level of homeschool oversight enabled 11-year-old Sarah Neely to escape from her father’s abuse.
In 2013, an amendment to an education funding bill gutted the state’s homeschool law by adding an “independent private instruction” option that had no educational requirements. After 2013, parents could homeschool without providing notice to their local school districts, and without any form of required assessment. And it was after 2013 that Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray died at their parents’ hands. “When a state fails to provide protections for homeschooled students, it is the children who suffer,” said Coleman. “HB 182 offers an opportunity for Iowa lawmakers to fix the mistake they made in 2013, and restore the state’s previous law.”
“Under current statute, the state of Iowa does nothing to ensure that homeschooled children receive an education, or to ensure that children homeschooled in at-risk situations have access to safe adults” said Coleman. “By passing House File 2014, Iowa lawmakers have the opportunity to restore their state’s record of protecting the needs of homeschooled children.”