Oversight of home-schooling is lax
Source: Springfield News-Sun
By: Margo Rutledge Kissell and Mary McCarty
March 18, 2012
State leaves monitoring duties to districts, even after girl’s tragic death.
Oversight of parents who homeschool children is so limited the Ohio Department of Education doesn’t know for sure how many students are being home-schooled or how closely districts are monitoring compliance with state law.
A Springfield News-Sun investigation following the death of 14-year-old Makayla Norman found few if any consequences for school districts that lose track of homeschooled students. Individual districts are responsible for keeping tabs on parents who teach children at home, but the state administrative code specifies no penalties for districts that don’t comply.
Dayton Public Schools lost track of Makayla, a cerebral palsy patient who weighed 28 pounds when she died March 1, 2011, yet the state took no action against the school district, and the tragedy resulted in no calls for changes in state law.
In an interview with the News-Sun, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said hearings should be held on what went wrong in the Makayla case and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“There needs to be some accountability for the school district for losing track of this child,” DeWine said.
“Do we need different laws? Do we need different enforcement?” DeWine asked.
Dayton Public spokeswoman Jill Moberley said “human error” was responsible for Makayla disappearing from the district’s radar.
Makayla’s family registered her with the school district as a home-schooled child during her kindergarten year in August 2004, but never filed an annual assessment with the district for any year after that, as required under Ohio law.
The district also did no follow-up checking on Makayla, who suffered years of medical and nutritional abuse and neglect before her death, according to authorities.
Moberley said the district kept paper records in 2004 that had to be re-entered into the system each year. Makayla’s record was not re-entered, so there was no contact with the family from that point on.
“Certainly our records are kept differently,” she said, noting they are now kept electronically. “We have a much more sophisticated student information system.”
However, a document the district provided the News-Sun in response to a public records request raises questions about the thoroughness of the district’s monitoring.
For the 2010-2011 school year, the same year Makayla died, “0” parents failed to file the required home education notification, according to the document.
So far during the 2011-2012 school year, the district also reported 100 percent compliance.
An estimated 22,000 children in Ohio are home-schooled, though Ohio Department of Education spokesman Patrick Gallaway acknowledged the estimate is derived from individual district reports.
The News-Sun found some obvious errors in the record-keeping. One of the area’s largest school districts, Northmont, had “0” home-schooled students for the 2010-11 school year, according to the ODE data for that year. The district actually had 94 home-schooled students that year, according to Leslie Hobbs, student services coordinator.
The department also listed “0” home-schooled students last year for the Columbus City School District, Ohio’s largest school district with nearly 50,000 students.
The district actually had 477 home-schoolers, a district spokesman said.
Home-school advocates, including the Christian Home Educators of Ohio, the state’s largest home schooling group, favor less regulation.
“For many of the people we deal with, it’s a conviction,” said board member Becky Clark of Richland County, who has home-schooled her four children. “It’s a parenting decision to direct the education of their family, believing it’s our parental responsibility. We love to have that right.”
She and other home-school advocates believe the vast majority of conscientious parents shouldn’t be penalized for the crimes of a few.
“It would appear to me that the blame here really lies with the parents,” said Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell, whose daughter is an e-schooler enrolled in the Ohio Virtual Academy charter school. “Parents have a responsibility to be involved in the education of their children. School systems may fail some children, but generally the parents already have failed those same children.”
The issue of regulation pits parents’ rights against the state’s responsibility to protect children and enforce compulsory education. Parent-led, home-based education is widely considered the fastest growing segment of K-12 education. The National Center for Education Statistics said the number of students rose 74 percent to 1.5 million between 1999 and 2007, and the National Home Education Research Institute estimates it reached 2 million last year.
.Ohio requires parents to notify the local superintendent of their intent to home school. The law also requires:
• That the home teacher have a high school diploma or equivalent or work under the direction of a person with a bachelor’s degree.
• That certain curriculum areas are covered and instruction include at least 900 hours.
• And an annual assessment be filed with the school district.
Makayla’s mother, Angela Norman, and her nurse, Mollie Parsons, will face trial on involuntary manslaughter charges April 18 in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.