Temper home-school response

The latest Iowa Poll shows state residents are reacting to recent deaths and abuses within the foster care system with more scrutiny of state home-school laws. Such sentiments are partially misplaced.

There have been two high-profile deaths among youth adopted out of the Iowa foster care system, and a third first-person account of how one young women fled her abusers. In nearly all such cases, home schooling has played a significant role by allowing abusive parents to further hide their actions and neglect.

It’s largely in reaction to these horrific cases that participants in a recent Iowa Poll responded with skepticism of all Iowans who chose to home-school:

• 46 percent think families with foster children should be required to send children to an educational facility (not be allowed to home-school)

• 67 percent believe parents should be required to submit their children for quarterly welfare checks at the local school district

• 79 percent want families that home-school to review lesson plans with coordinators from the local school district

• 91 percent want home-schooled children to be tested annually in reading and math (for assurances those children are performing at grade level)

If those polled were basing their criticism of home schooling solely on these high-profile foster care cases, they’re missing valuable perspectives and notable differences.

For instance, home schooling worked very well for our family when our oldest daughter and an elementary school homeroom teacher clashed. When the district, citing classroom sizes, was unable to accommodate our request to relocate our daughter, we opted to home-school her core subjects. (She continued to attend band and art classes at the school.)

And, yes, our family was very fortunate that we could make such a decision. Not all families are in a financial position that allows such flexibility.

Perhaps more to the point of recent news headlines, our family was not receiving regularly monthly stipends to care for our child — there was no taxpayer-funded monetary incentive.

The situation is quite different for children who are adopted from state foster care. Such adoptive parents continue to receive monthly payments to subsidize the care of their “hard-to-place” or “special-needs” children through the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, but face far less government oversight once granted full custody.

While the presence of assistance — very needed and well used in most circumstances — doesn’t always signal abusive behavior, the presence of such assistance combined with home schooling should result in a big red flag.

Little to no state oversight, monetary incentives and an ability to legally isolate a child are ingredients for a toxic environment, one that deserves increased state oversight.

But as horrific as such headlines can be, we need to remember that they are the exception, not the rule.

We would never judge all adoptive parents on the actions of a nefarious few. We should be just as unwilling to paint all home schooling parents with the same brush.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 29, 2017. Photo credit: Adam Wesley/The Gazette