Homeschoolers defeat invasive proposal in Ohio

by Laura Edghill
Posted 12/20/13, 04:35 pm

A proposed law in Ohio that would have subjected all homeschooling families to government inspections is being withdrawn in response to a groundswell of public pressure, according to a Columbus TV report.

The bill, which was introduced last week in the Ohio Senate, was in direct response to the tragic death of 14-year-old Theodore “Teddy” Foltz-Tedesco in January 2013.

Teddy died following a severe beating by his mother’s boyfriend, Zaryl Bush. The abuse had been going on for at least five years. Teddy’s 10-year-old twin brothers were also victims. After teachers began to suspect the abuse, Teddy’s mother, Shain Widdersheim, withdrew the boys from school, purportedly to homeschool them.

The potential law, known as Teddy’s Law, aimed to add a layer of protection so vulnerable children like Teddy wouldn’t slip under the radar and miss out on potentially lifesaving help. But rather than bolster existing checks and balances, it instead erected unprecedented barriers for parents exercising their freedom to make educational choices for their children.

Under the proposed law, parents wanting to homeschool or enroll their children in an online school would have needed to first pass a background check. If that check revealed a “record or report of any investigation at any time,” then their request could have been denied. A poor relationship with a disgruntled neighbor, misunderstanding, or embittered custody battle could have kept families from homeschooling.

The law also would have let the state child services agency deny parents the right to homeschool if “the agency determines it is not in the best interest of the child.” There was no criteria in the bill to specify how “best interest” would have been determined.

Parents and citizens inundated bill sponsor Sen. Capri Cafaro with phone calls and emails criticizing the bill. Cafaro turned to Facebook to explain herself and the bill’s intent, and was greeted with a stream of comments against the bill. Teddy didn’t die because he was homeschooled, commenters said, but because the system failed to protect him even though there were numerous reports of abuse over the years by friends, neighbors, teachers, and family members.

On Thursday, Cafaro announced that she would formally withdraw the bill when the Ohio State Senate returns Jan. 1.

“After consultation with Teddy's family, we have collectively decided the best course of action is for me to withdraw SB 248, and instead pursue a more comprehensive approach to address the current challenges in the state’s social service and criminal justice system,” Cafaro said in a statement. “I will not include any content related to education in the home in a new bill, or in any other bill.”

Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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