Schooled Reporting on education

Hawaii mulls background checks for homeschool parents

Education | Latest attempt to prevent abuse wastes resources that could help protect an at-risk child
by Leigh Jones
Posted 2/14/18, 02:18 pm

Hawaii has become the latest state to consider new restrictions for homeschooling families following high-profile abuse cases.

State Sen. Kaialii Kahele recently introduced legislation that would require Child Welfare Services to conduct a background check on any parent requesting permission to homeschool. Current law only requires homeschooling families to ensure curriculum meets state standards, keep basic records, and submit annual progress reports. Kahele filed his bill after the deaths of two children in his district, both of whom were homeschooled.

“If a parent that has a history of abuse and neglect wants to pull the child out of school and remove them from that layer of protection, this piece of legislation would close that loophole,” he said.

Although Kahele said he wants to protect children from abuse, targeting homeschooling families won’t help. As I’ve previously reported, none of the research on child abuse lists homeschooling as a risk factor. If he really wants to help children, Kahele should read the 2016 report from the U.S. Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, which urges state and federal governments to make comprehensive changes to the country’s child welfare systems. The commission suggests lawmakers target reforms to at-risk populations and factors that make neglect and death more likely.

What are the factors that put children at risk? Here’s a sampling of the commission’s findings:

  • About half of the children who die from abuse or neglect are younger than 1, with two-thirds under the age of 3.
  • About 72 percent of deaths involve neglect and maltreatment, often in families “challenged by the stresses of poverty.”
  • Children living in homes that include unrelated adults are more likely to die from inflicted injuries than children living with two biological parents.
  • A prior report to Child Protective Services (CPS), no matter how the report was eventually resolved, provided the strongest predictor of a child’s risk for death before age 5, according to an analysis of California cases. The same study showed children with previous CPS reports had an almost six times greater risk of fatal injuries.
  • Despite the importance of the CPS connection to potentially fatal injuries, caseworkers only follow up on 60 percent of the reports they receive.

The commission’s top recommendation: Identifying children and families most at risk of abuse-related death is key to knowing when and how to intervene.

Policymakers at every level are tempted to address the latest crisis with a new layer of regulation designed to prevent something similar from happening again. But that approach creates a patchwork of laws that allow more chronic problems, the ones that don’t create headlines, to fester. Legislators who go after homeschooling families aren’t just wasting their time targeting a group with limited risk factors for abuse, they’re missing opportunities to implement policies that could actually save lives.

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‘Hitting the stacks’ relegated to history?

College libraries are having an identity crisis. The stacks of books that once defined their purpose on campus are no longer in demand. Students still come to the library to study, work on projects, and socialize, but they don’t often check out the dusty tomes filling the shelves. Children of the internet age prefer to use digital sources for research.

To help make room for more study space, and save on storage costs, college libraries are increasingly culling their collections. In some cases, the books that come off the shelves simply get moved into storage elsewhere, in case a student or faculty member ever requests them. Other books are sent to regional or national repositories that digitize them to ensure their contents are never lost. Other unfortunate books are earmarked for recycling.

The library purge has academics up in arms. Indiana University of Pennsylvania plans to pull from the shelves up to one-third of its library collection—about 170,000 books. Charles Cashdollar, a professor emeritus of history, called the shelf-clearing scheme a “knife through the heart.” Maybe he can assuage his sorrow with a comforting latte from one of the trendy new in-library coffee shops taking the place of all those empty shelves. —L.J.

Flickr/Photo by Chris Flickr/Photo by Chris

Shielding students from discomfort

In other book-related news, a Minnesota school district decided last week to stop requiring high school students to read two classics: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Parents and community groups in Duluth, Minn., have complained about the novels for years because they contain the “n-word,” district officials said. Although the books will no longer be on the required reading list, students can still find them at the school library. “Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students,” said Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the district. Students say having to read racial slurs makes them uncomfortable. The local NAACP chapter called the decision “long overdue.” —L.J.

Forcing students to face discomfort

While educators in Minnesota want to save students from feeling uncomfortable, administrators at Princeton University want to teach them to have rational conversations about uncomfortable topics. Several students walked out of an anthropology class after professor emeritus Lawrence Rosen used the “n-word” during a lecture about hate speech. Rosen later canceled the course, but university President Christopher Eisgruber defended the professor during a town hall meeting with students. “I think it’s very important for our culture to have academic freedom that allows people to have pedagogical choices on how to teach difficult subjects,” Eisgruber told them. Anthropology Department chairwoman Carolyn Rouse, who is African-American, noted the students missed an important lesson by walking out of class. “Rosen was fighting battles for women, Native Americans, and African-Americans before these students were born,” she wrote in a letter to The Daily Princetonian. “He grew up a Jew in anti-Semitic America, and recognizes how law has afforded him rights he would not otherwise have.” —L.J.

Pledge death case heads back to court

Members of a now-shuttered Penn State fraternity will go back to court next month to convince a judge they shouldn’t face trial for a pledge’s post-hazing death. During a preliminary hearing last year, Pennsylvania Magisterial District Judge Allen Sinclair dismissed the most serious charges against the college students, but the Centre County district attorney refiled charges based on new evidence shortly before she left office in December. Her successor turned the case over to the state attorney general’s office. State prosecutors say they haven’t decided yet whether to pursue the case. Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza, a sophomore engineering student, died after consuming mass quantities of alcohol and falling down the fraternity house’s basement steps. The group’s leaders didn’t get him medical attention until the next day, when he died at a local hospital. The charges filed against the students made up the biggest hazing-related case in U.S. history. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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