Record: Tyler Barnett, “Pulling Back the Curtains: Undetected Child Abuse and the Need for Increased Regulation of Homeschools in Missouri” in B.Y.U. Education & Law Journal (2013): 341-356. [excerpt here]
Summary: Barnett, a J.D. candidate from the University of Missouri School of Law, here argues that a string of recent troubling cases suggest a need for more rigorous homeschooling regulations in Missouri.
Barnett begins by explaining that Missouri is one of the most lenient states in the country in terms of regulations. He then summarizes many cases both nationally and in Missouri of truly grotesque situations of horrific child abuse among ostensibly homeschooling families. The Missouri cases mentioned include one where a father kept his son handcuffed to a pole in the basement and another where parents beat their adopted children and forced them to sleep outside in calf huts. Barnett notes that over 80% of child abuse comes at the hand of parents, and that school teachers are a child’s best hope of discovering such situations, a hope homeschooling children do not have.
Barnett next summarizes trends in some states toward increased regulations. He notes that Maryland, New York, and Washington, D.C. have lately increased accountability, but Missouri has not. Barnett thinks this situation should change, and he lays out three recommendations:
First, Missouri should require parents to submit the names and birth dates of all children being homeschooled.
Second, Missouri should collect progress reports from parents to ensure that children are actually receiving an education.
Third, and most controversially, Barnett advocates for home visits by attendance officers on a date mutually agreed upon by both parties or in cases where progress reports show students making inadequate progress or when a parent has a prior record of abuse.
Barnett next considers the constitutional issues involved in such regulations, both on 14th amendment due process grounds and first amendment free exercise grounds. He concludes, as many have before him, that the First Amendment argument seems the stronger, but he notes that in the key decision here, Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Supreme Court very explicitly limited the scope of its decision to the Amish, noting that the decision likely would not apply to many other groups.
In sum, Barnett is confident that his first two recommendations would survive legal challenges. He is less confident about his home visit recommendation, which is why he was so particular about including a clause about these visits happening at a mutually agreed upon time.
Appraisal: Over the years I have reviewed a lot of articles in law journals pertaining to home education and been surprised at the wide range of quality. Some are excellent. Some are so bad one wonders how they got published. This one is somewhere in between. Barnett provides more evidence of actual abuse than is often provided by articles like this, though even here the evidence is anecdotal (and it’s unclear to me that the second one even involves homeschooling at all). I’ve long wished some legal scholar would use the powerful online search capabilities of digitized records to do a more systematic review of court cases involving child abuse to see how many of them involve homeschooling.
As for his recommendations, he’s of course absolutely correct that numbers 1 and 2 are constitutional. But that’s not news. The real question is whether Missouri has the will to legislate. Typically, legislation that seeks to increase regulations on homeschooling is met with immediate and overwhelming opposition by well-organized homeschooling families, who mob the state house and usually get their way. Only rarely have the forces for increased regulation won, and their victories have usually come on the heels of stories of horrific child abuse. While Barnett’s two Missouri stories are pretty bad, in my mind they’re not so sensationally horrific as to put Missouri in the national spotlight and to galvanize popular opinion. I doubt that Barnett’s recommendations will be becoming law in Missouri any time soon.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College