The Des Moines Register seems to on an almost annual basis target homeschooling, in particular, those who utilize independent private instruction. 

This year is no different. In the paper published an editorial on Thursday following the release of the state ombudsman’s 160-page report on the tragic death of Natalie Finn entitled “A Tragedy of Errors – An Investigation into the Death of Natalie Finn.”

The same day they published a “news” article entitled “Does Iowa’s home-school policy enable sometimes deadly abuse? Advocates disagree.”

Really? The headline alone pushes the narrative of the editorial board of the last few years.

In the editorial, they made four recommendations to prevent tragedies like this. I completely agree with one, quasi-agree with two, and flatly reject the fourth. 

They recommend recruiting more foster care families. I agree completely. We NEED more foster care families. 

They recommend more funding for the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). Perhaps. Before I jump on the give them more money bandwagon, perhaps, we need to first look at their spending priorities and whether or not wasteful spending exists within the department. I think we can all agree that caseworkers handling child abuse and neglect cases are overloaded. Thirteen years of experience working with high-risk children and youth, I’ve seen that first hand.

They also recommend checking on adopted kids, in particular, requiring families who receive state adoption subsidies to take their kids to a physician annually. I can agree with this with a caveat. IF they adopt their child through the state and IF they receive taxpayer money in the form of a subsidy THEN, I think the state has a compelling interest in requiring this.

If not, then nope. However, this idea is a far cry better than having school districts make routine home visits of homeschoolers, as a former and a current state legislator suggested.

With their fourth recommendation (their second recommendation by their order), they recommend ending independent private instruction. 

Independent private instruction (IPI) passed under a bipartisan education reform bill in 2013 has been under attack by Democrats and the Des Moines Register’s editorial board ever since. IPI eliminated all reporting to the state and the need to turn in a CPI form to their local school district. It also allowed home educators to teach up to four students who were not in their immediate family.

IPI is the pinnacle of homeschooling freedom, and any bill that seeks to address, while not an outright repeal, is a step backward.

The editorial board writes:

Independent Private Instruction gives parents unprecedented permission to keep at home their own children (and up to four unrelated children) without notifying anyone. There are no educational assessment requirements. No educator will ever visit the family.

Independent Private Instruction children never come in contact with school staff. Because they are also exempt from state-required immunizations, dental screening and vision checks, no medical professional may ever see them either.

A child can legally vanish from school. If a teacher calls, the parent can say the family is exercising the new option in homeschooling education. Or they can say nothing at all.

Let me remind everyone of the pertinent facts in this case.

According to the state ombudsman report before Finn’s death, DHS received not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different calls from staff at West Des Moines Community School’s Walnut Creek Campus (the district’s alternative school). DHS rejected an intake after all of those calls.

Not until a Git-n-Go employee called the West Des Moines Police and they received a second call from a neighbor the next day out of concern for Finn did DHS accept an intake.

But because Finn’s adoptive family decided to pull her out of school, somehow it’s this homeschool policy’s fault. By the way, if a family pulls their child out of school to hide abuse that is not homeschooling. 

Also, if they honestly think filling out a piece of paper with the school district to notify them of their withdrawl (required with competent private instruction) would prevent this, I don’t know what to say. That’s just stupid. Also, competent private instruction doesn’t require an educator to visit, and child taking a standardized assessment annually won’t tell anyone if he or she is getting enough to eat.

Here’s the rub, seen in the press release from the Office of the Ombudsman:

Much of the Ombudsman’s report focuses on DHS’s responses to five child abuse reports made from November 2015 to May 2016. Of those five abuse reports, the first four were rejected by DHS intake staff – meaning those reports were not assigned to field staff for investigation. The Ombudsman concluded that three of those abuse reports should have been accepted for investigation. Included were two abuse reports, made six months apart, from school officials who described Natalie as “starving” and “very thin.” Intake staff did not document those descriptions and both abuse reports were rejected.

The problem here is DHS’s lackluster performance, not a homeschooling option that very few Iowans use. 

Second, shall we discuss how many children undergo abuse and neglect and attend public school every day? 

Considering 56,552 calls were made to DHS in 2018, I’m going to guess quite a few.

Why the focus on homeschooling because of two cases in Iowa? What are we doing to address the scourge of abusive public school parents? (I’m kidding.) 

How about teachers and school staff who abuse kids? I can tell you that happens far, far more frequently than abuse that occurs with a family utilizing IPI.

Third, no one is an island. People have neighbors. People go to church. People have neighbors. People have a family. Not being connected to a school does not mean there is no accountability, just remember a Git-n-Go employee and neighbor called the police. 

Anyone can call the police and make a report. In Finn’s instance, perhaps the school district would have seen a better response had they called the West Des Moines Police instead of DHS. 

Unfortunately, the Des Moines Register will continue to push this tired narrative that won’t do a blasted thing to end child abuse and neglect in the state.

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