A CBS Evening News report called “A Dark Side to Homeschooling,” hinting at the need for regulation to protect children, has homeschool advocates crying foul.

The two-part report focused on a handful of child-abuse cases from the past decade involving families who claim to homeschool their children.

Dan Rather

“We are outraged that CBS would ignore the obvious facts and draw the erroneous conclusion that homeschoolers need to be strictly regulated,” said J. Michael Smith, president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association.

“The story is a shameless attempt to smear an entire community of committed, dedicated parents,” he said.

Monday’s segment featured a North Carolina couple, the Warrens, who claimed they homeschooled their children but were discovered to have kept them in squalor. Two of the children were killed by their 14-year-old brother who then killed himself.

In his introduction to the report Monday night, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather intoned:

“You’ve heard the success stories, and there are many. This homeschooled child won a big spelling bee. That child a geography bee. And most parents involved in homeschooling have their childrens’ best interest at heart. But in an Eye on America investigation, CBS’ Vince Gonzales uncovered a dark side to this largely unregulated system of education.”

HSLDA’s Smith contended the story left out an important point, that the state’s social services department contacted the North Carolina family 11 times, were well aware of the condition of their home and had been working with the family.

Any fair-minded viewer of the report, Smith insisted, would be left with the impression “homeschooling equals child abuse.”

“The real story is CBS’ bias against homeschooling, and it is using this distorted story to encourage the regulation of homeschoolers,” he said.

The segment included an interview with Marcia Herman-Giddens of the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute, a member of the state task force that reviewed the case.

“I think there’s so little supervision that they really are not protecting those kids,” she said.

The task force concluded, according to CBS: Homeschool laws “allow persons who maltreat children to maintain social isolation in order for the abuse and neglect to remain undetected.”

“They deliberately keep them out of the public eye because the children do have injuries that are visible, and they don’t want them to be seen,” Herman-Giddens said.

Monday’s report included comments from Hal Young, president of North Carolinians for Home Education, who said most parents are loving and doing a very good job.

Young said he doesn’t see a connection “based on one very tragic unfortunate case.”

“I don’t see a connection that would say this is where the government needs to step in, this is where the government needs to come to your home, come into your life,” Young told CBS News.

But the segment concluded with images of the defiant parents leaving court and this teaser for last night’s report:

“In part two of Vince Gonzales’ report: how children nationwide have been put in danger, even killed, while home schooling.”

‘How could more rules help?’

In a statement passed on to WND, Young said CBS News could show no
evidence the Warrens were typical of homeschoolers, “or that this
senseless tragedy would have been averted by more educational regulations.”

Young said CBS failed to mention other facts, such as the numerous child protection laws and regulations on the books that state agencies could have used to safeguard the Warren children.

Social services not only contacted the family on numerous occasions, they already had removed the children from the home for a time, he pointed out.

“In spite of all the laws and agencies in place and involved, the system was still not able to prevent the deaths of these children,” Young said. “And besides that, long before the tragedy occurred, the family had consciously dropped out of compliance with the homeschool statute, and from that point on they were simply truant from the public school system.”

Young asked, “If a family chooses to disregard the law entirely, how could more rules help?”

And how can such a singular case, he asked, “guide policy toward 100,000 other citizens who comply with the existing law?”

‘While no one was watching’

Rather introduced last night’s segment by again noting “homeschooling is largely unregulated.”

The CBS investigation, he said, “reports how some children have suffered abuse – and much worse – while no one was watching.”

The report referred to the story of a Kansas couple who will be sentenced next month for abusing and murdering their 9-year-old son, who “suffocated after his head was wrapped in duct tape as a punishment for taking food without permission.”

“It’s a shocking case,” Rather said, “but as CBS News correspondent Vince Gonzales reports, not an isolated one. A CBS News investigation found dozens of cases of parents convicted or accused of murder or child abuse who were teaching their children at home, out of the public eye.”

Herman-Giddens again is quoted: “A lot of reports for suspected abuse or neglect are made by the schools when they observe children coming in that may be bruised or not well fed.”

Gonzales cited an Iowa case and two that gained national attention, including the case of Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in a bathtub.

“Both mothers taught their children at home,” Gonzales said.

Herman-Giddens commented: “The genuine homeschoolers are doing a great job with their children, but there is a subgroup of people that are keeping them in isolation, keeping them from public view because the children often do have visible injuries.”

But Gonzales then stated: “Even a very public homeschool success story can hide a private dark side. Marjorie Lavery says her father beat her before the National Spelling Bee then threatened to kill her after she came in second. He pleaded guilty to child endangerment after she testified about years of cruelty.”

Homeschool advocate Young again was quoted in defense of “the right to teach their children at home without government intrusion,” insisting these are extremely rare cases.

“But it’s hard to know,” said Gonzales, “how widespread abuse might be because the government doesn’t keep track. It doesn’t even know how many children are taught at home in this country.”

Eight states do not require parents to tell anyone they are homeschooling, Gonzales noted.

“Unlike teachers, in 38 states and the District of Columbia, parents need virtually no qualifications to home school,” he said. “Not one state requires criminal background checks to see if parents have abuse convictions.”

He concluded, reporting the Kansas couple now faces life in prison, “The dilemma raised by their case and others: how to protect parents’ rights to raise their children and still protect children from parents who abuse them.”

In his statement after appearing in the report, Young contended the “real story is that homeschooling is a proven path to educational achievement and preparation for adulthood and citizenship – without government funding, assistance, or direction.”

Noting tens of thousands of parents have attended his group’s events over its 29 years, he said “we know that first-hand observation confirms the reports of numerous scholars and researchers –these are strong, active, and law-abiding families, producing a generation of bright and sociable graduates – well-equipped for college, career, or families of their own.

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