The state Legislature is proposing background checks for families who homeschool their keiki.
State Sen. Kaialii Kahele recently introduced Senate Bill 2323, which would create a screening process designed to ensure children with elevated risk factors are not removed from public school to be home schooled. He introduced the bill in response to the tragic 2016 starvation death of 9-year-old Shaelynn Lehano, who lived in his Hilo district.
“We are pleased with Senator Kahele’s proposal and urge the Hawaii legislature to put home-schooled children first,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for home-schooled children. “Homeschooling should be used to lovingly prepare children for an open future and not as an avenue for abusive parents to isolate children and conceal torture and abuse.”
Under SB 2323, the complex area superintendent would be required to run a background check on each individual residing in the home upon notification of intent to home school. Families with a history of child abuse or neglect would have their request denied.
In the bill’s introduction, Kahele references “Peter Boy” Kema, who died in 1997 after his parents were allowed to home school him, despite their history of child abuse and neglect. Lehano’s and Kema’s deaths prove that more needs to be done to ensure the safety of home-schooled children.
According to the State Department of Education, Hawaii has 2,774 homeschool students for the 2017-2018 school year, with 108 of them residing on Kauai.
Lora Burbage of the nonprofit educational organization, Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii, said Kahele’s proposal isolates homeschooling families by not including all parents of school-age children.
“If child abuse is really the bottom line here, then they’re going after the wrong population,” she said.
Kahele said background screenings would eventually include all homeschooling families. However if their intent to homeschool is denied, applicants could still appeal the decision.
“We’re not saying you can’t home school your child. We’re saying that what happened to Shaelynn Lehano or Peter Boy Kema or other children across America or here in Hawaii won’t happen to another child again,” Kahele said.
Two states bar homeschooling based on certain risk factors. Pennsylvania bars parents from homeschooling when an adult in the household has committed a crime that would prevent them from teaching in a public school; Arkansas prohibits homeschooling when there is a registered sex offender in the home.
“Previous child welfare services involvement is one of the top risk factors for future abuse,” said Coleman. “Children at elevated risk of child abuse should have access to mandatory reporters and a support system.”
The background check and flagging process proposed by the new bill would make Hawaii a national leader in the protection of home-schooled children, say supporters.