Reprinted from The Des Moines Register Jan. 10.
On the surface, the Iowa Department of Education’s recommendation to open the state’s online learning program to all home-schooled K-12 students seems like a reasonable idea.Scratch beneath the surface, and it’s a horrible idea.
The agency’s proposal is largely targeted at families who have chosen “independent private instruction.” This option in home schooling, recently added to Iowa law, allows children to entirely disappear from every educational grid in this state.
State school officials should be yelling from the rooftops for the Iowa Legislature to repeal independent private instruction, not modify law in ways that accommodate or encourage it.
Traditional home schooling works well for some families. Many children receive a good education from parents and have access to courses, services and extracurricular activities at a local school. Independent private instruction is an entirely different creature.
It gives parents permission to keep at home their own children (and up to four unrelated children) without notifying anyone or filling out a single form. A child can suddenly vanish from school, and parents can simply say they’re independent. Or they can say nothing at all if anyone asks.
There are no educational assessment requirements
These students are prohibited from taking any classes or participating in any activities at a local school. Prohibited. They cannot attend math class at a high school. They cannot play on a sports team. Their parents want these kids completely off the radar, and the law now allows it.
If the Department of Education wants to pre-file legislation related to home schooling, it should propose nixing independent private instruction. The agency has never done that. Instead it pre-filed a bill.
“Home-schooling families have asked for direct access to these courses, and we support providing it,” said the agency’s spokeswoman, Staci Hupp.
Are families that went out of their way to avoid any formal education system calling the state education department? And if they are, officials should tell them online programming is certainly available — if they participate in a home-schooling model that allows a district to know a child exists.
Republican lawmakers seem receptive to the agency’s proposal.
“I can see zero ways it can be a bad thing,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, chairwoman of the Iowa Senate Education Committee.
Really? Has she heard of Natalie Finn?
The West Des Moines teen starved to death. She and her siblings, who were hospitalized when discovered, were the subject of numerous reports of child abuse, mostly turned in by school officials — until the children disappeared from class.
“Once they fell off the school radar, they lost them,” Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, told the Register last year. School officials were informed Natalie “was on a self-study course with her parents, and she did not need to report to school. Her sister and brother were also on that track,” he said.
A self-study course. No reporting to the school. And independent private instruction students are also exempted from state-required immunizations, dental screening and vision checks, so a health professional may never lay eyes on them.
Independent private instruction is irresponsible and dangerous. It disregards reams of state education laws intended to ensure Iowa children are educated. Kids, who cannot pick their parents, may never learn to read. They are prohibited from receiving special-education services. They may disappear and starve to death.
State education leaders should demand the fringe home-schooling option be repealed, not cater to it.