COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio state senator recently introduced a bill that would have forced homeschoolers to undergo government investigation, but promised on Thursday to withdraw the legislation following widespread criticism.
Democratic Senator Capri Cafaro has represented the 32nd Ohio Senate District since January 2007. Earlier this month, Cafaro introduced to the Ohio legislature Senate Bill 248 (SB 248), which would have amended the state’s education policy toward homeschoolers and internet-based schools.
Along with other initiatives, SB 248 calls for the creation of “an intervention program” that would include “behavioral counseling sessions” and various “in-person classes” to train parents how to educate their children at home. Parents who refuse to participate in these programs would be stripped of the freedom to homeschool their children.
Furthermore, SB 248 calls for social workers to interview both parents and children seeking exemptions from public schools. These interviews would be followed by extensive background checks of the children’s parents. State officials would then decide whether or not it would be “in the best interest of the child to … grant the excuse from attendance at school.”
Cafaro referred to SB 248 as “Teddy’s Law”—a reference to 14-year-old Teddy Foltz-Tedesco, who died in January after a severe beating. Teddy had been allegedly abused for years by his mother’s boyfriend, Zaryl Bush, leading public school teachers to report the abuse to authorities. Teddy’s mother then withdrew the teen from public school, supposedly to homeschool the boy. However, her boyfriend then beat Teddy so severely that he died of his injuries.
Cafaro touted SB 248 as a means to create “checks and balances so children like Teddy Foltz-Tedesco don’t fall through the cracks” and become subject to abuse at home.
However, homeschooling advocates denounced SB 248 as an inappropriate crackdown on parents’ rights to educate their children. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) described SB 248 as the “worst-ever homeschool law proposed in Ohio,” stating Teddy’s tragedy was “a sad story of a broken home” where homeschooling was not the source of the abuse.
“HSLDA condemns child abuse and is saddened by Teddy’s death,” HSLDA explained in a statement. “HSLDA supports the prosecution of child abusers like Bush and the improvement of systems that prevent child abuse. However, this proposed law does not actually address the problems that led to Teddy’s death and instead unfairly targets homeschooling.”
“What happened to Teddy Foltz-Tedesco is a tragedy that could have been prevented,” HSLDA continued. “If those responsible for investigating child abuse had done their job, Teddy might have been saved. The system needs reform, but Senate Bill 248 will increase the load on social workers by requiring them to investigate all families who want to homeschool rather than focusing resources on parents actually suspected of child abuse.”
Due to its unprecedented call for government investigations and background checks, HSLDA described SB 248 as “a step in the wrong direction,” “breathtakingly onerous in its scope,” and a “misguided attack on homeschooling in Ohio.”
Matt Walsh, a popular talk radio host, likewise argued in a blog post this week that the Ohio state government was wrong in using “one isolated incident … as a tool to intrude into the lives of every homeschool[ing] parent.”
“[SB 248] has the effect of giving the government a claim to your child,” he wrote. “Certainly, you should be able to lose your claim over your child if you are truly abusive, or if you commit any felony crime that would put you in prison and require your kids to be cared for by someone else, but homeschool laws assume abusive and criminal intent in every parent. If that is not tyranny, then there is no such thing.”
Therefore, following widespread backlash surrounding SB 248, Cafaro announced late Thursday that she would officially withdraw the bill. In a statement, she claimed that “the true intent of the bill to curtail child abuse has been eclipsed the by the issue of homeschooling.”
“After consultation with Teddy’s family,” Cafaro’s statement explained, “we have collectively decided the best course of action is for me to withdraw SB 248, and instead pursue a more comprehensive approach to address the current challenges in the state’s social service and criminal justice system. … I will not include any content related to education in the home in a new bill, or in any other bill.”