Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Have you been following the case of Mitchelle Blair, the Detroit mother who killed two of her children and kept their bodies in a freezer at her home? At some point, the children had stopped attending school. Blair claimed that she was home schooling them.
According to Rochelle Riley’s recent article in the Detroit Free Press, former Detroit Public Schools teacher Eric Fredlund reported the children’s absence from school. And thank God he did. But an employee of Michigan’s Department of Human Services (DHS) apparently told Fredlund that the children’s absence from school was not evidence of parental neglect and that there was nothing DHS could do.
There are very few requirements for parents who home school their children in Michigan. There is no registry of children who are being home schooled. Parents are not even required by law to inform the children’s school district of their decision. Indeed, as a Michigan Department of Education bulletin makes clear, “It is not required that a parent inform their [sic] local school of the decision to home school, however, it is suggested.” Consequently, teachers and administrators might never find out that a given child is being home schooled, and this makes it very difficult for them to monitor the reasons for a child’s absence.
According to several teachers with whom I have spoken, it is not uncommon for a home-schooled child to simply disappear from the classroom and remain absent for a substantial period before anyone finds out that the child is being home schooled. In some cases, the school district is never informed that the child is being home schooled. And as alluded to above, even when the district does ultimately learn the reason for the child's absence, it might not be informed until weeks or months later.
I acknowledge that parents have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the education and upbringing of their children. This includes a parent’s decision to educate his or her children at home, outside the structure of traditional schools. But it is contrary to the best interests of Michigan’s children to allow parents to simply remove their kids from school and begin home schooling them without informing anyone. How can the truancy laws be enforced if no one knows why a child is absent? How will the authorities know that a chronically absent child has not been kidnapped or worse?
As a former school administrator recently told me, parents often claim to be “home schooling” when, in reality, they are providing “no schooling.” I strongly suspect that this was true in the case of Mitchelle Blair. Was there any evidence that Blair was actually home schooling her children as she claimed? I wonder. Because Michigan places virtually no requirements on parents who home school their children, it is unlikely that anyone ever would have checked. However, it seems more likely that “home schooling” was just a convenient excuse that Blair used to cover up the real, far-more-tragic reason for the children’s absence.