State Bills Foreshadow Frightening Trend Of Considering Parents Guilty Until Proven Innocent

State Bills Foreshadow Frightening Trend Of Considering Parents Guilty Until Proven Innocent

While these two bills focused on homeschooling, the same perspective on parental rights—that the state knows best, parents be damned—can be seen in legislative branches throughout the country.
Margot Cleveland
By

Two recent bills proposed by state legislators in Illinois and Iowa reveal a disturbing perspective on parental rights that’s becoming more prevalent in our country: the belief that parents cannot be trusted to care for their children.

The Swiftly-Defeated Illinois Bill

In Illinois, a little over a week ago, Democratic state Rep. Monica Bristow introduced House Bill 3560. That bill sought to amend the school code to require the Child Protective Service unit of the Department of Children and Family Services to investigate the home of a child being homeschooled “to ensure there is no suspected child abuse or neglect in the home.” The proposed law would have applied to every child being homeschooled, even when there was no reason to suspect neglect or abuse.

The response of homeschooling families was swift. “We live in such a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ culture,” Amy Kwilinski, an Illinois homeschooling mom of six (including four with special needs) told The Federalist. “It seems like our culture is headed toward a mistrust of homeschooling, which might send us dangerously toward a German-like ban,” Kwilinski added, noting that she plans to contact all of her elected officials.

Other homeschooling parents apparently felt similarly, because within days of Bristow’s bill being referred to the Rules Committee, the sponsor filed a motion to table the bill. In less than a week, HB 3560 was dead.

Scott Woodruff, senior counsel with Home School Legal Defense Association told The Federalist that Bristow’s “bill struck a raw nerve among homeschool families.” “They don’t want to be treated like criminals. Who wants to be investigated for child abuse for absolutely no other reason than choosing to homeschool your child?” Woodruff said. “It also would have been a fabulous waste of the limited time that child protective workers have to protect kids who are in trouble,” Woodruff added.

A Different Bill Attempts to Surveil Families In Iowa

While the Illinois bill is essentially dead, a similar bill remains under consideration in Iowa. Late last month, representatives in Iowa introduced a bill that would require school districts to conduct “quarterly home visits to check on the health and safety of children” being homeschooled. The bill specified that “home visits shall take place in the child’s residence with the consent of the parent, guardian, or legal custodian and an interview or observation of the child may be conducted.”

Unlike the Illinois bill, which would have forced parents to allow the government to investigate their homes and children before they could homeschool—likely an unconstitutional condition—the Iowa bill at least recognized that such inspections require the consent of the parent or guardian. However, the following section stated that “if permission to enter the home to interview or observe the child is refused, the juvenile court or district court upon a showing of probable cause may authorize the person making the home visit to enter the home and interview or observe the child.”

This probable cause provision raises several red flags. First, the proposed bill does not specify what there must be “probable cause” of. The most reasonable interpretation would be “probable cause” of neglect or abuse, which leads to the second point: The law already allows the government to obtain a court order to enter a home upon a showing of “probable cause” of neglect or abuse, so why the need to amend the code regulating homeschooling?

There is no need. Rather, the Iowa bill would provide school officials the ability to bully parents by demanding entry, knowing many homeschoolers would not realize they could refuse to consent. For those parents who know their rights and exercise them, they risk retaliation when the school districts later review the objecting parents’ homeschool curriculum. Even worse, the school officials might present unfounded claims of neglect to a court which, given the normal ex parte (without notifying the parents of the court filing) proceedings, may authorize the government’s invasion of the family’s home.

That the Iowa bill seeks to target homeschool families under the auspices of “protecting the children” seems clear when you consider the law already provides a mechanism to enter homes when cause exists to believe children are suffering from neglect or abuse. The bill’s backing from the Iowa State Education Association, an association that sells itself “an integral part of the 3 million-member National Education Association,” is another huge tell.

Parents Are Not the Enemy

Whether the Iowa bill, which has been in committee for nearly a month, will suffer the same fate as the Illinois one is yet to be seen. But the mere proposal of these bills should serve as a wake-up call to all parents of the trend among policymakers to view them as the enemy. While these two bills focused on homeschooling, the same perspective on parental rights—that the state knows best, parents be damned—can be seen in legislative branches throughout the country.

For instance, in Indiana, last year the legislature gutted a law that would have required schools to provide parents access to materials used for instruction on sexual activity and gender identity and to obtain their consent before “teaching” kids about gender identity. South Dakota’s legislature recently killed a bill expressly protecting a parent’s right to refuse to consent to health care “treatment” for a child that would promote the child’s belief that he is a she, or vice versa.

The aggressive move to replace a parent’s love, care, guidance, and decision-making with whatever whim the experts of the bureaucratic state currently profess is a disturbing and growing trend, and it threatens all parents—not merely those homeschooling their children.

Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.

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