Following Connecticut officials’ failure to follow through in the case of an abusive and negligent mother whose autistic son starved to death, the office of the Connecticut Child Advocate has decided to target homeschooling families and use the case to build support for state regulation of parents who wish to educate their children at home.
The case of the Tirado family is yet another “House of Horrors” situation, not unlike the recent case of the Turpin family of California, who shackled their children to their beds and starved them in a so-called private school.
Katiria Tirado, 34, was sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the death of Matthew, her 17-year-old autistic son. When Matthew died in February 2017, he was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and weighed only 84 pounds, with cuts and bruises over his body. His death was ruled a homicide and the medical examiner said he died of “fatal child abuse syndrome with dehydration and malnutrition.”
Katiria had been reported repeatedly to Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) for suspected abuse and neglect. Although Matthew was enrolled in his Hartford district school, his mother failed to send him to school, causing him to be truant. At one point, a school psychologist reported Matthew had not attended school for an entire year.
Matthew’s sister reported that her mother hit her and her brother. Nevertheless, DCF workers and even Matthew’s own court-appointed attorney failed to see Matthew for months. On five separate occasions, Tirado didn’t show up for court hearings. Finally, DCF asked the court to close the Tirado case because they were unable to get Tirado to come to court.
Government Failed Big Time. So Let’s Blame Parents
Despite the many horrific government failures of the Tirado case, Sarah Eagan, who heads the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate (OCA), is making the rounds on local talk shows to garner support for her claim that Matthew’s death is evidence of why homeschooling must be regulated in the state.
In a memo released in April just as a hearing was scheduled on the homeschooling issue, Eagan noted that, despite all the reports to DCF over the years, Tirado successfully filed a notice of intent in November 2017 to withdraw Matthew’s sister from school in order to “homeschool” her. Eagan’s memo detailed what appears to be a total lack of competency within the school district, DCF, OCA, and the Juvenile Court system:
The school district did not notify DCF of the child’s withdrawal, nor did the district follow up with the family at any point thereafter prior to Matthew’s death. OCA determined that were no district policies or state law that expressly required district follow-up. In December, 2017 the Juvenile Court granted DCF’s request to close a child protection proceeding filed on Matthew and his sister’s behalf. DCF, the Court, and the children’s appointed attorney did not have the information that Matthew’s sister had been withdrawn from school. After Matthew’s death, DCF’s investigation found no evidence that his sister was in fact being homeschooled, and Ms. Tirado could provide no explanation for why she withdrew her younger child from school.
The memo included an OCA so-called “study” of students from six school districts, one of which was Hartford, who were withdrawn from school to be homeschooled and whose families had a prior referral to DCF for suspected child abuse or negligence. Eagan said her office found that over a three-year period, 380 students were withdrawn to be homeschooled, and that 138 of these (36 percent) lived in families who were the subject of at least one prior accepted report to DCF for suspected abuse or neglect.
Eager to report these findings, the Hartford Courant immediately published an article with the headline, “Hundreds Of Connecticut Children Home Schooled In Households Where Abuse, Neglect Suspected.” Eagan’s conclusion drawn from her “study” was that “the lack of regulation in Connecticut for homeschooling leaves an unclear framework for parents, districts, and, where there are concerns of abuse or neglect, for DCF to follow.”
“OCA strongly recommends that Connecticut stakeholders consider the unintended consequences of having no clear regulation for homeschooling and the impact on the safety net for children,” Eagan recommended.
During a recent radio interview, she said the state should treat all homeschooling families as potential abusers because there are “parents who are using homeschooling as a pretext or a guise to withdraw their child from school, not to educate them, but to hide them from public view.” Eagan’s office has now subpoenaed the records of Connecticut homeschoolers in an effort to bolster her case for regulation.
The Tirados Were Not Homeschoolers
The big elephant in the room, of course, is that homeschooling has nothing whatsoever to do with the tragic case of Matthew Tirado. As in California, leftwing bureaucrats and politicians are using a horrific abuse case in an attempt to clamp down on independent homeschooling families.
Matthew Tirado was never homeschooled. He had been enrolled in schools in Hartford from elementary through high school, but was truant because his mother failed to send him to school. Mrs. Tirado already had countless referrals to DCF by the time she filed a notice of intent to homeschool her daughter, but none of the state agencies responsible to oversee the family took action.
Peter Kamakawiwoole, an attorney with Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), spoke at the hearing in which Eagan discussed her recommendations amid a room full of homeschooling families. Kamakawiwoole observed that results of a national child abuse commission report covering various states found the primary risk factor for child abuse and neglect was found to be prior contact with child protective services—a risk factor clearly present in the Tirado case.
Additional risk factors from the study, Kamakawiwoole noted, included the age of the child (75 percent of children who were fatal victims of abuse were under three years of age, which is not school age), drug abuse in the home, the presence of a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend in the home, and a past history of domestic violence.
“Nowhere in the 160-page [OCA] report is there any mention of educational setting and no mention of homeschooling as well,” he noted. Regarding regulation of homeschooling as a means to curb child abuse, Kamakawiwoole added, “There is no data to suggest that child abuse and neglect fatalities are lower in states with high regulation, and higher in states with low or no regulations.”
People Who Homeschool Are Lower Risks for Abuse
The vast majority of homeschooling parents have chosen to educate their children at home because they view public schools as failing in one or more ways, i.e., they are concerned for their children’s psychological and character development, physical safety, and overall well-being. They are also parents who want to nurture the bond between themselves and their children.
The investment in the relationship between parents and children and the individualized learning experiences for the more than two million homeschooled children in the United States pays off. Most homeschooled students outperform their peers in public schools and are better prepared for college.
Targeting homeschooling families in the wake of child abuse cases in which there is so much evidence that school districts and state agencies failed to perform their duties to protect children seems beyond comprehension. This is even more so when we consider that these same schools and agencies will be asked to oversee many already successful homeschoolers.
The motivation of organizations demanding homeschooled students meet the same rules as public school students certainly deserves scrutiny when we observe the most recent data from international assessments showing U.S. public school students failing to progress and, worse yet, falling behind their peers in other countries.
“The good news from the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PIRLS] is that basic literacy is at an all-time high worldwide and a majority of countries have seen rising reading achievement in the last decade,” reported Education Week in December 2017. “The bad news is that students in the United States are bucking the trend.”
Similarly, Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said of the performance of students in the United States, “We seem to be declining as other systems improve. This is a trend we’ve seen on other assessments that the United States participates in. There is a lot to be concerned about.”
Public School Is a Bigger Risk Factor than Homeschooling
When it comes to actual child abuse, can we ignore the almost daily litany of abuse incidents public school students endure in classrooms run by state-licensed teachers?
“In 2014 alone there were 781 reported sex crimes by teachers and other employees, wrote Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute in his book, The Corrupt Classroom. “That is an average of 15 students per week who were sexually victimized by school personnel.”
The Tirado case in Connecticut is a gross example of the failure of bloated state government tripping over itself as one agency passed the buck to another. Following Matthew’s death, some lawmakers decided it was time for the state legislature to increase DCF oversight. A bill to create a council that would oversee the child protection agency was passed. The Hartford Courant explained the reason for the legislation:
A federal audit released in March said DCF struggled to accurately assess risky households and was inconsistent when it comes to effectively interviewing child victims or vetting the fitness of relatives to serve as foster parents.
The agency’s conduct has also been called into question related to a number of high-profile deaths, like that of Matthew Tirado, a 17-year-old boy with autism who died weeks after DCF closed a case involving his mother, who has been charged in his death.
Last Wednesday, however, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill to provide legislative oversight of DCF. This bill “represents a significant intrusion by the legislative branch into the functioning and administrative authority of an executive branch agency in violation of the separation of powers doctrine,” Malloy said in defense of his veto.