After a recent case in Detroit where a woman claimed she was homeschooling her children, and instead murdered them and put them in her freezer, lawmakers have proposed a law that they say would prevent tragedies like this in the future. State Representative Stephanie Change says that “We all failed Stoni and Stephen because Michigan does not maintain a list of homeschooled children and so we have no way to identify and then protect any child who could be at risk for abuse.”
Was the problem in this case really that no one knew anything was wrong with these children though? They were not seen by anyone who knew them- neighbors, friends, even family, for two years, in the case of the child murdered first, and yet no one reported anything being wrong. Most grandparents would be concerned if they had not seen their grandchild in 2 years, but now their grandfather says that a tougher homeschooling law would have saved them? Why does the government need to pay more people to check on all homeschooled children, most of whom are just fine, when their own grandparents could not take the time to see them for such a long period of time?
While there are many roles that it is appropriate for the government to fill, it should not have to be responsible to making sure each child is alive, unless there is cause to believe something is wrong. In this case, both the family’s neighbor, and an aunt have made statements that they thought something was wrong, but neither followed through and either insisted on seeing the children, or contacted CPS. The children had not had contact with their father for some time. He says that it is because their mother did not want him to, and he did not want to “rock the boat.”
There is no indication that Michelle Blair ever had any intention of homeschooling her children, but lawmakers have focused on regulating homeschooling as a way of preventing future tragedies. While having someone come to their home twice a year might have led to the discovery of their bodies sooner, it would not have prevented their murders.
The law also would not protect children that are younger than school age. Should a law also be proposed to check on each child in the state twice a year? How would the state pay for someone to take the time to check on children?
As a society, we have to try to find a balance between having the government involved in every detail of our lives, taking over roles that would best be filled by our own family and community, and having policies that do not allow involvement even when there is cause for concern. Stoni, the girl who was murdered, had a teacher who was concerned when she stopped coming to class. He tried to find out more, but was told that not coming to class was not considered neglect. How can we follow up where there seems to be a reason to be concerned, without exhausting resources investigating every time a student misses school for what may be a legitimate reason?
This case has raised many complex issues. Preventing the murder of children, or anyone, really, is not an easy problem to fix. There is no magic solution that will make this go away. The solutions are long-term, and complex. Stronger mental health systems, reducing poverty, strengthening families and communities so that when a child is unaccounted for, someone will take action- these are the issues that we need to focus on, not blaming homeschoolers in an attempt to feel better about these young lives ending far too soon.
Written by Kaitlyn Sexton