A proposal to lobby state legislators for more local oversight of home-school families with a history of abuse fell flat for the second year in a row.
Manatee County School Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy proposed adding the layer of reporting for home-schooled families statewide with a history of abuse to the board’s legislative agenda. The new law would require twice-annual evaluations for families who have been investigated for child abuse, rather than the once-annual evaluation required already by state law.
After debating the merits of such a law during the board’s workshop, Kennedy’s proposal was left out of the legislative agenda approved by the board during the work session later Tuesday evening.
The legislative agenda ultimately included the agenda spelled out by the Florida School Board Association, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and a request to fund state technical schools at a baseline of 100 percent.
Kennedy attempted a similar revision to the home-school law last year but was met with strong opposition from home-school advocates.
Kennedy’s suggested revision was inspired by Janiya Thomas, an 11-year-old home-schooled Manatee girl whose body was found in a family freezer in October 2015.
“The facts of the case show that Janiya’s mother used Florida home-school laws to keep the child out of public view,” Kennedy wrote in his proposal.
Although Kennedy said he came this year with the support of local home-school advocates, he was met with strong opposition from District Superintendent Diana Greene, who said Kennedy’s proposal would require untrained school staff to take on major liability for the district.
It's not the number. It's the magnitude of the responsibility.
- Manatee School District Superintendent Diana Greene
“ My concern is that if a child is in that situation, that is not the job of the school district,” Greene said. “We cannot put that kind of pressure on someone who will go into that home. What if there is abuse and they don’t recognize it? That’s not our job.”
Greene said district administrators mostly serve a clerical function when overseeing home-school families and that staff do not do home visits.
Kennedy stressed that the law would only impact a small portion of families, those who have been the subject of an open investigation by the Florida Department of Child and Families and/or local law enforcement.
“It’s not the number,” Greene said. “It’s the magnitude of the responsibility.”
Greene also said other districts, especially larger ones with more families impacted by the language, were unlikely to support the proposal.
After the meeting, Kennedy said he was not done trying to get Janiya’s Law passed, and he would consider the best tactic to take now.