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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Following children's deaths, legislation looks to more closely monitor home-schoolers

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Legislation set for introduction next week would require home-schoolers to report to their school districts and check in with child welfare experts twice a year. 

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, says she was inspired to draft the bill after the deaths of two Detroit children who had been pulled from public schools. The bodies of eight-year-old Stephen Berry and 13-year-old Stoni A. Blair were found in a deep freezer last month. The children were pulled from Detroit Public Schools two years ago, but there is currently no requirement for reporting or follow-up, so the children were not reported missing. 

The mother, Mitchelle Blair, is charged with murder, torture, and child abuse.

Detroit City Council member Mary Sheffield worked with Chang on the bill. Sheffield says it's the second such incident she knows of in her district, and she's heard from other lawmakers about cases of child abuse and death in home-schooling families.

Sheffield says she's also heard from a number of home-schooling parents, many of whom are concerned about the potential new regulation.

"This is not to vilify homeschooling and it’s not an attack on the homeschooling law. It’s about ensuring we have another layer of accountability to make sure we’re protecting our children," Sheffield says. 

Chang says the law places a minimum burden on parents. It requires only a few minutes once a year to report a child's homeschooling status to the district, and the welfare check can be carried out by a range of outside experts such as a clergy member, a police officer, a social worker, or a physician. 

"What we ended up with was very basic and reasonable and something I hope Michigan can do to prevent future tragedies," says Chang.

Michigan is one of the most permissive states when it comes to regulating home-schooling. It is one of only 11 states that do not require parents to report their decision to homeschool to any authorities.