A horrifying case of alleged child abuse in a large homeschooling family in California has sparked calls for more regulation of homeschools, as well as worries such rules could mean more false reports and disruption for innocent families.
"The California Catholic Conference has not dealt with the issue of homeschooling other than to support the parental right to do so," Steve Pehanich, communications and advocacy director at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA. "That would be the controlling principle we'd point to in such a case but, as this case tragically illustrates, even parental rights have some limits."
Pehanich referred to the case of David Allen Turpin and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, who are accused of starving their 13 children, ages 2 to 29, and holding them captive in Perris, Calif. They rarely allowed their children outside and are accused of shackling them, feeding them one meal a day, and allowing them to shower only once a year.
A teenage daughter escaped the home Jan. 21 and told police that her siblings were being held captive by their parents.
Both parents have pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of torture, abuse on a dependent adult, false imprisonment and child abuse, NBC News reports. David Turpin has pled not guilty to another charge of committing a lewd act on a child.
The abuse allegedly started during the family's 17-year residence in Texas, then intensified after their 2010 move to California.
David filed a 2010 affidavit to establish a private school run out of his home, naming himself as principal of a "Sandcastle Day School," and updated the paperwork annually. According to the Los Angeles Times, this affidavit is the state of California's sole legal requirement for homeschooling families.
Pehanich said the California Catholic Conference's education committee "will be taking a look at the homeschooling issue in more depth" in light of the Turpin case.
California Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, has said he is working on legislation in the wake of the reports about the Turpin family.
"I am extremely concerned about the lack of oversight the State of California currently has in monitoring private and home schools," he said.
The progressive-leaning Coalition for Responsible Home Education is backing a requirement that homeschooled students be forced into contact with mandatory child abuse reporters. The group recommends requiring homeschooled students to have annual doctors' visits and annual assessments by a certified teacher. The group says "responsible home-schooling parents" already do those things.
"Our goal is not to make it harder for those parents to home-school, our goal is to make it harder for parents like the Turpins to home-school," said the group's executive director Rachel Coleman.
Debbie Schwarzer, an attorney with The HomeSchool Association of California, opposes required visits by mandated reporters, telling NBC News it could single out homeschooling parents for "intrusive inspection."
"This case has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with parents who are hell-bound [sic] on criminal activity and hiding their children from the world," Schwarzer said of the Turpin case.
Stephen M. Krason,  Franciscan University of Steubenville professor of political science, reflected on homeschooling and claims of child abuse.
"Most homeschooling families are highly responsible and very concerned about their children. They are not torturing their children," Krason told CNA. He said there is instead "a crisis of false reporting of child abuse and neglect."
"There's this view out there that somehow there's this massive situation of child abuse and neglect that doesn't seem to be borne out by the facts," he added.
Krason referred to his article "The Mondale Act and Its Aftermath" in the 2013 anthology "Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System: A Critical Analysis from Law, Ethics, and Catholic Social Teaching."
In 2009, only 14.4 percent of 3.3 million reports of abuse and neglect were substantiated, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.
"What you have though is a situation where the child protective services across the country are just intruding into families left and right, which causes severe damage to families by itself," Krason told CNA. "People make reports for all kinds of reasons and for no kind of reasons and sometimes for very bad reasons."
In his view, regulations would "heighten the already massive number of false abuse and neglect complaints out there."
Pehanich said the California Catholic Conference has reflected on state regulation of parenting in "A Primer on Parental Rights in California." The primer cited an American tradition of "the fundamental right of parents to raise their children according to their own beliefs," upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Parental rights, however, though fundamental, are not absolute. They have limits, as also articulated by the courts," the primer continued. "The state has legitimately assumed authority over parents in protecting children from child abuse and neglect and in deciding custody issues."
Debates about regulations and the freedom of parents, the primer said, should ask the question  "Is there a demonstrated need that warrants this particular form of government intrusion on parental rights?"