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Statewide Child Welfare Check Sparks Outcry

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by Daniel Beasely, HSLDA

bAGRecently, the Tennessee Department of Education released a toolkit designed to ensure every child in the state receives a well-being check by an official.

The state guidelines provided direction and recommendations for local entities on how to check up on every child — from birth to 18 — to identify needs and make resources and services available. Immediately, parents and policymakers across the state objected to the overreaching guidelines. Special thanks to Claiborne Thornton of the Tennessee Home Education Association and many other concerned groups who helped get the word out to affected constituents. Our reporting data indicates that more than 1,600 concerned citizens contacted elected officials in response to our call to action.

The department removed the toolkit just two days after releasing it, acknowledging its flaws and promising to reassess how to best help children. But this kind of proposal may be a sign of things to come as government officials consider how they can identify children in need.

The guidelines were no doubt intended to help children who are struggling with the uncertainty and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But nearly 40 years of legal experience supporting and defending homeschooling families has taught us here at HSLDA that even government intervention that is designed to help may cause more harm than good.

The number one reason people homeschool is “concern about the environment of other schools,” and that was before the current global health crisis. So as school begins this fall, it is no surprise that homeschooling is on the rise.

This trend is concerning to some critics of homeschooling, like Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet, who would prefer to see homeschooling presumptively banned (despite is successes) — or at least heavily regulated by government officials to ensure children are well educated.

HSLDA recently published a series of responses to Professor Bartholet’s proposed homeschool ban. Her proposal shares the same flaw as the now-abandoned Tennessee child well-being guidelines: a presumption that government knows better than parents about how children ought to be raised and educated.

One of the most troubling details of the misguided Tennessee guidelines was the specific recommendation to bypass parents whenever possible and question children directly. A parent’s decision not to cooperate with a “well-being liaison” would be noted and tracked in a newly proposed roster of every child in the state.

The presumption that a government agent— potentially a 20-year-old volunteer with minimal training, according to the guidelines — would be able to identify a child’s needs better than the child’s parent flies in the face of American jurisprudence and significant scholarly research.

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© 2020 Home Schoo9l Legal Defense Association

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