Dayton Daily News Reporters Try to Pin Child's Death by Neglect on 'Lax' Oversight of Homeschooling

On March 1, 2011, 14 year-old Makayla Norman of Dayton died of neglect at the hands of adults (her mother and three others) who were responsible for her care and safety. Makayla weighed 28 pounds when she died, and was found "covered in bedsores, living in filth and starved to the point the she looked more like a skeleton than a teenager." On Friday, her mother pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and endangering children. The cases of the three other adults go to trial on April 16.

In January, an investigative report by Cox Newspapers Dayton-area staff writers Josh Sweigart and Doug Page identified several parties who could and should have prevented the neglect in the first place, or detected it while in progress: "the home care agency responsible for feeding her"; "an extensive bureaucracy where officials say fraud is a massive and growing problem"; her case manager (among those indicted), who "worked for CareStar of Ohio"; and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Bizarrely, two months later, while barely mentioning any of the aforementioned parties in their report, Mary McCarty and Margo Kissell at the Dayton Daily News, using questionable methods and verbiage (to be noted later), decided that one other element in Makayla's life should be nominated to receive part of the blame -- homeschooling:


Home school oversight lax

Oversight of parents who home school children is so limited the Ohio Department of Education doesn’t know for sure how many students are being home-schooled or how closely districts are monitoring compliance with state law.

A Dayton Daily News investigation following the death of 14-year-old Makayla Norman found few if any consequences for school districts that lose track of home school students.

Individual districts are responsible for keeping tabs on parents who teach children at home, but the state administrative code specifies no penalties for districts that don’t comply.

Dayton Public Schools lost track of Makayla, a cerebral palsy patient who weighed 28 pounds when she died on March 1, 2011, yet the state took no action against the school district.

In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said hearings should be held on what went wrong in the Makayla case and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“There needs to be some accountability for the school district for losing track of this child,” DeWine said.

“Do we need different laws? Do we need different enforcement?” DeWine asked.

Dayton Public spokeswoman Jill Moberley said “human error” was responsible for Makayla disappearing from the district’s radar.

... Moberley said the district kept paper records in 2004 that had to be re-entered into the system each year. Makayla’s record was not re-entered, so there was no contact with the family from that point on.

Obviously, the Dayton Public School system didn't do its job. But the two reporters took the case further and in a clearly agenda-driven direction, citing a case going back to 2006 where the required reporting was taking place and where abuse and neglect were found so they could cite traditional schools as "one layer of the safety net (which) is removed when children are home-schooled."

They went further, finding so-called experts who liken home-schooling to "the Wild West," bemoaning the fact that "Ten states — including Michigan and Indiana — have no requirement for parents to register their home-schooled students," and worrying about kids who are "off the grid."

Additionally, according to an April 10 post at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), one of the two DDN reporters kept her agenda hidden when she contacted the organization (bolds are mine):

Mike Donnelly, HSLDA staff attorney, says that when one of the Daily News reporters contacted him for general information about homeschool laws she revealed nothing about the death of a child.

“Margo Kissell called me and told me she was doing a ‘story about homeschooling.’ She never once mentioned that the story was in connection with a dead child from a ‘homeschooling family,’ ” Donnelly recalled. “She asked me questions, as reporters often do, about our view on regulations. I told her that HSLDA believes that in our federal republic it is up to states to decide these issues; but that all things being equal, low or no regulation of home educating families is just fine.”

Donnelly subsequently wrote the Dayton Daily News, taking it to task for portraying the Norman tragedy out of context. He stated:

“The tiny number of cases where homeschooling families are involved in allegations of serious abuse or neglect have shown that these families were usually already on the radar screen of social services. In these cases, the tragic results are usually related to a failure of social services or other agencies not following proper procedures. With over 2 million children, the national homeschooling population has demonstrated that it produces excellent results by providing children with a safe and nurturing environment and producing superior academic results.”

Opponents of homeschooling frequently couch their objections under the guise of child protection to mask the real reason they dislike this form of education: They don’t like what many homeschoolers teach their kids.

Kissell and McCarty also buried Attorney General DeWine's fundamental assertion about the case deep in their report, when it logically belonged with the fifth and sixth excerpted paragraphs above:

DeWine said Makayla’s death should provide a case study for the Ohio legislature. “There should be hearings about what went wrong with the Medicaid system and the school system,” he said. “The biggest breakdown was with the Medicaid system — there was a total collapse of that.”

But the fact the DeWine didn't mention homeschooling apparently got in the way of their agenda-driven hatchet job -- so they moved it.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.