LANSING – State Representative Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) announced new legislation at a press conference today that would create a list of homeschooled children in an effort to avoid the kind of tragedy that saw the murder of Detroit schoolchildren and siblings Stoni Blair and Stephen Gage Berry. The press conference was held together with Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield (District 5) and family members of the children.
“We all failed Stoni and Stephen because Michigan does not maintain a list of homeschooled children, and so we have no way to identify and then protect any child who could be at risk for abuse,” said Chang. “Most homeschool parents have their child’s best interest in mind, and many do a fine job homeschooling, but with Stephen and Stoni, that wasn’t the case. Michigan can and must do better to ensure that every child is accounted for and not leave anyone behind. My bill could help prevent future tragedies like that of the Blair family.”
The bill would require that a parent wanting to homeschool their child or children provide their names and ages, and the name and address of the parent, guardian or other person in a parental relation to the child or children to the superintendent of the school district in which they reside. In addition, the bill requires that at least twice a year, the homeschooled children are seen by a person from the following list: a physician, licensed social workers, physician’s assistant, friend of the court official, school counselor or teacher, audiologist, psychologist, law enforcement officer, marriage and family therapist, member of the clergy or regulated child care provider.
“As details continue to emerge, one thing is abundantly clear: our system of protecting children and identifying and helping those in need whether it’s emotionally, mentally, financially or socially must be called into question,” said Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield (District 5). “Whether this is a case of neglect, homicide or a result of mental illness, society must be in position to recognize a child is in danger and swift decisive action must be taken.”
According to research done by Michigan’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau, Michigan is one of 11 states with no state requirements for parents homeschooling their children to initiate any contact or notice with the state. Parental notification only to the state is required by 15 states. The District of Columbia and 18 states require parents to send notification as well as test scores and professional evaluations of student progress to the state.
“After the tragedy that happened to Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry we have to put safeguards in place to make sure this never happens again,” said state Senator Coleman Young II (D-Detroit). “This bill is the only way to do that.”
“No child will be left behind because this bill will change the lives of many children by creating accountability for those that homeschool,” said Rhonda Blair, grandmother to the children. “This accountability will help prevent domestic tragedies.”
“We aren’t interfering with or questioning a parent’s decision to homeschool,” said Chang. “We are just trying to reach and protect those children among them who may be vulnerable and at-risk of serious harm.”