Hawaii bill would tighten state oversight on home schooling

HONOLULU — Some state lawmakers are calling for more oversight of families who home-school their children.

The push comes in the wake of the child abuse death of 9-year-old Shaelynn Lehano.

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Democratic state Sen. Kai Kahele of Hilo introduced a bill that would require Child Welfare Services to conduct a child abuse and neglect inquiry into children whose parents or legal guardian want to home school.

Kahele said Shaelynn’s death, as well as other cases such as that of Peter “Peter Boy” Kema Jr., prove that more needs to be done to ensure home-schooled children are safe.

Home schooling advocate Lora Burbage of Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii said Kahele’s proposal unfairly singles out home schooling families without including all parents of school-age children.

“If you begin to allow the government to begin policing — and they’re not looking at the net of the biggest group of child abusers — then we’re being targeted, we’re being discriminated against,” Burbage said.

Statistics show about 7,000 children in the state are educated at home.

Kahele said background checks would begin with parents who notify the Department of Education about their intent to home-school then eventually include all home schooling families.

“CWS does a quick background check. If you’re not in the system — no problem,” Kahele said.

He said parents whose intent to home school is denied could appeal the decision.

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“What I’m hoping is that we can look at the bigger picture and say, ‘Hey, we’re not saying you can’t home school your child.’

“We’re saying that what happened to Shaelynn Lehano or Peter Boy Kema or other children across America or here in Hawaii won’t happen to another child again,” Kahele said.