In January 2008, workers enforcing an eviction notice on the residence of Banita Jacks found her long-dead daughters in the home. After the discovery, reporters pieced together the back story of the five tragedies of Banita, Brittany, Tatianna, N’Kiah and Aja.
Ms. Jacks’s growing disconnection with sanity seems to have started after the death, in early 2007, of the father of two of her daughters. Ms. Jacks withdrew her daughters from their various schools, and that dismayed a social worker. The social worker tried to get the attention of the social services offices, but she was ignored.
The extended family of Banita Jacks did not visit Ms. Jacks or her daughters. Neighbors tried to help by bringing food to the family. Police officers broke up family fights. How and when the murders happened is anyone’s guess, but apparently the children lay dead and rotting for months.
The tragedy of Banita Jacks and her daughters is not ‘about’ homeschooling. The tragedy is that Ms. Jacks apparently was mentally unstable — if living for months with rotting corpses of one’s children is an indication that a person is mentally ill — but she, and her daughters before their deaths, received no help.
The proposed remedy of instituting rules that put government oversight into families to prevent apparently deranged mothers from murdering their children misses the point. Stronger homeschooling rules will not stop murders by crazed people. The best that can be expected in cases of tragedy is that bodies are discovered sooner. The writers of the proposed rules express distrust of homeschooling even while the city’s own educational house is in disorder. Insult is added to injury because the system brushed off a social worker who tried summoning help.
A small improvement is that someone has noticed.
- Department of Mental Health Seeks Director of New Mobile Crisis Services to Provide Emergency Psychiatric Care, 27 February 2008, D.C. Department of Mental Health
Based on the actions of the District of Columbia city council members as shown by the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (below), it appears that the members attribute the Jacks tragedy to homeschooling. Because of the failure of social services to protect the four girls, the city council of Washington, D.C. plans to insert the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) into every District family with school-age children. This precedent within the District would not be confined to ‘homeschoolers’ but would include all families because any parent still has the freedom to choose homeschooling. Control of ‘homeschoolers’ cannot be separated from control of all families because, at any time, a family may choose to homeschool.
It is hard to read the proposed changes in rules for homeschooling without irony seeping in: “Parents or legal guardians must submit evidence in a form acceptable to the OSSE that the children participating in a home schooling program have been immunized and have received health and medical services …” It is hard to receive the services if the system will not even listen to social workers.
The system failed Banita, Brittany, Tatianna, N’Kiah and Aja and now the District city council wants to punish parents for that failure by giving oversight of the families to another possibly understaffed agency that won’t have time for everyone.
District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Draft) at site, click through to document
- The purpose of this chapter is to establish procedural rules to assist school authorities in fulfilling their responsibility … in determining that a child participating in a home schooling program is receiving regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.
- The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) shall establish a Home Schooling Office within the District of Columbia …
- A parent or legal guardian who chooses to teach his or her child at home shall initially provide written notification on an official form and in the manner prescribed by the OSSE which:
(a) Indicates consent to the requirements set forth in this regulation; …
- A parent or legal guardian shall verify the continuation of home schooling for his or her child by filing with the OSSE a completed annual verification form …
- A parent or legal guardian shall verify the discontinuation of home schooling for his or her child by notifying the OSSE in writing
- The home schooling program shall:
(a) Provide regular, thorough instruction for a period equivalent to the District’s statutory minimum amount of hours of education, at least 180 days, in the subjects commonly taught in the District of Columbia public schools to children of the same age;
(b) Include instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education; and
(c) Take place on a regular basis during no less than the statutory minimum amount of instruction and be of sufficient duration to implement the home schooling program.
- A parent or legal guardian who chooses to teach a child at home shall maintain a portfolio of materials which:
(a) Documents hours of instruction and attendance on a daily basis …
(b) Includes relevant materials, including, but not limited to, instructional materials, reading materials, and examples of the child’s writings, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, tests or assessments or any other documentation requested by OSSE; and
(c) Is made available for review by the OSSE Home Schooling Office at such times as are mutually agreeable to the OSSE and the Parent or legal guardian.
- A parent or legal guardian shall agree to permit a representative of DCPS to review the portfolio of educational materials, discuss the home schooling program, and observe instruction provided that all of the following requirements are met …
(b) The purpose of the review is to ensure that the child is receiving regular, thorough home schooling instruction as set forth in this regulation;
(c) There are not more than three reviews during a school year.
- Parents or legal guardians who wish to be their children’s instructors must have a high school diploma or its equivalent.
- Parents or legal guardians must submit evidence in a form acceptable to the OSSE that the children participating in a home schooling program have been immunized and have received health and medical services required for children of that age as well as any other relevant information of any other kind prescribed by the OSSE in its discretion.
- A parent or legal guardian shall also file with the OSSE an annual assessment in accordance with this regulation.
- If the OSSE determines, upon review of the home instruction program or inspection of the portfolio and any other information gathered about the program, that a student is not receiving regular instruction that meets the standards of this chapter and as established by the OSSE, the OSSE shall notify the parent in writing of any deficiencies …
- The parent or legal guardian shall have thirty (30) days from issuance of any letter of deficiency to correct all of the deficiencies enumerated in the letter to the satisfaction of the OSSE.
- If the OSSE … determines that the parent or guardian has not provided a satisfactory plan to correct the deficiencies or otherwise corrected them, the OSSE shall issue a non-compliance letter … and the parent or guardian shall enroll the home schooled child in a public school within 14 calendar days. The parent or guardian shall provide written evidence to the OSSE within 14 calendar days that the child has been enrolled in a public school or a fully-licensed and accredited private school.
- If the OSSE has reasonable grounds at any time to believe that the program of home schooling is in substantial noncompliance with these regulations, the OSSE may require one or more home visits. …
- If a parent or guardian does not agree to or meet the requirements of any section of this Chapter, a child shall be enrolled promptly in a public school consistent with the mandate in D.C. Official Code …
Re-read the proposed rules after reading the following articles about the District’s public school system. Keep in mind the words and phrases: ensure, thorough instruction, correct all deficiencies, observe instruction, require home visits, shall enroll … in a public school, meets the standards, review the homeschool program, three reviews during a school year, …
- Bleak College Graduation Rate Is Found Officials, Concerned by Figure, Look at Retention Programs, 19 October 2006, Washington Post, “… It blames the problem largely on the school system for failing to prepare students …”
- Fixing D.C.’s Schools, 9 June 2007, Washington Post, “For decades, the District’s public schools have resisted scores of reform plans and multiple changes in leadership to remain among the most troubled in the nation.”
- Can D.C. Schools Be Fixed? After decades of reforms, three out of four students fall below math standards., 10 June 2007, Washington Post, “The system is among the highest-spending and worst-performing in the nation.”
- New Math May Lower Graduation Numbers States to Calculate Rates by Attrition, 5 July 2007, Washington Post, “Education leaders long defended the method, but increasingly they are agreeing with researchers that it yields inflated graduation rates.”
- A Reading Program’s Powerful Patron, 20 December 2007, Washington Post, “For many years, educators have said that the patchwork of instructional material is one reason the city’s students hover near the bottom of rankings in national test scores.”
- The Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate for Public High Schools From the Common Core of Data: School Years 2002-03 and 2003-04 E.D.
Averaged freshman graduation rate
State or jurisdiction 2002-03 2003-04
District of Columbia 59.6 68.2
The 2002 – 03 graduation rate for Washington, D.C. schools was the lowest in the country. The 2003 – 04 rate was raised, but Washington, D.C. was still in the lowest 1/3 of states, and this is the system that the District city council proposes should oversee families.
- Nebraska 87.6
- New Jersey 86.3
- North Dakota 86.1
- Iowa 85.8
- Vermont 85.4
- Minnesota 84.7
- South Dakota 83.7
- Utah 83.0
- Pennsylvania 82.2
- Idaho 81.5
- Ohio 81.3
- Connecticut 80.7
- Missouri 80.4 Montana 80.4
- Illinois 80.3
- Maryland 79.5
- Massachusetts 79.3 Virginia 79.3
- Colorado 78.7 New Hampshire 78.7
- Kansas 77.9
- Maine 77.6
- Oklahoma 77.0
- West Virginia 76.9
- Arkansas 76.8
- Texas 76.7
- Wyoming 76.0
- Rhode Island 75.9
- Washington 74.6
- California 73.9
- Indiana 73.5
- Oregon 74.2
- Kentucky 73.0
- Delaware 72.9
- Hawaii 72.6
- Michigan 72.5
- North Carolina 71.4
- Louisiana 69.4
- District of Columbia 68.2
- Alaska 67.2
- New Mexico 67.0
- Arizona 66.8
- Florida 66.4
- Tennessee 66.1
- Alabama 65.0
- Mississippi 62.7
- Georgia 61.2
- South Carolina 60.6
- Nevada 57.4
Recent articles on Jacks family tragedy:
- Oldest Girl Was Target of Mother’s Wrath, Detective Testifies, 12 February 2008, Washington Post
- Two Conflicting Pictures of D.C.’s Child Welfare Agency, 27 February 2008, dcist blog
- D.C. could Have Done More To Help 4 Sisters, Families Say, 28 February 2008, Washington Post
- 3 Fired Child Welfare Workers Ordered Back To Jobs, 27 February 2008, NBC4.com
- D.C. Won’t Reinstate Welfare Workers, 29 February 2008, Associated Press
- Girls’ Bodies Too Decomposed To Determine Cause Of Death, 20 February 2008, NBC4.com
- Bodies’ Decay Obscures Cause of Death, 24 February 2008, Washington Post
- 4 girls’ deaths to stay puzzle, 21 February 2008, Washington Times
- False Choices, 28 February 2008, Washington Post
posted by Valerie