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GUEST FISKING

Filed at 12:53 pm under by dcobranchi

Tim Haas has a first hand account of the town meeting in Collingswood, NJ held last night. His interpretation differs slightly from the New York Times reporter who covered the event.

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I attended Collingswood’s town forum last night to gauge the community’s sense of whether homeschooling had contributed to the Jackson tragedy. There were 200 people and various media there, including a live CNN feed. This is how the New York Times website reported it this morning:

Shocked residents packed into a community center Wednesday night to discuss the case of four starved, adopted boys, who had lived for years on a quiet block on the edge of town without their condition’s ever being noticed.

This is a news lede? I saw concerned and curious residents, but shocked?The first question during the public Q&A was about pooper scoopers. News photographers standing on my left started grumbling about a half an hour into the meeting that nothing was going on, and wondered aloud why they were wasting their time. [Full disclosure: The version of this story in the print edition I purchased this morning omitted the word shocked. I wonder why.]

What could they have done, people asked, to prevent the abuse? What institution should have noticed their suffering? What changes needed to be made?

The mayor addressed all of these rhetorical questions in his opening speech, and there were perhaps three questions about different aspects of the case during the rest of the 90-minute meeting, which consisted mostly of parking, traffic, and zoning complaints. [Full disclosure: The print version omitted these rhetorical questions. I wonder why.]

[…]

“We’re just simply distraught,” said James Maley, Collingswood’s mayor, standing in front of a full auditorium. “How could these kids have fallen through so many cracks?”

For the Jackson boys, there were fewer cracks to fall through.

Doesn’t the reporter mean fewer cracks to get caught in?

They were taught at home, and not in view of anyone in the school system.

This is false. One of their sisters was in school, in a special counseling group for children who have trouble socializing. According to the Courier-Post, “The Collingswood School District’s special services unit had the Jacksons’ name on a list of people who needed charity. Based on the appearance and eating habits of the Jackson’s 10-year-old foster daughter, the school sent large food baskets to the home on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.” [Full disclosure: The print version replaced taught at home with home-schooled. I wonder why.]

They did not belong to clubs or play sports. A neighbor, Peter DiMattia, said they rarely even left the house.

“The only time I ever saw them out all together was when they were going to church,” Mr. DiMattia said. “The kids — you’d think they would be out playing, but nope.”

Church, that is, nearly every Sunday. And other neighbors reported seeing them outside doing chores.

[…]

Some asked about the rules for home schooling.

Some? That would be one — one person put forward a question about the homeschooling regulations, which the mayor answered incorrectly (saying “The districts aren’t even allowed to contact families”). I was able to respond after the next, unrelated question from the floor, and informed the crowd that, in fact, if there is credible evidence of truancy or educational neglect, a district can contact a family to request information.

In New Jersey, virtually no oversight or review is required for families who teach children at home, after a threat of a lawsuit in the late 1990’s caused the state to loosen the rules, said James Bathurst, superintendent of schools in Collingswood.

There was no threat of a lawsuit, and the regulations most certainly weren’t loosened — they’ve been the same for 35 years. The state DoE put out a booklet in 1997 that badly misstated the law, and it took a coalition of homeschooling leaders three years (and countless individual homeschoolers around the state telling their districts to look at the law and not the booklet) to get the department to rescind it and issue a correct one. [Full disclosure: The print version omitted the entire second part of that sentence. I wonder why.]

“They weren’t in the system,” Mr. Bathurst said. “If a family that is home-schooling their children moves to Collingswood, we would not even know they were there.”

Leaving aside the fact that they did know the family existed, how have they gotten the impression that the welfare of every child in town is their responsibility? Every time someone gives birth in Collingswood, there’s another child they don’t even know is there! We should start registering infants with the district, just in case. [Full disclosure: The print version omitted this entire quote. I wonder why.]

Others defended the practice. Robin Brownfield, a mother of five who has taught her children at home for 11 years, said: “It’s an absolutely illogical leap to blame home schooling for what happened. I just want to make sure people don’t get a skewed view based on misinformation.”

Gee, obligatory equal-time quote. (This was said in an interview, by the way, not to the crowd — Robin and I met the reporter by the elevator on our way up to the meeting.) Thanks, NYT. Perhaps next time you’ll quote the homeschooler first and make the state defend itself. [Full disclosure: Yeah, right.]

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