DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Teddy’s Law, a 2013 bill sponsored by former Ohio Senator Capri Cafaro, was the name given to Ohio SB 248. It was supposed to reform homeschool law and allow agencies and schools to have greater access to systems that would allow them to identify at-risk children. But it didn’t pass, and neither did multiple other attempts at reform. The bill became a reminder of how many barriers are in place to keep children safe.
It would have reformed Ohio’s homeschool laws by requiring annual interviews with Job and Family Services for parents and children, checks through the JFS database to see if parents or any other adults in the home had pending investigations, and would have allowed school districts and JFS to delay or pull a child from homeschooling.
The bill took its name from Teddy Foltz, a homeschooled 14-year-old from the Youngstown area. He was killed by his mother’s boyfriend in 2013 after he was beaten severely in their home. Foltz was taken out of the local school district and homeschooled after teachers began alerting authorities to his abuse.
Cafaro told WDTN.com on Tuesday the bill was pulled shortly after she introduced it to the Ohio Senate. She said it was among many attempts she made to add oversight to children at risk in the state and help close loopholes in the homeschool system.
Similar reforms have been called for by teachers at Horace Mann Elementary School after the death of Takoda Collins. The 10-year-old was taken out of Dayton Public Schools by his father Al-Mutahan McLean after teachers and staff filed 17 reports with authorities over abuse concerns. McLean is charged with seven counts related to his abuse.
“One of the few regrets I have”
After Foltz’s death, his grandparents and father asked Cafaro to draft a bill in the state Senate to add oversight to the homeschool process and to children’s services. This became Teddy’s Law, a sweeping change in adding checks to the homeschool, JFS and how schools dealt with parents pulling kids from schools.
The bill faced immediate backlash. Cafaro said some of her staff and Foltz’s parents received death threats. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education wrote the bill put too much on already stressed and understaffed children services agencies.
“There was a national outcry,” Cafaro said. “There was a lot of telephonic harassment from people across the country, against the family who lost the child and against the staff. We knew it wouldn’t pass and we wanted to do something to alleviate the circumstances for the family. We used an arcane Senate rule to pull the bill in consultation with the family.”
Cafaro, who was in the Senate from 2007 to 2016, said she spent the rest of her term working on passing some kind of reform to protect children like Foltz. In Foltz’s case, one issue that let him slip through the system’s cracks was when his family moved from Trumbull County to Mahoning County. Cafaro proposed building a state database between jobs and family services agencies in every county. The system would allow agencies, school districts and other authorities to see if there was an investigation involving any adults in the home of a child or involving the child itself.
She said by the time she proposed her third bill, she decided to focus on oversight, and working to get tools to children’s services and school districts to protect kids.
“We wanted to at least try to share a database across county lines as well as to school districts,” Cafaro said. “At least then, if there were issues that were identified, they could be shared and followed up on regardless of jurisdiction.
“If a kid was being homeschooled and was moved to a different county at least you knew where they were.”
Cafaro said ideally the system would have alerted Children Services when children with records on file entered a new school system or county. But after years of working to work with the agency to implement a new system, she was told it wouldn’t work.
“The functionality of getting this to operate with an external entity like schools made it unworkable,” Carfado said. “We thought they could figure it out, but by the end we were told no. I was running out of time because I was term-limited.”
Carfado said not getting some reform passed was one of her few regrets working in the Ohio Senate. She said she was willing to help any Dayton-area legislator wanting to help reform the current laws and system.
“I would definitely be willing to talk to the state senator in the area,” Cafaro said. “Anything I could do to help. I’m sorry about this terrible circumstance for the community and for his family.”
As of Monday, no legislation was pending at the state level to address current homeschool laws or oversight in child abuse cases. Last month, Senator Sherrod Brown and Missouri Senator Roy Blount co-sponsored legislation that would create a federal database to track the deaths of abused children in every state. The law is called the Child Abuse Death Disclosures Act.