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Home-school advocates wrong in undermining ‘Teddy’s Law’

Published: Sun, December 22, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

State Sen. Capri S. Cafaro walked into a buzz saw last week when she proposed what she obviously thought was a common sense bill designed to offer children the greatest level of protection against abuse during their school years.

Cafaro, D-Hubbard, called Senate Bill 248 “Teddy’s Law” as a tribute to and reminder of Teddy Foltz, the 14-year-old Struthers boy who died in January after enduring months of abuse at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, Zaryl Bush.

Teddy’s death raised significant questions about how the level of abuse the boy was receiving continued, especially after it was learned that teachers in Hubbard and Struthers schools had reported suspected abuse. His mother, Shain Widdersheim, pulled him from Struthers schools when questions of abuse were raised, saying she was going to home school him.

Cafaro made the tactical error of trying to close that loophole in her legislation and opened a firestorm of opposition from home-school advocates. Under that pressure, an apparently chastened Cafaro announced Thursday that she was withdrawing the bill. Her new bill, she said, would be more comprehensive, but would in no way address the question of home schooling.

Unfortunate reaction

The kneejerk reaction to Cafaro’s bill was unfortunate. While there is no question that the vast majority of home-school parents are conscientious in providing their children the education that they believe is best for them, Teddy Foltz’s mother used home schooling as a ruse that ultimately resulted in the death of a child.

As a practical matter, however, Cafaro did what was necessary because the present leadership in the General Assembly would not have given consideration to any bill that attracted the ire of home school forces or the opposition of e-school companies.

Whatever course Cafaro follows in pursuing a new Teddy’s Law, it remains that a boy suffered and died, even as some adults around him suspected the worst. In February, we suggested the case called for an unusual response, a full and open coroner’s inquest that would have allowed the subpoenaing of school and social service workers, leading to reconstruction of events leading up to his death.

Such an inquiry may have answered the question of how the social network failed Teddy. Cafaro is now calling for field hearings before crafting a bill to protect vulnerable children. The hearing in Mahoning County should focus on a textbook example of failure, the death of Teddy Foltz.

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