Homeschoolers speak out following death of Janiya Thomas

Posted at 11:00 PM, Dec 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-09 23:00:00-05

The recent death of a Manatee County girl is resulting in renewed questions about homeschooling.

"Ultimately, we are responsible for our children," said Tracy Leclair, a homeschooling mom.

That's a big reason why Myakka City Resident Tracy Leclair and her husband decided to start homeschooling their children 9 years ago. They have 7 kids between the ages of 2 and 15 with an eighth child on the way. Even though it's hard work, the Leclairs see this approach as very beneficial.

"In addition to the core classes that they would get elsewhere we're able to pursue special interests that they have and teach them at their own pace," said Leclair.

"I like it because I get to spend time with my family," said one of the Leclairs children.

More and more families in the state of Florida and nationwide are like the Leclair family, where there is a lot of studying and learning going on right from the home.

Hundreds of families in Manatee and Sarasota counties homeschool their children. Recently, however, there's been renewed attention on homemschooling when the body of 11-year Janiya Thomas was found in the freezer of a Bradenton home. She was being homeschooled by her mother who is now charged in connection with her death.

Homeschooling has been a hot topic of conversation among members of the Manatee County School Board. One of the board members, Dave "Watchdog" Miner, feels it's an issue state lawmakers will continue to look at in the coming months.

"Every board member, though I don't speak for them is very concerned about trying to do whatever is possible to avoid this from occurring again," said Miner, "at the same time respecting the rights and responsibilities of the at-home parents."

Debbie Dykes, who runs the SHARE homeschooling group locally, says she is not happy with the way homeschooling was being portrayed following this horrible tragedy.

"That really had nothing to do with homeschooling," said Dykes, "it had to do with DCF not following through a case that was already open."

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is one group who is pushing hard for some changes as to who is allowed to homeschool their children.

"People who are convicted of child abuse or sex offenses or who have had children removed from the home due to abuse and neglect not be allowed to homeschool," said Kathryn Brightbill, who is with the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.

Right now, homeschoolers are required to provide an annual assessment to local school officials to make sure their child is progressing academically, also they must keep records of all instructional materials. Many people including homeschoolers feel the homeschooling laws that are in place in Florida are just fine.

"The state of Florida, the legislature has developed a very comprehensive process in which to monitor and make sure homeschool children are adequately educated," said TJ Schmidt, a staff attorney with Homeschool Legal Defense Association, "and there are many tools at the disposal of local school officials to verify that"

Krystal and Richard Ramos of Parrish are parents who have been homeshcooling their two children ages 10 and 14 all their lives.

"We were looking at the crime rates of the school, we were also looking at the bullying, we were also looking at the lack of certain subjects," said Richard Ramos, a homeschooling dad.

And the kids love all the activities. They get to participate in with other homeschoolers as well as the homeschooling schedule.

"I don't have to wake up early everyday and I get a lot more done, like at night," said Celaina Ramos, a 14-year-old who is being homeschooled.

"It's better than being at the regular school because of all the things going on and it's good to stay home," said Benjamin Ramos, a 10-year-old who is being homeschooled.

As for their thoughts on people attempting to make changes to the current homeschooling laws.

Krystal Ramos/Homeschooling Mom "I think they should leave us alone," said Krystal Ramos, a homeschooling mom, "a lot of us homeschool for various different reasons, some of us do it because of our beliefs, some of us do it because that's just what we want to do, we love our kids."