The Case of Janiya Thomas

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The Home Education Foundation Newsletter

Home Educators' Voice At The Capitol - Florida
Providing information and insights to Florida Home Educators November 16, 2015


The Janiya Thomas Case

The Home Education Foundation believes that it is too early to take any legislative action until all the facts are in. At this point, the authorities have
  • Not determined how the child died.
  • Not determined when the child died.
  • Not determined who was involved in the death or murder of the child.

HEF believes that these issues must be determined before considering making any change to any laws. Maybe changes need to be made within the Department of Children and Families and not to the law. The DCF Secretary is looking at the protocols and procedures that led to the death of Janiya.

On October 22, before the Senate Committee Children, Families and Elder Affairs, Mike Carroll, the Secretary of the Department of Children and Families took full responsibility for the death of Janiya. He stated that her death was caused by a systemic failure. He made no reference to home education in his testimony. He did say that in almost all of the child death cases there are common risk factors which are drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and mental health. He said that DCF must have a better system for taking these factors into consideration when making a judgment call so that there is not as much discretion in handling the cases.

The Information taken from ABC Action News states:
http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-sarasota-manatee/documents-from-2007-and-2013-point-to-violent-history-fear-of-mother-in-home-of-janiya-thomas

“Two reports released on Thursday called "Initial Child in Home Safety Assessments" concluded the following in 2007 and 2013:
The parent, caregiver or household member(s) have a history of violence or display current violent behaviors (e.g. battery, domestic violence, intimidation), AND the child may be in danger or harm as a result.”

It is clear that even DCF knew the Thomas children were in imminent danger but did not remove her from the home. If DCF chose to leave the children in the home, they should have been conducting frequent home visits to ensure the safety of the children. Even children enrolled in public school have summer, holidays and week-ends off. Janiya could have died or been murdered during any one of those periods. It was DCF’s responsibility to ensure Janiya’s safety.

Presently, there is a breakdown in the exchange of information with the four agencies responsible for the safety of children within their system.  Had the information on the Thomas family’s history with DCF been readily available to each of the agencies, Janiya may have been removed from the home in 2013 prior to enrolling her in home education. Janiya was still alive when DCF went to the home in response to a Hotline call of abuse in June 2014. 

Changing the home education law will not prevent death of children.

This is not a matter of where Janiya received her education but rather whether or not she was left in an unsafe environment.

The Superintendent only has the statutory authority to enforce attendance. DCF, however, has the responsibility and authority to protect children by removing them from an unsafe environment. The only thing a Superintendent or school district employee can do is report suspected child abuse to the DCF Hotline. If DCF fails to respond to these calls, the Superintendent has no power to do anything else. In almost every case in which a child has died, the parents had a history with DCF.


What the Superintendent already can do.

  1. Superintendent has the authority to terminate a home education program.
    In Janiya’s case, the Superintendent should have terminated the home education program when the mother failed to turn in the annual evaluation for home education in August 2014 and required the mother to return the child to public school. The Superintendent already has the legal authority to terminate a home education program when the parents fail to comply with the statutory requirements.
     
  2. Superintendent is required to oversee the home education program of a student with a history of truancy.
    If the child has a history of truancy. The Superintendent has the authority and responsibility in law (s.1003.26 F.S.) to bring the parent before the school’s child study team. If the parent rejects all the other strategies offered by the child study team to resolve the truant behavior, the parent may choose to home educate the child. The parent would then be referred to the home education review committee, which is under the direction of a school district employee. The parent would then be required to bring in the portfolio once a month until the Committee determines that monthly review is no longer necessary because the parent is complying with the home education law. If the parent does not comply, the superintendent will terminate the home education program, require the child to be enrolled in public or private school within 3 days, and the parent cannot enroll the child in a home education program for 180 calendar days. 

    If the parent refuses to comply with enrolling the child into public or private school, the Superintendent can refer the case to the DCF case staffing committee or refer the matter to the State Attorney for criminal charges against the parent for nonattendance/non-enrollment of the child and failure to meet the compulsory attendance laws. The Superintendent has no power to prosecute or enforce any criminal laws. The district can only report the suspected abuse to the DCF Hotline. 
     
  3. Superintendent has the authority to review the portfolio of any home education student.Additionally, the home education program law allows the Superintendent to review the portfolio of any home education student with a 15 day written notice to the parent.  However, the school district does not receive funding to oversee a home education program and does not have the personnel to review every home education student’s portfolio. d abuse to the DCF Hotline.

Because of privacy laws, information regarding Janiya Thomas’ family history with DCF may not have been available to the Superintendent.  If DCF and the other three agencies involved in the Thomas family case could not communicate the imminent danger for the children when they had complete access to the family’s case file, it is unlikely the Superintendent would have no way of knowing  to review the home education portfolio more frequently.  DCF knew Janiya was enrolled in a home education program, but that fact was not reported to the Superintendent and the annual evaluation was allowed to lag 4 months beyond the submission deadline. There was a serious breakdown in communication.

The Superintendent cannot be held responsible for a child’s safety in the afternoons or evenings after school, during week-ends, holidays and summers. Sec. Carroll said that the child’s death was the result of a DCF systemic failure.  Home education was not the cause of her death, and one more report of abuse by the school district may not have saved this child's life.

The DCF reports in 2007 and 2013 stated that the Thomas children were in imminent danger.  Had those reports been acted upon, Janiya might be alive today.
 

The Home Education Foundation is supported solely by contributions of Florida home educators.


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