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Georgia editorial roundup

February 27, 2019

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Feb. 24

The Savannah Morning News on strengthening homeschooling requirements:

Homeschooling is a perfectly valid alternative to educating children in a traditional school setting.

Few would argue that, and those who do have a warped sense of what liberty means in a country founded upon it.

However, the freedom to raise and teach your child as you see fit does not absolve you from the responsibility of educating youth. That makes oversight, be it of a large public school district, small private school or a homeschool, not just necessary but imperative.

Accountability is at the crux of education, as well as the biggest student takeaway from the school experience. Pupils are presented with material and expected to learn it. Success is measured in the form of tests, grades and ultimately diplomas. Same goes for the schools, where performance is monitored by state and local officials.

Why homeschool parents would shun such oversight and accountability is hard to comprehend. Yet, as state lawmakers consider strengthening Georgia’s reporting requirements for homeschools, some in the homeschool community are protesting like an elementary schooler unhappy with the quality of the lunchroom pizza.

Georgia’s standards are equal parts laughable and horrifying. Once a year, a parent need only report to the state the child’s name, age and address. The state also mandates mom or dad write an annual progress report, although submitting the document is not required.

And you thought keeping food cold — plug in refrigerator, place item inside, close door — was easy.

The absence of oversight is troubling from an educational standpoint; learning to read and write, and add and subtract, prepares children for life. Even more worrisome is the opportunity the lax standards provide for those rare parents who homeschool their children specifically to hide abuse and neglect.

That danger alone should be enough to convince homeschool parents to embrace new accountability standards.

Present scrutiny of Georgia’s homeschool reporting requirements does stem from the deaths of two Effingham County homeschooled children.

Elwyn Crocker pulled his children, Elwyn Jr. and Mary, from public school after being investigated for child abuse by Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS. When the kids’ bodies were found behind the family home in December, we learned Elwyn Jr. had vanished from public view in 2016 and Mary hadn’t been seen since last October.

The alleged murders stoked the community’s emotions in the aftermath. The public has criticized DFCS for its failure to monitor the Crocker situation, particularly given a 2017 report from a concerned neighbor. Other Effingham community members, including neighbors and law enforcement, felt guilt over the deaths.

The public discussion soon turned to preventing similar incidents in the future, and that made homeschooling requirements an issue. Tighten the standards to protect children. Something as simple as periodic visits to schools or law enforcement offices — or a home visit from a school or law enforcement official — would suffice.

Such a mandate is not unreasonable. Not in the least bit.

As Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said, “I’m not trying to get into your business. We need to make sure everyone’s safe ... Had we had checks and balances, we would have known (Elwyn Jr.) was gone. Something needs to be done. ”

This editorial board agrees with McDuffie and supports efforts by state legislators to explore the homeschool reporting issue. Three influential state lawmakers represent Effingham County — House Majority Leader Jon Burns (R-District 159), Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-District 161) and Sen. Jack Hill (R-District 4), the chair of the Senate Appropriations committee.

As Hitchens told a large group of Savannah-area government officials and business leaders at last month’s Savannah-Chatham Day at the Georgia Capitol, “When kids get pulled from school like (the Crockers), it needs to trigger something with somebody to follow up.”

Such steps are not intended to infringe on parents’ rights to raise and educate their children. This is not the start of a movement to outlaw homeschooling. Homeschool parents are not presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Strengthening standards is about looking out for the welfare of children. The overwhelming majority, probably 99.9 percent, of homeschool parents are doing an excellent job and are beyond reproach.

But if greater oversight saves one child from abuse — or death — then it is worthwhile. Those who find that offensive need to go back to school and learn more about accountability.

Online: https://www.savannahnow.com/

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Feb. 22

The Valdosta Daily Times on teen dating violence:

“One in three teens are affected by some type of teen dating violence.”

That’s what Taylor Strickland, community awareness and education coordinator at The Haven, said in an article published earlier this month in The Valdosta Daily Times.

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

And The Haven defines teen dating violence as “a pattern of abuse or threat of abuse against teenaged dating partners.”

Physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial and digital abuse are all forms of teen dating violence.

Digital abuse is “abuse using technology online.” Controlling a partner’s social media through friend limitations and post limitations as far as what can and can’t be posted secludes the person on social media, Strickland said.

Strickland said many teens utilize the map feature on Snapchat to pinpoint their partner’s location. Teens are using the feature to stalk their partners.

“It’s very controlling, and that’s how unhealthy relationships start,” she said.

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A teen’s home life could be a factor for why he or she would behave abusively in relationships, she said. A teen’s knowledge for relationships could extend from what they see between his or her parents.

Extreme jealousy, the need for control and isolation from friends are more signs of abuse.

“Every year, approximately 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner,” according to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project. “It is also known that three in four parents have never talked to their children about domestic violence. In light of these alarming facts, every year during the month of February advocates join efforts to raise awareness about dating violence, highlight promising practices and encourage communities to get involved.”

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and VAWnet have developed an “Online Special Collection: Preventing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence.”

The special collection emphasizes “collaborative and multilevel approaches to the prevention of and response to teen dating violence,” according to project representatives “This year’s updates include additional resources for teachers and school-based professionals and a new section to support the efforts of pregnancy prevention advocates and adolescent sexual health practitioners in addressing adolescent relationship abuse.”

A text line that focuses on teen dating violence, healthy relationships, bullying, suicide prevention and social media safety is available by texting START to 741-741.

The Haven’s local crisis line can be reached at (229) 244-1765. The 24-hour toll free crisis line is 1 (800) 33HAVEN.

We urge anyone experiencing teen dating abuse or has questions to use these resources.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/

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Feb. 25

The Augusta Chronicle on legislation dealing with school buses:

It’s heartening to see that government — instead of tangling itself in red tape — can move quickly, efficiently and for the right reasons.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has signed just one bill into law so far since he took office last month, but that legislation — Senate Bill 25 — is a literal life-saver.

House Bill 978 was not.

What would you think of a law that allows motorists on certain types of highways to keep barreling along even while school buses are loading or unloading? If you were a lawmaker, does that sound like a law you’d vote to enact?

Of course not. Why would you err against the side of safety? Especially the safety of children?

Incredibly, it did happen. Last year, H.B. 978 passed into law. Its intent was to fine-tune the existing law penalizing drivers illegally overtaking school buses, and to allow automated traffic enforcement in school zones.

But H.B. 978 passed with an important flaw.

State law said that if a school bus was stopped — with lights flashing, mechanical arms extended and big red “STOP” signs out, plain as day — motorists traveling the other way didn’t have to stop if there were a grass or concrete median separating the roadways.

The way H.B. 978 was written effectively took the median away. The law then suggested that if the roads were separated only by a painted turn lane, drivers headed in the other direction from a stopped bus didn’t have to stop.

In 2013, an 8-year-old student died after being hit by a driver who, on a foggy morning, said he didn’t see the boy crossing to board his bus — even though police and witnesses said the bus’ lights were flashing and its sign was out.

That happened in Augusta on just a two-lane stretch of Belair Road. But the danger to crossing pedestrians multiplies as the unimpeded lanes multiply.

Lawmakers realized they made a mistake — especially after they heard an earful from school officials around the state who rightly pointed out how children were being placed at risk.

That led to this year’s S.B. 25, which changed that part of the law back to the way it was — with a median.

That bill flew through the legislature. From the time S.B. 25 was approved by committee to the Senate passing was just three days. When it moved to the House, the entire process — from the bill’s introduction to the governor’s signature — took just seven days. And the only reason it took that long was that it had its first reading on a Friday and lawmakers had to wait until the following Monday to keep the bill moving.

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S.B. 25 wasn’t flashy or headline-grabbing, but its effect as a law is very meaningful.

And it’s one of the best types of legislation — the type that rights a wrong.

Online: https://www.augustachronicle.com/