TARGET 13 found there's little oversight in Colorado for families who choose not send their child to school and virtually no one looking for kids who aren't being educated at all.
Earlier this month, Colorado Springs police say they found a 13-year-old autistic child naked in his home surrounded by live and dead rodents, human feces and piles of trash. The boy, who neighbors said they hadn't seen for years, told police he was homeschooled and couldn't remember being outside his house on Corinth Drive.
Two weeks later, police said the boy is still in the custody of the Department of Human Services and the house belonging to the child's parents, former Springs councilman Charles Wingate and his wife Sharon Starkey, remains condemned. The couple was cited for misdemeanor child neglect.
Parents who choose to homeschool in Colorado are supposed to send a letter of intent to any school district in the state and then submit the child's national standardized test scores to that district in grades three, five, seven, nine and eleven.
A spokesperson for School District 11, where the Wingate family resides, said due to privacy laws, she could not identify if Wingate filed a letter of intent with the district, and pointed out that under the law, the family could have contacted any district in Colorado.
"It is not the District's responsibility to track students for whom we have no record," said D-11 spokesperson Devra Ashby in an email. "The law, because it is so vague, does not have stringent ramifications for families who do not file a letter of intent either."
The Colorado Department of Education told TARGET 13 it does not have information for families who homeschool and, "The state does not provide any direct oversight to home schools."
Law enforcement said there was no citation it could give a family not complying with the law.
"While home schooling has proven successful in many cases, law enforcement officials are concerned that it can also isolate children if there are no checks and balances in place," said CSPD spokesperson Barbara Miller. "Classroom teachers were effective in observing tell-tale signs of child abuse/neglect and immediately reporting their concerns to officials. Without a system of checks and balances, there appears to be a greater opportunity to overlook a case of abuse."
But homeschool advocates argue the law puts responsibility where it should be-- with parents.
"We have an excellent, extraordinary law, and it is very effective" said Treon Goossen, a legislative liaison who helped write the homeschool law. "And, as you know, if anyone is intent on doing something criminal or abusive, there is nothing that can stop them from doing it."
Goossen said the part of the law that lets parents register with any district in the state came about to make it easier for homeschool students to participate in extracurricular activities at the school of their choice.
Lori Leander, who has homeschooled her three children, said she thinks the law in place works.
"Obviously there needs to be some regulation and some accountability," said Leander. "I think it's great because (homeschooled students) are taking standardized tests, and that's good for me. That's like my report card."
She points to studies that show homeschooled students outperform traditionally-educated students.
"I love the freedom to just be able to try different curriculum, see what works and what's really connecting with my child," she said.
To read the state's homeschool law, click here.
According to the Colorado Attorney General's office , "CRS 22-33-107.5 and 108 provide for civil judicial proceedings to enforce compliance with school attendance laws, and civil penalties for parents and juveniles who fail to comply with court orders. Civil penalties for parents could include a contempt citation, and "a fine of up to but not more than twenty-five dollars per day or confine the parent to the county jail until the order is complied with."