WARREN - Parents wanting to home-school or have their children to be involved with online school programs would be required to seek approval from local children service organizations and the new schools under a proposal being championed by state Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Niles.
Cafaro is pushing Senate Bill 248, dubbed ''Teddy's Law,'' which would require parents or legal guardians seeking to remove children from public schools to go through background checks, have interviews conducted in their homes, and to allow their children to be interviewed separately in an effort to make sure the children are being protected from abuse.
''Teachers and other school officials are required to report signs of abuse," Cafaro said.
The effort is a result of the Jan. 26 death of 14-year-old Theodore "Teddy" Foltz Tedesco at the hands of Zaryl G. Bush, 533 Creed St., Struthers, who was dating his mother, Shain Widdersheim, 28 Creed St. Bush was accused of running a boot camp like environment, abusing the boy physically and emotionally, and beating him to death.
Bush was sentenced to life in prison on counts of murder, child endangering, intimidation of witnesses and tampering with evidence. Widdersheim was sentenced 15 years in prison on four counts of child endangerment and obstructing justice.
Teddy's father, Shawn Tedesco of Sharon, Pa., on Monday said that Widdersheim and Bush isolated the teenager by taking him out of the school system, where teachers, social workers and others potentially may have seen signs of abuse happening.
Tribune Chronicle / Raymond L. Smith
Paul Foltz, left, listens to State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, as she explains Teddy’s Law Monday.
He also said he would like to see the proposal go further than it does.
"We would like to see life without parole for anyone protecting an abuser convicted of murdering a child," Tedesco said. "We're also looking at a national registry for anyone convicted of child abuse. We also would like to see unannounced visits by agencies on those known for repeated child abuse.
"Child abuse is the lowest example of human and motherly behavior," he said.
Paul Foltz, Teddy's grandfather, said their goal is to stop any other kids from falling trough the cracks and experiencing long-term abuse.
The legislation Cafaro is pushing, if passed, would require the background checks and interviews before the children are allowed to become a part of a home school or online program.
School and children service officials would be able to access a statewide data base to determine whether there are past or current abuse investigations against anyone in the child's household. In addition, the guardian must submit to an in person with the child's parents or guardians, and they must allow the children to have age appropriate interviews.
If there are records of child abuse by anyone in the household or if the interviews elicit negative information, it must be passed on to the local superintendent or educational leader.
"This is a joint effort to improve the system to assure there is not new victims like Teddy," Cafaro said. "This is aimed to address the weaknesses in both the child protective service system and the home and the Internet-based system in Ohio."
Under the current system, a school district may have no idea that there is a children services record or complaint for a home or Internet-based school applicant. This bill creates protocol for those applying to educate a child at home by creating a link between a local public children's agency and an education system.
Cafaro emphasizes that she is not trying to create a barrier for those who want to choose an alternative method of educating their children other than public school settings.
If there is no record of the parents or guardians having legal or child custody issues for four years prior to the application to move the child, there will be no need for future in home visits.
"It is very important for children to understand what their rights are," Cafaro said. "It is important for the department of jobs and family services along with the state board of education to develop age-appropriate curriculum on matters of personal safety and self-protection."
"We want children to know there are options and hope," she said.
"Once a complaint is acknowledged and a negative recommendation is given, the new school would have to delay or deny the admission to the home or Internet-based school program.
"There will be classes offered to parents," Cafaro said. "These are checks and balances. There will be an opportunity to remedy the problem by going through intervention programs.
Cafaro said there would be very little administrative costs to implement this program.
The legislation has not been referred to a specific committee, she said.