LOS ANGELES (AP) – City officials couldn’t find any records that the fire marshal conducted required annual inspections at a California home that doubled as a private school where authorities say 13 malnourished siblings were kept captive in filthy conditions by their parents.
On Wednesday, a state lawmaker for the area said he’s considering introducing legislation requiring state officials to conduct at least annual walkthroughs of schools.
Private schools in California are not licensed by the state education department and no agency regulates or oversees them, although they are supposed to register the number of students. They are, however, subject to an annual inspection by the state or local fire marshal.
“I am extremely concerned about the lack of oversight the state of California currently has in monitoring private and home schools,” Assemblyman Jose Medina, a Democrat who represents the area, said.
In response to a public records request by The Associated Press, Perris Assistant City Clerk Judy Haughney said Wednesday that there were no records of any fire inspections conducted at the home. The city’s fire marshal, Dave Martinez, did not return repeated phone messages seeking comment.
David Allen Turpin and his wife, Louise Anna Turpin, were arrested Sunday after authorities found the malnourished children in their home in Riverside County. The couple was jailed on $9 million bail each. Charges that may include torture and child endangerment could come Wednesday and a court appearance was scheduled for Thursday, authorities said.
Deputies said some siblings were shackled to furniture in the foul-smelling home in suburban Riverside County. They were so malnourished that the older ones still looked like children.
Medina’s plan was still in the early stages but could include an annual walk-through of home and private schools by state or county officials “to ascertain the safety and well-being of the students,” he said.
David Turpin had been home schooling his children at the residence, which he called the Sandcastle Day School. In the 2016-17 school year, it had an enrollment of six, with one student each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.
More than 3,000 private schools were registered with the California education department in September 2017, according to the latest data available.
Laws vary across the country for homeschooling children. Some states require very little oversight, while California’s requirement of registering children is one of the most stringent.
The 2015 killing of a 7-year-old Kansas boy who was supposedly being home schooled prompted calls for reform in that state, though none have gone through. Kansas similarly requires schools to register and directs them to provide “competent” teachers but has no other oversight.
State Sen. Richard Roth, a Democrat who also represents Perris, said it’s critical to make sure laws on the books, such as the one requiring fire inspections of private schools, are enforced.
“We need to make sure people are following the laws and regulations we do have,” he said.
Ron Reynolds, the executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations, which represents 1,500 private schools, said most schools are regulated by boards of directors and parents, who sign contracts and review standards before enrolling their children.
Ronayne reported from Sacramento. Associated Press writer Amy Taxin in Perris contributed to this report.