By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Paul and Gena Suarez, owners of the “global homeschooling company” The Old Schoolhouse, have been accused by a former key employee of allegedly protecting several known child predators. Furthermore, they are accused of shaming and silencing members of their community who tried to stand up and do the right thing.
About the Suarezes and The Old Schoolhouse
Paul and Gena Suarez are the publishers of The Old Schoolhouse (TOS), a Christian homeschool magazine and self-described “global homeschooling company.” TOS has been called “one of the largest homeschooling magazines in America, and indeed, the world.” TOS’s vision is “to continue to lift up the Lord in every endeavor, every action, and every word spoken or written,” and that “as homeschooling grows, so TOS grows, and concurrently, that as TOS grows, more families will be introduced to home education through our many and varied resources.”
Begun in 2001, TOS has become immensely popular in the Christian Homeschool Movement. Their Facebook page has nearly 100,000 likes. Dr. James Dobson has endorsed and partnered with TOS, being “pleased to come alongside The Old Schoolhouse, an exemplary organization and magazine, in serving families that care so deeply for the nurturing and development of their kids.” In 2006 Doug Phillips was reported to say “that he really loved reading TOS, and that he didn’t read many homeschool magazines but The Old Schoolhouse Magazine was one that he did definitely read.” NHERI/HSLDA’s Dr. Brian Ray is one of their regular columnists.
TOS also has a Speakers Bureau, which “seeks to identify and introduce to the homeschool community speakers whose knowledge, experience, Christian faith, values, personality, commitments, and central message represent and promote the homeschool movement from a Biblical worldview and family-first perspective.” Their bureau includes popular homeschool speakers such as Heidi St. John, Skeet Savage, Israel Wayne, Jay Wile, and Hal Young. (In fact, Heidi St. John — who recently wrote an article about abuse in homeschooling communities entitled “Don’t Turn Away: Trouble in the Homeschool Movement” — appears to be family friends with the Suarezes, per this Instagram photo of their families together that St. John tweeted last January.)
TOS has actively promoted the works of R.J. Rushdoony, Kevin Swanson, and Vision Forum. Most disturbingly, TOS has a long history of adoration for and promotion of Michael and Debi Pearl and the “ministry” (read: child abuse advocacy) of No Greater Joy. Proverbs 22:6 (and also the title of the Pearls’ most well-known book) — “Train up a child…” — features prominently on the TOS website. In 2005 TOS’s devotional editor Deborah Wuehler interviewed a member of the Pearl family for TOS, in which she wrote the Pearls were “the pioneers of homeschooling in the early 1970s” who “helped countless numbers of parents with their child training questions.” A year later the Suarezes “team[ed] up” with Michael and Debi Pearl in 2006 for a Christian homeschool conference in Germany. TOS even went so far as to give away free copies of the Pearls’ book To Train Up a Child in their “welcome packages” to new homeschoolers. This, as well as other acts of promotion of the Pearls, led to a boycott of TOS in 2006 by gentle parenting bloggers.
TOS is currently both a sponsor of the Great Homeschool Conventions and an HSLDA-suggested resource promoted to HSLDA members at a special discounted rate.
Enter Jenefer Igarashi
Jenefer Igarashi is a “veteran homeschooling mother of six” with 20 years of homeschooling experience. She is a former employee of TOS.
For 6 years Igarashi worked for TOS in a number of capacities, including (in 2002) as the Senior Editor of TOS and (in 2006) as the Vice President of Operations. She’s been in the thick of the Christian Homeschool Movement, writing enthusiastically in 2006 about her opportunities for TOS to interview both HSLDA’s Chris Klicka and Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips. She was a frequent speaker and exhibitor at homeschool conventions on the topic of Rosetta Stone curriculum, including Teaching Them Diligently conferences, Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MACHE) conferences, and the Illinois Christian Home Educators (ICHE) conference. Igarashi is also a contributing writer for the Christian website Crosswalk.com.
In their 2006 book Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles, self-described as “a homeschool convention in a book,” Paul and Gena Suarez include — among essays by popular homeschool leaders such as Doug Wilson and Raymond Moore — an essay co-written by Igarashi. As 2006 they described her as “vice president of operations for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.” The Suarezes also refer to Igarashi as one of several “personal friends who have given of themselves and blessed us abundantly with encouragement, love, and undying support.”
In 2007, however, Igarashi departed from TOS. In the Summer 2007 edition of TOS, Paul and Gena Suarez wrote the following (you can view a PDF archived on HA here):
The Old Schoolhouse – Summer 2007
With a heavy heart we announce that Jenefer Igarashi has moved on from TOS. We so appreciate the six years she poured into our magazine. We want to publicly bless the Igarashi family and we pray that the Lord will continue to bless and keep them near to Him.
Child Sexual Abuse Allegations
Over the last two months, Jenefer Igarashi has revealed that the “heavy heart” of the Suarezs might actually have been much heavier — and disturbing — than the 2007 announcement suggested.
Beginning in April of this year, Igarashi began writing on her personal blog Jeneric Jeneralities about abuse, homeschooling, and the Christian church. Her first post on the matter was on April 24, entitled “When the Body Cuts Itself to Pieces.” It was a vague, but intense, piece. Igarashi wrote the following:
Being a part of a local body is crucial for Believers. There is safety. There is counsel. Also, there are witnesses.
The Christian Homeschool Community is not a church. It’s a movement. It’s not a church.
Naturally, one would hope that it is able to regulate itself, but is that even possible? How does a ‘movement’ regulate itself? Who is responsible to keep the bad apples out? The Leaders? Who are the Leaders? What if the Leaders are bad apples?
Igarashi never says what is prompting these questions. But something is clearly pressing on her mind:
In most cases Titus 3:10-11 would answer, ‘Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped.’ But what if there is a danger to others? What is the moral responsibility for those who have information? These are questions my husband and I are trying to work out right now. Likely you may soon hear about another huge and distressing ‘Homeschool Leader’ scandal.
A couple weeks later, on May 6, Igarashi writes another post, this one entitled “Mediation Attempt.” This post mentions names, but gives no indication as to the content. The entirety of the post is copied below:
May 5th, 2014 there was a mediation attempt, which involved Paul Suarez, Gena Suarez, Geoff Igarashi III, Jenefer Igarashi, Pastor Charlie Scalf, Pastor Ben Wright and Attorney David Gibbs.
The following ‘Joint Statement’ was put together then signed by all parties.
“About seven years ago we disagreed on how to handle a complex issue. Though we have not yet resolved the areas of disagreement, we have started the process of restoring our relationship. We love each other as a family and we have committed to rebuild that relationship and mutual trust in years to come. We desire to resolve any related division with other parties and to that end we ask that you contact whomever among us would be most appropriate. We pray that our work to reconcile with one another might reflect in some way the magnitude of God’s great mercy to reconcile with us through the sacrifice of His Son.”
There is no indication of what provoked this mediation process. However, note the involvement of “Attorney David Gibbs,” which is either the man known for defending accused child abusers (most notably, and recently, Bill Gothard!) or that same man’s son, know most recently for defending abuse victim Lourdes Torres-Manteufel against Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips. (Based on the above meditation statement, I would guess the former.) Either way, the fact that either one of these Gibbs would be involved in this mediation process is quite telling of the significance of this event.
Several weeks after this “Joint Statement,” Igarashi writes another post on May 18, this time entitled “Don’t Eat Plastic Apples.” Igarashi calls out people who would silence abuse survivors through words like “gossip” and “slander,” saying:
One of the classic tactics abusers use after they victimize a person is to further oppress them by condemning them as ‘gossips’ or ‘slanderers’ if they don’t cover up the abusers actions.
Abusers will create smoke and clamor to divert attention away from their abuse by pretending the ‘sin of gossip’ is the Sin of all Sins and is therefore sufficient grounds to discount any charge of real sin against them.
It is in this point that Igarashi first mentions the safety of children. She writes,
I’ll just speak plainly here. If there are men who have sexually abused children (or are being investigated as child predators) and you are told to keep your mouth shut about it, then it’s time to do something. Leaving with your children is a good first step.
If you feel children may be in danger and speak out about it, you are not a gossip. If somebody gives you a long biblical treatise about how their view on how to handle child predators within the church is the only biblical one (and their view protects offenders and demands that other parents are not to be made aware) know they are flat wrong. If you’re told that you’re ‘possibly unsaved’ if you disagree with their views, you need to know that is a lie.
The Shoe Drops
Something went down on May 24, 2014, when Igarashi wrote a post entitled “An Apology.” Igarashi wrote a post, then retracted it into private status so that no one could read it. (An excerpt from the post, however, is visible here.) 3 days later, on May 27, Igarashi explains the retraction in the post “Pending”:
I have been asked to take the two posts down. I was asked to do this because we had signed an agreement to work through a different channel with the Suarez issue (part of that being we agreed not to go ‘public’ with the information) Whether or not that was a wise or proper thing for us to do is currently being debated. But as it stands, since we did sign an agreement that outlined certain steps, we will honor it and stay silent regarding exposing things publicly for now.
However, I will say this. Geoff and I 100% stand behind those who have been hurt and/or victimized. Our eyes have been even more opened to the necessity of speaking out and the huge problem that currently exists in the church (at large) that hides divisiveness and the danger of silencing victims who speak up. We’ve gotten such a huge response from people who have been suffering in the same, or similar, situation. Our hearts grieve over that.
We now find out that whatever provoked the mediation process guided by one of the David Gibbs’s, and whatever has inspired these thoughts about child abuse, homeschooling, and the Christian church — it has something to do with the “Suarez issue.” The Suarezes, remember, are the publishers of the “global homeschooling company” The Old Schoolhouse.
Finally, the entire shoe drops a month later, on June 19, 2014, in the post “It Just Needs to Stop.” Here Igarashi explains a truly disturbing story about the Suarezes and their alleged defense of know child predators — including one of their own sons — and how they gaslit, attacked, and silenced the families of the victims — one of those victims being Jenefer Igarashi’s son.
Igarashi explains that, when her son was only 6 years old, he was “repeatedly molested.” (The boy is now a week shy of 14, so this molestation happened approximately 7 years ago — the exact same time period in which Igarashi “moved on from TOS,” according to the Suarezes.) The person who molested him was “his older cousin,” who “had forced him to live with such disgusting memories.” Igarashi re-emphasizes this, saying the molester is her nephew:
We take issue with the practice of protecting a child molester (repentant or otherwise) at the expense of the victim and their family. I’ve been accused of ‘making my nephew out to be a monster’.
Then Igarashi reveals that the relative who molested her son is the “(then) teenage son” of Paul and Gena Suarez. (Gena and Jenefer are sisters, it turns out.) Yes, one of the sons of the Suarezes allegedly molested a 6-year-old child (and later two other children) and the Suarezes defended that son at the expense of their son’s victims.
More than One Predator
But then it gets worse.
According to Igarashi, the Suarez son is not the only known child predator that Paul and Gena Suarez have defended at the expense of victims. Igarashi writes,
There have been two other child predators (that we know of) who the Suarez’s actively protected. They demanded silence from those who knew and insisted on letting those predators have unfiltered access to family gatherings / child focused events. They insisted that families accept (what amounts to) a ‘zero accountability’ stance in regard to those men because they said the men had ‘repented’. And families who voiced concerned, or alerted other families to a potential danger, or who chose not to include the predators in their groups, were told they were in sin and were then condemned by the Suarez’s. One man, Roy Ballard, was later imprisoned for sexual assault against children. The other man they protected, Mike Marcum, was also imprisoned (for possession of child pornography).
You can view Roy Ballard’s record here, where he is listed as a registered sex offender for “aggravated criminal sexual abuse.” Steve and Julie Hauser, who attended the same home church as Paul and Gena Suarez, give a detailed account of how the Suarezes refused to believe a young child claiming inappropriate touch by Ballard and instead belittled and shamed that young child, her family, and those trying to stand up to abuse.
This account alleges, therefore, that Paul and Gena Suarez — publishers of The Old Schoolhouse Magazines and owners of a global homeschooling empire and Speakers Bureau — have tried to hide and protect (1) a teenage child molester, (2) a convicted, known, and repeat child abuser, and (3) an adult in possession of child pornography. This account has also been corroborated by numerous members of the Suarezes’ company and community.
And this? All while the Suarezes make money off their public image, an image that they are experts in “raising godly children” and experts in avoiding the evil “sexual encounters” children experience in public schools — all while their own teenager allegedly abuses his 6-year-old nephew and they turn a blind eye. There is nothing but irony, therefore, in the fact that Paul and Gena Suarez were the 2009 recipients of the “Dr. Robert Dreyfus Courageous Christian Leadership Award” from Frontline Ministries and the Exodus Mandate Project. So much for “courageous Christian leadership.”
And again, I’ll repeat: TOS is currently both a sponsor of the Great Homeschool Conventions and an HSLDA-suggested resource promoted to HSLDA members at a special discounted rate.
To conclude, I’ll quote from Igarashi’s latest post:
I’ve been accused of trying to ‘vindictively take down The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’. I reject that accusation. Paul and Gena made the choice to habitually divide with believers over secondary issues. They have also made the choice to condemn (multiple) families who spoke out against child predators. They made the choice to continue pursuing the spotlight as national leaders after knowing their highschooler repeatedly molested more than one child.
The question now becomes: will Christian homeschool leaders stand together against this abuse to condemn — and refuse a future spotlight to — Paul and Gena Suarez?
Thank you for sharing.This is so incredible sad. So awful. The church must stop protecting this! There needs to be some enter point for repented sex offenders. But not working with children and teens. Not in telling people how to raise children. The focus needs to be on the victims here. The focus should not be on men (or women) who choose to harm children.
This makes my heart heavy with sorrow. And my head swim with anger. It just needs to stop.
Reblogged this on christianagnostic and commented:
Another sad story of abuse lurking at the top of the Homeschooling movement…
I posted my response on FB with your link, I can respond since we are in the middle of a court case, thank you for posting this.
I never found much of worth in TOS, due to our non-Biblical worldview, but considered them mostly harmless. Now I know better. Their affiliation with the Pearls is enough of a reason for me to speak against them to my friends. But *this*, this is horrible.
It is David Gibbs associated with the Phillips case. However, he told the Igarashis to keep silent on the day of mediation. It was why they signed the agreement mentioned which prevented them from further sharing the now private post. Afterwards they realized that this was simply further abuse and that protecting children was more important.
I say this as someone close to the family who has their first hand account.
There are 2 Gibbs attorneys. The father is involved with the Suarez Family and Bill Gothard. The son is involved with the victim of the Phillips case.
Awful. Thankyou for posting, so we can make decisions with this information.
When Ergun Caner sued me, his attorney David Gibbs III demanded that my three children, then ages 4,5,6, sign non-disparagements in exchange for a settlement. I refused. Given his defenses of child molesters, I wonder if he has had experience making such demands. He made the request as coldly as if he was ordering a burger.
Given that the article is about David Gibbs Jr, I want to specify that the gentleman who asked for my kids’ signatures was his son David Gibbs III who does not defend child molesters. The tweet that sent me here said the article was about David Gibbs III. I apologize for the error even though I am still upset about him asking for children to sign non-disparagements.
I wasn’t sure at the time of writing whether Gibbs Jr. or Gibbs III was/is involved in the Suarez/Igarashi mediation process. But it has been confirmed by multiple sources that it was/is Gibbs III.
This really sickens me… Not to say more than any other stories of abuse do, but this hits a personal note for me. I was sexually abused by my older brother for years, and the only thing that hurt me as much – possibly more so – as the abuse was the way my family handled it. Spoiler: they handled it *poorly*. It was deeply hurtful to me to feel like people I should’ve been able to trust to protect me essentially left me feeling like I should have kept my mouth shut and endured the abuse so as not to mess up their precious worlds.
I’m a mother who homeschools, and appreciates the opportunity to learn what not to do, and who not to put my faith in while my family navigates this approach to education. I can say without question that the abuse I suffered contributed mightily to my decision to homeschool – my ability to trust people within my own family left me completely unable to trust anyone outside of it. How could I possibly send my children to people I didn’t even know when the people I should’ve been able to trust were untrustworthy?
Having read this, I deeply regret having ever supported TOS. I’ve unsubscribed from their newsletter, with a brief but clear explanation why. I plan to give them a more detailed explanation directly. My prayers are with all the families concerned. It’s going to take more than a lawyer and a legal agreement to begin a true healing process.
Sarah everything you said you said so well. I to was in the same situation and my family too handled it poorly. It is all deeply upsetting!
Veering onto a related topic. Is it possible that the spanking regimen the Pearl’s advocate created the young molester? Sexual arousal from bare bottomed whippings in the young isn’t unusual. The general motive behind the TTUAC methods is to teach the child that they have no individual identity, no personal power. Once the potent combination of powerlessness/anger collides with sexual awakening in puberty might it not release itself in sexual acts that provide the molester with some measure of power? I like some of your thoughts on this.
I have often asked the same question. There’s a reason that “spanking” has such a high rate of sexual/fetish rates amongst spanking populations. I firmly believe spanking (especially in the erogenous zones of the young body) can cause wiring issues in the developing brain that twists pain and pleasure and causes major confusion. There are many spanking abuse victims who suffer from not being able to fully experience normal marital pleasure with the added element of pain, mainly hitting or spanking.
I think you’d be getting way out ahead of the actual evidence if you start down this road. I’m pretty sure the evidence shows that sexual abuse often leads the victims to become abusers themselves (I’m not totally sure though). But, spanking leading kids to become sexual abusers is another thing entirely. Feel free to look for high-quality studies, good evidence, and so on.
Where do conservative Christian – wanna be’s – turn? Only to God. For years I have read, learned from, and saved TOS. While the entire story is horrific… and my mind is also wondering why the teenager was molesting his nephew… I can’t regret the valuable information that I recieved from TOS and their storefront. We all have hard choices to make and many of us want to please God. Sometimes figureing out what is pleasing and doing it are very hard… other times figuring it out in the first place is even harder. I pray for the Suarez’ their son and all the families directly hurt by it all – I pray that God be glorified some how through this in an astounding way!
You are correct that they have provided a valuable service in the past that not only padded their pockets, but also built themselves up as homeschool leaders. All the while, allowing children to be hurt. By not having their own child face consequences for his actions they have also done him a disservice.
Therefore, there is no reason for me to support them anymore.
As a person close to all of this with intimate knowledge I want to say it was not their oldest son who abused Jenefer’s son, that they have basically disowned, Paul, who has suffered much abuse at his parents hand. I just want to post this to clear his name as our family is close to him. And we pray for Jenefer’s son and all children who are abused. It makes me sick, sad and angry that this has happened. But God will not be mocked and the truth has come out due to pride.
and what I mean by abuse to Paul, their oldest son, is emotional abuse IMO, not physical.
Why have they not been reported to CPS and the police?!?! Maybe I didn’t read it carefully enough or I missed something but I didn’t see anywhere that this was done. Pardon my language, but screw getting HSLDA or Heidi St. John or whoever else involved to “mediate” and Matthew 18 everybody to death. This is bs. In my book, with this level of criminal behavior all bets are off to resolve it internally.