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.
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:
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.”
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?