Jonathan and Alison Schumm Abuse Case Raises Questions

Alison and Jonathan Schumm.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love, Joy, Feminism. It was originally published on November 25, 2015.

Given my interest in homeschool reform, I am familiar with many if not most of the entries at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database. This database was started by homeschool alumni concerned about the role homeschooling can play in intensifying and hiding abuse by allowing abusive parents to isolate their children. (I suppose this is where I add the caveat that I am not anti-homeschooling, just pro-accountability.)

Anyway, I found the most recent entry interesting for several reasons. Let’s take a look:

Five children between the ages of 5 and 16 were physically abused by Jonathan Robert Schumm and Allison Nicole Schumm. Jonathan Schumm was a Topeka Councilman, Allison Schumm blogged extensively about their lives, and the Schumms had received an Angels in Adoption award in 2013. They had 4 biological children and 10 adopted children (two sibling groups of 5, adopted in 2008 and 2013), and were fostering 2 additional children when they were arrested. The Schumms’ biological children were homeschooled, and the adopted children were removed from public schools to be homeschooled as soon as their adoptions were finalized.

According to court documents, a 12-year-old child was tortured or beaten by the Schumms, and 4 others were also physically abused, in October 2015. The family had been previously investigated by child protective services in 2013 during their second adoption proceedings after a child’s foster family reported bruising on him and abuse of the other children. In her blog, Allison Schumm describes placing her other children with a relative during the CPS investigation so that they could not be questioned. The reports were ruled unfounded. Schumm also describes forcing some of the adopted children (younger than 10 years) to carry heavy burdens across the yard as punishment.

Jonathan Schumm was charged with one count of aggravated battery or child abuse for the 12-year-old and four counts of child endangerment for the other children. Allison Schumm was charged with the same crimes, though as an accomplice. The children were removed from their home by child protective services.

I was surprised that the family received an Angels in Adoption award with (apparently) so little vetting. I read through the linked posts in which Allison tells her family’s adoption story (part 1part 2, and part 3) and found additional details. It seems the Angels in Adoption award was not the only one the family received. Shortly before adopting the second sibling group of five, the Schumms received the “Project Belong 2013 Adoptive Family of the year” award. I also learned that the Schumms were initially told they would not be permitted to adopt this second sibling group, because they already had eight children (three biological and five adopted).

A few short days later we were told that because of our family size and the needs of the children we would not be able to adopt them. Our whole family spent the day we found out terribly depressed, but God used worship music to encourage us. We sat in the van with 5 empty seats waiting to eat lunch at the park with the Hoffman’s and God used these words to remind us that he was in control of everything. “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind, the God of angel armies is always by my side.” God knew this would happen and it was well within His hands, we just needed to trust and obey. The very next song we hear the chorus “Don’t give up, help is surely on its way, don’t give up, the dark is breaking in today, just keep on moving through these storms and soon enough you’ll find the door, just don’t give up, oh, and don’t give up” We later found out that before we even knew we were turned down God’s hand was moving. Many people had already been working behind the scenes to get DCF to change their mind about the adoption. Our friends and family wrote countless letters explaining our hearts and support system. Those who didn’t write lifted us up in prayer.

Ultimately, in the face of this support for the Schumms, DCF changed their mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-adoption. I have, however, read more than a few stories where couples have adopted oversized families, sometimes over concerns from DCF or other agencies, and have later been found guilty of abuse or neglect. I’ve also read more than a few stories where these oversized families are praised by politicians or given awards, and then turn out to be abusive. We’ve seen this before here on the blog, such as when I wrote my 2013 post, HSLDA: Man Who Kept Children in Cages a “Hero”.

In that post, I wrote about Michael and Sharon Gravelle, who adopted eleven special needs children and were found to be keeping those children in cages, beating them, and holding their heads under water in the toilet. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, as quoted in my post:

Scott Somerville, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association in Virginia, said he talked with Michael Gravelle before the story broke in the media, and he believes this is a family trying to help special children.

When a social worker visited the house last week, there was no resistance to an inspection, said Somerville, whose organization represents home-schooling families on legal matters.

“They had nothing to hide,” Somerville said. “He told me why they adopted these children and told me the problems they were trying to solve.

“I think he is a hero.”

There seems to be an automatic assumption that any family that would adopt ten or eleven children—and especially special needs children—must by definition be worthy of praise and honor. Here’s another example from Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, this one from 2005:

Wilson and Brenda Sullivan’s 17 year old mentally handicapped adopted son was found caged in a crib by investigators responding to an anonymous tip. He was severely malnourished and weighed only 49 pounds, less than what he weighed when the couple had adopted him at age 7 ten years prior. Two other adopted children, aged 10, were kept in similar cages. The family homeschooled. The couple had been praised for their willingness to adopt special needs children by the governor himself in 1995. Wilson died before the trial was completed, and Brenda was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

There is a serious problem with the assumption that everyone who adopts does so with good intentions and aware of their limitations—it’s simply not true. Another website database, Pound Pup Legacy, tracks cases of abuse among adopted children in an effort to call for reform of the adoption process. A quick perusal of their website should disabuse any reader of the idea that adoptive parents are always motivated by altruism.

Regular readers of my blog are familiar with the concept of childbearing as a form of child collecting. Within the quiverfull movement, large families are praised and the more children a woman bears the more highly the family is regarded. I grew up in a family influenced by this movement and I well remember the feelings of superiority that came along with being part of an oversized family. But children are a lot of work, and every additional child divides the amount of time a parent can spend on any individual child. There’s a reason the youngest Duggar children would run to their older sisters, and not their mother, if they were hurt or upset.

In some cases, adoption can function similarly, providing couples with a means to expanding their families far beyond what most people would feel capable of handling. Jonathan and Allison Schumm adopted five children and had three of their own and another on the way. With eight children and one on the way, most parents would focus their energy on the children they had, but the Schumms felt compelled to adopt more children. And given the awards they were receiving, I think it’s safe to say that their oversized family brought them attention and praise, and some degree of status within the adoptive community. And Allison herself wrote that she was not “done.”

It’s perhaps worth noting that the Allison used quiverfull language on her blog. Some segments of the quiverfull movement deify adoption and praise it as yet one more way to expand one’s family. I grew up reading Above Rubies magazine, with its stories of adoption and family expansion. It was only years later that I learned that many of these adoptions failed, given that they were initiated for the wrong reasons and carried out by parents with extremely concerning approaches to parenting and childrearing. You can read more in Kathryn Joyce’s seminal article, Orphan Fever.

In the end, I am left wondering about the process for receiving an Angels in Adoption award. It turns out that the Schumms are not the first family to receive this award and later be found to be abusive. According to Pound Pup Legacy:

Jerry Sandusky received an award out of the hands of Rick Santorum, a decision that needed to be reverted back in 2011, when it became clear Sandusky had molested several boys, including his own adopted son.

Senator Chuck Grassley, awarded Damien and Allonna Stovall with an Angel in Adoption, in 2012. Six months later, the couple was charged with beating their adopted children with belts and wooden spoons, although those charges were later dropped.

In 2007, Representative Patrick Murphy determined an award should be given to Steven G. Dubin, whom at the time was under investigation for fraudulent adoption practices . . .

In 2005, convicted criminal, Representative William Jefferson, nominated one of his cronies Renee Gill Pratt, and a year later, Senator Johnny Isakson awarded Faith Allen, the former “savior” of Masha Allen, who abandoned her adopted daughter in Washington DC, the day after the Angel in Adoption gala.

Does the process involve speaking with the adopted children? All I could find on the Angels in Adoption website was that you can nominate a family for the award. I was unable to learn anything further about the process, and that leaves me with questions. Is this award about the children, or about the parents? How about adoption? Is it about the children, or about the parents?

Those two entities—and their interests—are not identical.

HSLDA Members Put Naked Child in a “Cage With Feces and Urine”

hslda

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

5 years ago, in 2009, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) claimed Karen S. Tolin and Timothy E. Tolin as a victory for their organization. According to an HSLDA press release on January 12, 2009 (archived as a PDF here),

“When Tim and Karen Sue Tolin received notice that officials with Ubly Community Schools in Michigan had called a due process hearing for their son Sean, they turned to HSLDA for help… They currently have nine adopted children, seven of whom they homeschool. Sean, their 8-year-old, has been diagnosed with multiple challenges… The Tolins withdrew Sean from public school to homeschool him… School officials insisted that the Tolins have Sean undergo the evaluations they recommended and that he be given an Individual Education Plan… Mr. and Mrs. Tolin refused.”

The Tolins were members of HSLDA and contacted the organization for help. HSLDA attorney Darren Jones put pressure on the school district and “Ubly Community Schools dropped the proceedings.”

Fast forward 5 years. Last month, this headline appeared:

Two arraigned on charges after teen found in cage in Michigan’s Thumb

That headline eerily resembles the case of Michael Gravelle, the abusive father and husband that HSLDA attorney Scott Sommerville once called a “hero” and who was later indicated to be a child abuser and wife-beater. Gravelle had similarly placed his adopted children in cages. As it turns out, the two arraigned on charges last month were — you guessed it — Karen S. Tolin and Timothy E. Tolin, the parents HSLDA defended in 2009.

Here are the conditions the Tolins forced their developmentally disabled child into:

Police responded to investigate a civil dispute about 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20, to a home at 3700 Minden Road south of Priemer, when they discovered the mentally challenged male teen in a caged bed with the door chained shut, the Huron County Sheriff’s Department said in a prepared statement. 

“The odor was very noticeable as the deputy began to climb the stairs,” Hanson said.

Huron County Prosecutor Timothy Rutkowski said the teen was found naked in the cage with feces and urine around him, based on his review of the police report. The 19-year-old has a developmental disability called Angelman syndrome

Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism first discovered this story, and made the following observation:

“This is another verifiable case where HSLDA defended the rights of people who turned out to be abusers. In this case, it was actual legal assistance. (I know several individuals whose abusive parents were also defended by HSLDA, but these are stories where social services never became involved and the abuse was never discovered.) Now yes, abusers should have legal defense. It’s how the system works. But HSLDA doesn’t position itself as an organization that defends all comers and sometimes has to do dirty work, it positions itself as the family-friendly smiling face of homeschooling and actively works to shape policy. That HSLDA doesn’t vet those it defends, and does in fact defend abusive and neglectful families, needs to be more widely understood.”

“Our Founding Fathers DId Not List Education As A Right”

education

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on August 11, 2013.

I‘ve been having a discussion with a few  former homeschoolers over Libby Anne’s recent exposure of HSLDA, our homeschool legal defense.

The discussion was first over her articles on how HSLDA has scoffed over abuse, and second over her latest summary of an article from HSLDA who basically said, to a guy who got very little education, that a little education is at least better than public school.

I admit HSLDA floors me sometimes.

Anyway, this guy, rather than arguing with the facts, said this whole Libby Anne debate boils down to the question: who do the children belong to and at what age do they belong to themselves? Then he had this to say:

Our founding fathers did not list education as a right.

He then goes on to make the case that education isn’t a right after all, and that once we become of age, we can teach ourselves to read.

A few thoughts. (Besides “What the crap!”)

First, kids belong to themselves. We are obligated to take care of them. I think we could even pull that one out of the Bible, without the constitution.

Second, what’s up the constitution purity teaching in fundamental circles? Our constitution is not only not the Bible but it was also influenced by humanism. The constitution came out of enlightenment ideas. It came out of everything that fundamentalism was a reaction against. Yet fundies will say, “Children don’t have a right to education because the founding fathers forgot to mention it.”

This is not the first time I’ve been quoted the constitution.

Third, kids have a right to an education because they are people of earth. People were made to learn, to interact, to grow, to discuss ideas, and usher in new ideas. Withholding an education not only wrecks their future in the first world, but it takes away the wings of a person.

Homeschoolers — of all people — should know this.

Education isn’t just about jobs. It’s about critical thinking, it’s about independence, it’s about being a person. You wanna take away a person’s rights? Take away the heart of what it means to be an thinker.

How would you respond when someone says education isn’t a right?