The TOS article is featured prominently on the magazine’s front cover with the line, “ALERT Academy: Cultivating Integrity in Your Son!” The author, John Boulden, describes the history of ALERT while making no mention of its relationship with Bill Gothard, IBLP, and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI, Gothard’s homeschool program). He simply describes it as “an outgrowth of a homeschool program.” Boulden also describes numerous homeschool conferences in Knoxville, Tennessee and Big Sandy, Texas, similarly neglecting to mention these conferences are Gothard’s IBLP conferences. Furthermore, while Boulden talks up the benefits of ALERT’s Basic Training, he does not mention that the training involves Bill Gothard’s Basic Seminar principles, especially Gothard’s “principle of authority.”
TOS has a long history of adoration for and promotion of Michael and Debi Pearl’s No Greater Joy ministry. 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. After the death of homeschool kid Sean Paddock, whose mother used the Pearls’ recommended plumbing supply line for corporal punishment, Gena Suarez callously defended the Pearls, saying, “The only way you can kill a child with that is by shoving it down his throat.”
During Novak’s time as an employee of TOS (and later, as he became a close friend to the Suarezes’ oldest son), he discovered that the Suarez and Igarashi families (the mothers of both families are sisters) are embroiled in an intense feud over physical and sexual abuse that has allegedly occurred in the family.
What Eric Novak learned about the Suarez family involved alleged physical abuse of their children as well as alleged sexual abuse within the family. According to various accounts, the Suarezes 22-year-old son, Luke, sexually abused two of his younger siblings and his young cousin, the son of Jenefer Igarashi. Luke currently has continued access to his siblings, as he lives at home with his parents. He is regularly in contact with children in the homeschool community, thanks to his family’s business. According to Novak, the Suarezes often get put up in the homes of other homeschool families when they travel. Novak relates:
“They continued going to conventions and such, and I know that for a fact that at conventions, they’ll like stay with homeschool families, and he’ll like, sleep in the younger kids’ rooms. And that’s what I’m most concerned about.”
The physical abuse allegations involve the abuse of all of the Suarez children, as well Gena’s youngest sister, “Megan.”
When Gena’s mom died, Paul and Gena took in Megan, Gena’s third sister. Megan was 13 years old and Gena was around 26. Megan claims that once she joined their family, Gena turned into a fairy-tale worthy evil surrogate mother, turning Megan into a servant and depending on her for her primary childcare support. It got to the point where even the neighbors jokingly called Megan “Cinderella,” according to a written statement by Megan (given to us by Eric Novak):
Even friends and neighbors of Gena and Paul would refer to me as “Cinderella.” It was evident to all who knew us what my role in the family was: babysitter, house cleaner and servant… and physically or mentally abused (instead of properly disciplined), when I would act childish or foolish. …I was left in charge and instructed to care for and discipline the younger children in the home – even told to strike them in the face when ‘disobedient’ or ‘disrespectful’ (they’d give me ‘slapping privileges’), which still haunts me today.
Megan alleges that the Suarezes didn’t just use her for free labor. She says they physically abused her and their other children and claimed that the abuse was God’s will. It seems like they employed the Pearls’ “will-breaking” methods quite studiously. This is also from Megan’s written statement:
I witnessed and was a victim of physical and mental abuse while in the home. I watched Gena as she would strip her youngest son down (around 4 yrs old), put him in the bathtub and run cold water over his face so that he couldn’t breathe. They would have their second oldest son strip down naked and repeatedly douse him with cold water. Gena would brag that she “finally found a punishment that would get them to obey”. She would also have her children stand in the corner so long they were forced to wet their pants. I also remember seeing her boys be made to ‘make up from a fight’ by inappropriately kissing various parts of each other’s body to the point of everyone in the room feeling awkward and uncomfortable… except for Gena, who would laugh… Remembering back on these things makes me sick almost to the point of throwing up.
…Close to the time I finally fled, it had gotten to the point that I didn’t want to live anymore. I would fantasize about dying. I couldn’t please them no matter how hard I tried. I was literally a slave in the home and punished as such when I couldn’t meet their impossible standards. What hurt the most after I fled was knowing the abuse that would continue in the lives of the children.
After Megan escaped, she found support in her other older sister, Jenefer Igarashi, and has thrived. She is now married and mentors in her community and is herself a homeschool mom. She remains a devout Christian.
Nearly a week after allegations about a widespread cover-up of physical and sexual child abuse in the Christian homeschooling community were disclosed, the Home School Legal Defense Association has issued a statement on their involvement. The child abuse is alleged to have involved the children and a relative of Paul and Gena Suarez, owners of the popular homeschool magazine The Old Schoolhouse. The mother of one of the alleged victims, Jenefer Igarashi, had repeatedly contacted HSLDA president Michael Smith to ask for his advice and assistance. Smith never responded to Igarashi. Furthermore, according to an email written by Heidi St. John (co-founder of Firmly Planted Co-ops and speaker for the Great Homeschool Conventions), Smith told St. John that, “HSLDA will not be getting involved in it.”
Since the story about the alleged cover-up went public on October 8, numerous individuals have posted on HSLDA’s Facebook page asking for comment. Those comments were met with silence until today.
Today, HSLDA finally responded, copying and pasting a form response to each comment. You can view their response here. An image and the text of the response is below:
Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. HSLDA does not condone covering up sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a crime and should always be reported to the police.
In addition, HSLDA does not get involved in conflicts between families or individuals. Professionals trained in mediation and arbitration are better suited than us to resolve civil disputes. Our mission is to protect the homeschooling rights of our member families, not to be the police force of the homeschooling movement.
Other individuals and organizations accused to have known about or played a hand in the alleged cover-up — including Heidi St. John, Brennan Dean from the Great Homeschool Conventions, David Gibbs III from the National Center for Life and Liberty, and The Old Schoolhouse itself — have yet to issue any statements.
In an email announcement sent out today, Brennan Dean’s Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) company announced that WORLD News Group (publishers of WORLD Magazine) will be sponsoring “Grand Finale Events at 2015 Conventions.” GHC also added a page on their website that confirms that, “Great Homeschool Conventions is proud to introduce the WORLD News Group as a Presenting Sponsor of The Grand Finale Events of the 2015 Conventions.”
The Old Schoolhouse’s owners, Paul and Gena Suarez, have been accused of horrific physical abuse of their children, including waterboarding and beatings. And the founder of the National Center for Life and Liberty, David Gibbs III, has been accused of using strong-arm mediation tactics to keep the Suarezes’ relatives from going public about alleged sexual abuse within the family. Brennan Dean and GHC are also accused of being involved by allegedly blocking homeschool speaker Jenefer Igarashi from a convention because of her attempts to make the cover-up public. You can read about those allegations here.
WORLD has made a point as of late to cover abuse within Christian communities, including cases like Bob Jones University, Doug Phillips, and Bill Gothard. It is disappointing, therefore, that WORLD would throw financial support behind GHC while they and their sponsors continue to remain silent about the allegations of their own abuse cover-up.
“A lot of people have asked why I’m doing this,” Novak says in the video. He contends that while he loves homeschooling and that Christian and homeschool communities “don’t need help looking good,” “what we do need is people who are willing to actually expose abuse and people who are willing to stand up for what’s right.”
By Hännah Ettinger (Wine & Marble) and R.L. Stollar (Homeschoolers Anonymous). Several updates and corrections made on 10/16/2014 are highlighted at the end of the story.
American Christianity is actively facing a sexual abuse crisis. This crisis is more than just the evangelical community’s time to face their failings and follow in the steps of the Catholic church. It is a crisis of power and of children’s rights. It is a story about protecting abusers in order to preserve existing power structures in evangelical communities. Sexual abuse in Christian homeschool communities continues to be uncovered as leaders and organizations like Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, C.J. Mahaney, Bob Jones University, and Patrick Henry College have faced heat for either their own sexual abuse of those under their spiritual authority (Gothard, Phillips), or protecting sexual predators in their communities (Mahaney, BJU, PHC). Each of these names is closely linked to the Christian homeschool community. What began as a trickle of stories about abuse is quickly becoming a flood.
Over the last few years, a number of stories have come to light about children violently abused by their parents and caregivers in the name of “biblical” parenting practices. Some, like Hana Williams, have even died. This abuse is often linked to the parenting teachings of Christian authors Michael and Debi Pearl. The Pearls’ teachings are especially loved in the conservative Christian homeschooling community. Homeschooling’s Invisible Children documents many of the cases where abuse has been directly connected to use of the Pearls’ book To Train Up A Child, which teaches parents to use corporal punishment to break the spirits of their children to make them submissive to God’s will.
During Novak’s time as an employee of TOS (and later, as he became a close friend to the Suarezes’ oldest son, who we’ll call “Jake”), he discovered that the Suarez and Igarashi families (the mothers of both families are sisters) are embroiled in an intense feud over physical and sexual abuse that has allegedly occurred in the family.
It all began at Reb Bradley’s church. Situated in Citrus Heights, California, Hope Chapel Christian Fellowship was pastored for 17 years (until 2004) by Reb Bradley. Bradley, a zealous advocate of courtship and “child training,” was a common fixture at California Christian homeschool conventions. Like other homeschool lumineers such as Henry Reyenga, Voddie Baucham, Doug Philips, and Scott Brown, Bradley was a promoter of “family integration,” believing age segregation in churches goes against the Bible. Through his company, Family Ministries, Bradley made a name for himself by calling for sexual “purity” and family-led courtship as an alternative to dating for love-struck teenagers. His teachings on corporal punishment closely resembled those of Michael and Debi Pearl. Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams’ parents, Carri and Larry, who “disciplined” Hana to death, attended Hope Chapel for several years before they moved to Washington, the state in which Hana was tragically killed by her parents’ use of “child training.”
Around 2004, Hope Chapel struggled with internal controversy: Bradley’s daughter and the son of Paul and Mary Schofield (also important figures in the California Christian homeschool scene) began courting. But the process unraveled into a bitter, chaotic mess. A number of other church attendees, disillusioned with Reb Bradley’s ideals, broke away and formed their own church. These attendees included Steve Hauser and his wife Julie, Paul and Mary Schofield, Roy Ballard, Geoff and Jenefer Igarashi, Richard and Deb Wuehler, and Paul and Gena Suarez. The rabid anti-gay activist Scott Lively and Hope Chapel attendee, previously known for violently assaulting a woman and currently being sued for crimes against humanity, decided to take Bradley’s side in the controversy.
Today the Suarezes stand accused of protecting know child predators. You can read the background story here. Their accusers include not only their own family—two of Gena Suarez’s sisters, Jenefer Igarashi and “Megan” (her name has been changed to protect her privacy)—but also some of the same people who once joined them during the Hope Chapel church split, including the Hausers. Furthermore, one of the known child predators they are accused of protecting is Roy Ballard, also once a member of their new splinter church, and now in prison for criminal sexual assault. All of the events that follow, in fact, originally began in this church that splintered off from Reb Bradley’s Hope Chapel.
“Cinderella”: the Physical Abuse of Megan
What Eric Novak learned about the Suarez family involved alleged physical abuse of their children as well as alleged sexual abuse within the family. According to the various accounts, the Suarezes 22-year-old son, Luke, sexually abused two of his younger siblings and his young cousin, the son of Jenefer Igarashi. Luke currently has continued access to his siblings, as he lives at home with his parents. He is regularly in contact with children in the homeschool community, thanks to his family’s business. According to Novak, the Suarezes often get put up in the homes of other homeschool families when they travel. Novak relates:
“They continued going to conventions and such, and I know that for a fact that at conventions, they’ll like stay with homeschool families, and he’ll like, sleep in the younger kids’ rooms. And that’s what I’m most concerned about.”
The physical abuse allegations involve the abuse of all of the Suarez children, as well Gena’s youngest sister, “Megan.” When Gena’s mom died, Paul and Gena took in Megan, Gena’s third sister. Megan was 13 years old and Gena was around 26. Megan claims that once she joined their family, Gena turned into a fairy-tale worthy evil surrogate mother, turning Megan into house help and depending on her for her primary childcare support. It got to the point where even the neighbors jokingly called Megan “Cinderella,” according to a written statement by Megan (given to Hännah by Eric Novak):
Even friends and neighbors of Gena and Paul would refer to me as “Cinderella.” It was evident to all who knew us what my role in the family was: babysitter, house cleaner and servant… and physically or mentally abused (instead of properly disciplined), when I would act childish or foolish.
…I was left in charge and instructed to care for and discipline the younger children in the home – even told to strike them in the face when ‘disobedient’ or ‘disrespectful’ (they’d give me ‘slapping privileges’), which still haunts me today. They also immediately took and used every penny of nearly $10,000 that my mother had left for me when she passed away (…When I moved in with the Suarez’ [sic], they got access to that account and spent every bit of the money).
Megan alleges that the Suarezes didn’t just use her for free labor and steal the money her parents left her. She says they physically abused her and their other children and claimed that the abuse was God’s will. It seems like they employed the Pearls’ parenting methods quite studiously. This is also from Megan’s written statement:
I witnessed and was a victim of physical and mental abuse while in the home. I watched Gena as she would strip her youngest son down (around 4 yrs old), put him in the bathtub and run cold water over his face so that he couldn’t breathe. They would have their second oldest son strip down naked and repeatedly douse him with cold water. Gena would brag that she “finally found a punishment that would get them to obey”. She would also have her children stand in the corner so long they were forced to wet their pants. I also remember seeing her boys be made to ‘make up from a fight’ by inappropriately kissing various parts of each other’s body to the point of everyone in the room feeling awkward and uncomfortable… except for Gena, who would laugh. I remember the way she once used me to ‘teach [Jake] a lesson’ by convincing him to run away and then telling him it was a ‘test’ and then proceeding to give him 100 spankings when he packed a bag. Again, remembering back on these things makes me sick almost to the point of throwing up. She would pinch us and pull our hair on a regular basis. I remember having her grab my hair and walk me down the hallway. Punishments for ‘bad behavior’ were cruel and unusual things like sleep depravation (having to get up in the middle of the night and clean the house or run up and down a hill on the property in the dark), or being told to get in my bed and pull the sheets over my head and stay there the entire day. Regularly I would beg to be allowed to correspond with my father, who lived in Alaska. I was always given a firm “no” and would have to sit for about 3 hours and listen to all the reasons why I could not have a relationship with my biological dad… because he was ‘in sin’. Instead I was forced against my will to call Paul ‘dad’ and refer to him as my father- or I’d be punished. I was also instructed to refer to Gena as my ‘mom’ and again, would be ‘dealt with’ if I refused. I was 13 when I moved in with them, and 17 when I fled.
…Paul also could be, and often was, very cruel. I remember being seated in front of him on the couch (him in a chair very close to me), and he would be lecturing me. Each time I would speak, he would kick me hard in the shins with his steel-toed boots. There were also numerous times when he would slap me in the face or push me up against a wall as he yelled and repeatedly poked my chest over and over with his finger.
Close to the time I finally fled, it had gotten to the point that I didn’t want to live anymore. I would fantasize about dying. I couldn’t please them no matter how hard I tried. I was literally a slave in the home and punished as such when I couldn’t meet their impossible standards. What hurt the most after I fled was knowing the abuse that would continue in the lives of the children.
After Megan escaped, she found support in her other older sister, Jenefer Igarashi, and has thrived. She is now married and mentors in her community and is herself a homeschool mom. She remains a devout Christian.
Suarez Teenager Molests 6-Year-Old Igarashi Kid
In the spring of 2007, the Igarashis and the Suarezes had a falling out over a church-related disagreement, and then 6 weeks later, according to a plethora of corroborating accounts, it was discovered that Luke, the then-teenage son of Paul and Gena Suarez, “repeatedly molested” the 6-year-old son of Geoff and Jenefer Igarashi. The Igarashis discovered this when the 6-year-old began frantically grabbing his own neck one evening and acting erratically. He began tearfully describing the “sexual attacks” his older cousin had inflicted on him.
Jenefer immediately contacted the Suarezes. According to a now-private statement by Jenefer on her blog, the nephew “admitted everything”. He and his parents assured the Igarashis they would “self report” to the CPS and would see a “Christian counselor”. Two separate emails obtained by us verify that: (1) on July 5, 2007, in response to an email sent by Jenefer Igarashi describing the sexual assault of her son, Paul Suarez admitted “Luke’s sins” were “horrible”; and (2) on May 30, 2008, Paul Suarez again admitted his son was guilty of committing “shameful sin” against the Igarashi boy. “What our son did was so shameful,” Paul wrote, “that it brought my wife and I to tears”.
Eric Novak was close with the family during the time the Igarashis discovered their son’s alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Luke. According to Novak, the most help the family got was a few counseling sessions:
“The sheriff got involved—here’s the thing. Only one instance of sexual abuse was ever reported. So his siblings were never reported. Only the Igarashi’s son was one that was reported. So, in that instance, the sheriff got involved and they were like, well he’s a minor—cause he was 14—so now we need to take him to counseling and he’ll go through three sessions of counseling and at the end of it, if he’s fine, then we’ll be done. And so he went through three sessions of counseling and they were like, that’s it”.
The Igarashis suggested they resolve their differences with Christian mediation via Peacemakers, a Christian mediation group headed up by homeschool leadership confidant Ken Sande. But the Suarezes refused. They wrote an email to the Igarashis on September 7, 2008, and said “utilizing Peacemakers” was “an absurd idea” and suggest that they (the Igarashis) “may not even be saved”. They said Jenefer and Geoff had to first “repent” of their own sins–a reference to the initial falling out over church politics—before the Suarezes would consider talking to them about the 6-year-old’s molestation allegations.
The Suarezes also promised the Igarashis that they would step down as publishers of their magazine and relinquish their leadership roles. The following is from a July 4, 2007 email sent by Paul Suarez to Jenefer Igarashi:
The pertinent text is:
We have no intent of compounding this offense by remaining on as the leaders [sic] of TOS. Obviously we are not qualified to continue on as publishers of a Christian magazine. We are already in talks with handing the magazine over to someone more suitable than ourselves. Please keep this business decision confidential as there are more people’s livelihoods at stake than our own. This is not to say that you should not report this incident to whomever you feel necessary. However, spreading this misfortune by talking or blogging to others not involved or directly related to this incident would serve no purpose. Please know that we certainly don’t intend on playing the hypocrite by sweeping this mess under the rug. Again, we have no interest in protecting our own reputations, only the livelihoods of those who depend on TOS.
This never happened. California business records demonstrate that The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC has remained active since 2005 and its principals remain Paul and Gena Suarez. Furthermore, the Suarezes continue to this day to represent themselves as reputable leaders (both publishing and otherwise) in homeschooling communities.
More Cover-Ups and One Last Attempt
Since 2008, the Igarashis felt their hands were tied in exposing the abuse to the public. But earlier this year, after watching the Disney movie “Frozen,” Jenefer was overwhelmed with a desire to try at reconciliation again. The Igarashis also learned in March of this year that their son was not the only sexual predator allegedly protected by the Suarezes.
The Igarashis learned about Mike Marcum, whose father (according to Novak) is Paul Suarez’s “right hand man in all things TOS-related.” Mike was arrested, and pleaded guilty in 2010 for possession of child pornography. According to Jenefer’s now-private statement, Mike was welcomed into community gatherings by the Suarezes despite them knowing he was being investigated for the child pornography charges. “When one of the families in their group found out,” Jenefer wrote, “the husband alerted other families that they knew had been exposed to the perpetrator. Their goal was simply to protect all children involved and make sure each parent had the opportunity to talk to their children and ascertain safety”. Instead of encouraging this family’s actions to protect children, Paul and Gena Suarez berated them. Jenfer wrote that the family was “called to a meeting with my sister and her husband and were ‘beaten with scripture, pulled completely out of context’ for about three hours. They were told they were gossips and were sowing discord and acting unbiblical”.
In addition to Mike Marcum was Roy Ballard, one of the individuals who originally joined the church that splintered off from Reb Bradley’s Hope Chapel. Ballard was convicted of criminal sexual abuse against children. According to Julie and Steve Hauster, also members of the splinter church, the Suarezes refused to believe a young child claiming she had been inappropriately touched by Ballard and instead belittled and shamed her and her family.
Reinvigorated with the desire to bring these stories of abusers to light, the Igarashis began counseling with their new pastor in February 2014. Desiring to abide by the principles of Matthew 18, the Igarashis enlisted a large number of fellow homeschool parents and drafted a group letter (involving several well-known leaders in the Christian Homeschool Movement) in the drafting process. The Igarashis sent a draft of the letter to the Suarezes on April 4. A copy of the letter was also sent to Heidi St. John, one of the most popular speakers for the Great Homeschool Conventions and a longtime family friend of both the Suarezes and Igarashis. The so-called “Super Mom of Homeschooling” who hosts “mom PJ parties”, St. John was informed by Jenefer that a third child molestation cover up (the case of Mike Marcum) had been discovered.
The Igarashis Appeal to HSLDA’s Michael Smith
Jenefer also decided to contact another friends: HSLDA President Michael Smith. Jenefer called Smith on his personal mobile phone 3 times as well as emailed him with her plea for help.
An excerpt from her April 8, 2014 email to HSLDA’s Smith reads as follows:
It’s been a while since we’ve talked.
My husband asked me to email you. I don’t know if you remember that Gena Suarez.(The Old Schoolhouse Magazine) is my sister. We had a (very) difficult split 7 years ago.
Last month we put together another effort to call them to repentance. 20 people have given testimony against them (including [name redacted], [name redacted], [name redacted], and others)
The document we’ve sent them has been ignored.
…we were told that *morally* we had some decisions to make since we know there have been recent cover ups (dealing with convicted sex offenders — Suarez’s pushing to allow access within family settings and bullying people who spoke out). I have testimony and direct proof of this. The men are listed on sex crime registers. Both men were convicted of crimes against children. This is in addition to their son (a highschooler at the time) who repeatedly victimized our little son.We are trying to make a decision whether or not to let convention leaders know about this issue.
The [name redacted]/Teach Them Diligently are our friends and know about this issue and so does [name redacted] (also our friend), who helps run CHEA of California. But as of yet, we’ve not informed anybody else.
My husband asked me earlier today if I would contact you and ask your advice. HSLDA has been the watchdog/protectors of the homeschool movement since the early 80s. You all have not only protected legitimate homeschoolers but have made sure the Homeschool Community (at large) was not used as a haven for abusers.
We really are not sure what should be done in this case. On one hand we are nervous about knowing about their patterns/ keeping children safe, but on the other hand we are talking about my sister who I love. After the Doug Phillips tragedy I feel like the homeschool movement could be damaged with another high profile scandal. This is a horrible position any way you look at it.I know you are a very busy man, but any light you could shed on this would be very appreciated.
Enter Heidi St. John, Brennan Dean, and the Great Homeschool Conventions
The joint letter the Igarashis sent to the Suarezes (and copied to Heidi St. John) on April 4 was not received well. According to Novak, the Suarezes “ignored both the letter that had been crafted by the individuals (list of 20) and also Jenefer’s pleas to her sister to work with her”.
Heidi St. John, however, was dismayed by the fact that Jenefer involved her in the situation. St. John sent a number of emails to Jenefer in response. In one of those emails, St. John wrote, “This is a huge distraction for us in the middle of the busiest season of the year. We have neither the time nor desire to be part of it”. St. John also told Jenefer that she had talked to HSLDA’s Michael Smith and Smith told her that, “HSLDA will not be getting involved in it.”
According to Novak, the Suarezes then attempted to strong-arm Jenefer. Novak says, “They got the letter from Jen on April 4th — and never emailed back. Instead, their move was to rope in Heidi St. John and have GHC call Jenefer’s workplace and request that she be kept out of the GHC event, the weekend of April 24th”. Allegedly pressured by St. John, the GHC leadership agreed to block Jenefer from the convention. This happened on April 23 when Jenefer Igarashi was at the airport, about to board a flight to the Great Homeschool Convention in Ohio. Jenefer is an employee for a well-known company that exhibits at homeschool conventions around the United States. While waiting to board, Jenefer received a call from her employer. That employer had received a phone call from Kim McMillan, Exhibitor Coordinator for the Great Homeschool Conventions. According to Novak, McMillan told Jenefer’s employer she was calling on behalf of GHC president Brennan Dean requesting that Jenefer not be sent to the convention because of her “threatening emails” to the Suarezes.
It is important to note that the emails in possession of the authors indicate that Heidi St. John was entirely aware of the allegations that the Suarezes had ignored child abuse and—according to Jenefer and other collaborating accounts—decided to look away, despite writing the blog post “Don’t Look Away” a mere month before. In that post, St. John declared that,
What’s more troubling to me is the lack of concern that the homeschool community seems to have for the victims of Gothard’s and Phillips teachings. There seems to be more concern for protecting these men and their “ministries” because it may have a negative impact on homeschooling than for the lives of the people who have been hurt and abused.
What in the world are we thinking?
Her own words appear to be self-indicting.
David Gibbs III Offers to “Help”
Two days later, on April 25, Jenefer received a call from someone she did not know: David Gibbs III. Gibbs seemed to appear out of nowhere. He had been in the news earlier this year as the defender of another abuse victim—Lourdes Torres-Mantufuel, the target of Doug Phillips’s alleged sexual molestation.
Gibbs appeared to be a godsend, a knight in shining armor. Gibbs allegedly told Jenefer that he “didn’t even really know” the Suarezes and was simply told by Heidi St. John and Brennan Dean that there was an “issue” with which he could help by arranging an “unbiased mediation” with the Suarezes. After trying to years to arrange that very thing, this seemed like a break in the dam to Jenefer. So on April 25, 2014, Jenefer sent Gibbs a slew of private documents for him to examine before the mediation effort. Most notable was the aforementioned private testimony by Megan, detailing her horrific abuse at the hands of Gena and Paul from the years of 1995-2001—abuse so intense that she became suicidal.
Jenefer sent the testimony with the understanding that it would be confidential and believing that she could trust Gibbs. But that trust began eroding when one of Jenefer’s children realized Gibbs was a part-owner as well as a corporate sponsor and organizational partner of the Great Homeschool Conventions—the company that just banned Jenefer from their convention and featured Heidi St. John. GHC has only three corporate sponsors: one is The Old Schoolhouse and another is David Gibbs’ National Center for Life and Liberty. Jenefer also found out Gibbs was a columnist for The Old Schoolhouse.
Jenefer’s trust in Gibbs vanished entirely when Gibbs, the Suarezes, and the Igarashis met on May 5, 2014 for a final mediation attempt. At the beginning of the meeting, Paul Suarez pulled out a document: the confidential testimony of Jenefer’s sibling. Somehow the confidential testimony of an abuse victim — given only to Gibbs — had fallen into the hands of the victim’s alleged abusers: the Suarezes.
The mediation attempt was a grueling process, lasting around 10 hours. According to a written report of the meeting, Paul Suarez attempted to use the mediation to lecture people, and was consequently asked to leave the room along with Jenefer’s husband. When Jenefer confronted Gibbs about whether he would advise Lourdes Torres-Manteufel to sign such a mediation agreement, Gibbs allegedly grew irate and declared, “You’re no Lourdes Torres!” According to this report, Gibbs eventually pushed Jenefer and Geoff to sign a mediation agreement he drafted. The agreement declared that the Suarezes agreed to stop “shunning” the Igarashis but on the condition that Jenefer was to cease talking about all the potentially damning information they had. It was also insinuated that they could be sued if they chose to speak up. We have a copy of the mediation agreement but are not at liberty to publicize more than the following image from it.
The Suarezes’ pastor in Tennessee was involved in the meeting, and has not yet reported the Suarezes for child abuse, despite having read Megan’s statement and voicing concern for the remaining children at home. The following is from an email by Jenefer to Novak (and given to Hännah by him) debriefing the meeting in May:
And then her PASTOR (they brought a pastor who drove up with them from TN) said, “I’m concerned about the child abuse” and then he said, “How about we write up an agreement that states the Suarez’s were wrong for dividing with the Igarashis and then I will personally begin monitoring the Suarez’s with our board of elders, examine their household and interview their children and then periodically report to you directly, Jenefer.” Then he said, “the Suarez’s are in the process of joining my church and if we let them be members we are definitely going to want to keep an eye on this. We don’t want them in our church if they are going to behave like that.”
The pastor, Charlie Scalf of Roan Hill Baptist Church, didn’t return our call inquiring about the Suarezes’ membership standing at their church. Days after signing the agreement, something inside Jenefer snapped. She finally had the chance to be un-shunned after 7 years. But it was not worth the cost to her: the cost of pretending she agreed with a philosophy that protects child abusers and punishes those who speak out.
So on May 24, 2014, she violated the terms set by Gibbs’s mediation agreement and wrote a public blog post revealing both the alleged sexual assault against her son and the Suarezes’ alleged roles in covering up both that assault and other child predators in their communities. This blog post caused an outrage among the other parties involved in the mediation agreement. Jenefer eventually made the post private and password-protected. But several weeks later, she again decided to go public—despite pressure by Gibbs to not do so. On June 19th, she wrote a second blog post about the abuse. Novak suggests that her reasons for doing so were because she believed that Paul and Gena had breached their side of the agreement as well. In the July 19th post, Jenefer writes:
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 [sic] repeatedly molested more than one child. In my opinion, they should have stepped down and dealt with their family issues. Instead, they built an audience and created a following. I feel no obligation to protect their leadership position in the homeschooling community. It was their choice to push this issue public.
They refused to deal with us privately (we tried repeatedly) and then seven years later, when they finally met with us (with a supposed ‘unbiased mediator’) they refused to acknowledge any error over their unbiblical belief of shunning Christians over secondary issues. Nor did they see a problem with condemning families who refused to accept what amounts to a ‘zero accountability’ stance for child sex predators. It is because of their choices that this is now playing out in front of an audience that they, themselves, created.
Here’s a helpful motto: Don’t do things that you don’t want people to find out about. It’s not the job of the ‘abused’ to protect their abusers ‘popularity’.
Now 14 years old, the Igarashi’s son wants people to know what happened to him (taken from a June 19th blog post written by Jenefer):
…he told me he wanted to speak plainly. He told me that he was angry — really angry — that his older cousin had forced him to live with such disgusting memories. He also told me that he hated the idea of being known as the kid who had ________ happen to him. He said he was fearful of having a tainted reputation and was nervous about being kept out of certain circles of friends who might look at him weird if they knew. I sat quietly and just listened to him as he spoke. And then what he said surprised me. He said, “I think that being concerned about how I’m viewed is selfish, though. I don’t want my reputation to be more important to me than knowing we might be able to help prevent others from having to live through what I have to deal with”.
This child is right to be worried that others will have to deal with this same stuff. If these allegations are true, the statistical probability that the Igarashi son and the two Suarez siblings are not Luke’s only victims is high—the “average” pedophile will have many, many victims have before getting caught (numbers vary, but most sources estimate between 100-200). So much time has been wasted because these families have delayed legal action by years of attempting Christian “reconciliation”. Jenefer and her husband initially left their jobs at TOS shortly after their son’s abuse, but felt they had to keep quiet due to years of alleged threats and intimidation from Gena. Gena is alleged to have further attempted to squash Jenefer professionally by going behind her back to request that Christian media outlets like Crosswalk.com remove pieces Jenefer wrote for them while she was a TOS employee. The Suarezes have even threatened Eric Novak with a libel lawsuit over his Facebook posts warning about their abuse.
Everyone who spoke to both of us is terrified of Paul and Gena.
The Suarezes have controlled the narrative thus far, and Gena’s sisters (both of whom evidence passion to see Luke, Paul, and Gena brought to justice) both initially spoke with us in extensive detail about the situation. However, they later took our conversations off the record out of fear of retaliation. While Eric Novak expressed similar hesitations, he decided that exposing the alleged abuse was worth the risk. These fears evidence the power alleged abusers have to control the narrative by keeping their victims silent and afraid of punishment. Eric says he hopes the Suarezes see justice for their alleged physical abuse of their kids and for Luke’s alleged sexual abuse of his siblings and cousin.
To date, the Suarezes and The Old Schoolhouse have not responded to these allegations with a public statement. Rather, as reported on Homeschoolers Anonymous on July 2, 2014, TOS has been stating privately—via emails—that all of these allegations are false. “TOS and the Suarez family are aware of the allegations circulating online”, TOS declared. “They are false”. In light of the fact that the authors have emails on file from the Suarezes themselves admitting several of the allegations are true, these current statements by TOS appear intentionally and maliciously false.
Even more disturbing is the revelation—again, verifiable—that some of the biggest names in Christian homeschooling (HSLDA’s Mike Smith, GHC’s Brennan Dean, GHC’s Heidi St. John, and NCLL’s Dave Gibbs III) have known about both the child abuse allegations and the alleged cover-up of the abuse for substantial periods of time and have chosen to ignore it, remain silent, or bully others into silence.
This might be the most widespread, institutional cover-up of child and sexual abuse allegations among homeschool leaders and communities to date.
Note: The authors reached out to HSLDA, GHC, TOS, Heidi St. John, and David Gibbs III for comments. None of them replied by the time of publication.
* The original story incorrectly implied that Jenefer Igarashi directly contacted Anne Miller, President of the Home Educators Association of Virginia. The contact was made via a third party.
* The original story stated that, during the mediation attempt, “Paul Suarez stormed out of the room at one point and never returned.” Paul did not storm out; rather, he was asked to leave the room along with Jenefer’s husband after creating difficulties during the mediation.
* The original story said David Gibbs III said “You’re no Lourdes Torres!” to Jenefer Igarashi in response to him allegedly giving the testimony of her younger sibling to the Suarezes. This has been corrected to reflect that Gibbs allegedly said that in response to Igarashi asking if Gibbs would make Lourdes sign a mediation agreement with Doug Phillips.
* The original story said that the GHC leadership allegedly agreed to block Jenefer Igarashi from the convention due to pressure from Heidi St. John and Paul and Gena Suarez. Igarashi’s public statement today says,
When I accused Gena of punishing me by having me blocked from this convention, Mr. Gibbs stopped me and said, “Gena didn’t ask to have you blocked. Heidi St John did.” There were a total of five witnesses to that statement. When I asked why in the world Heidi would have anything to say about it, my sister began quoting, verbatim, from a private email I had sent Heidi.
Can we expect some response from TOS addressing the serious accusations that have been leveled at its owners this week? I have long endorsed this magazine to the more than 100 families in my homeschool group and as the group leader, I feel some responsibility to retract that endorsement if TOS isn’t going to deal with this issue honestly and publicly.
TOS did not answer the question publicly. Rather, their customer service representative said, “Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.” Another individual asked for an answer as well; that individual was also asked to email TOS privately.
To date the Old Schoolhouse has yet to make any public statement about the serious allegations of abuse and misconduct by owners Paul and Gena Suarez and their son.
However, Homeschoolers Anonymous has obtained a copy of the Old Schoolhouse’s official, but not public, response that is being sent privately to those inquiring about the allegations. Below is both a screenshot of the email they are sending people as well as the text:
Thank you for emailing us privately with your question. A more public response is not possible due to the agreement with the other party and ethics which state that when minors are involved broad publicity is not encouraged.
TOS and the Suarez family are aware of the allegations circulating online. They are false. Please be patient as we are in the midst of proceedings with legal and other advisors concerning false accusations, defamation, libel, and slander. We trust that the Lord will expose it all in His time, and we feel hopeful that people who love Him will believe the best before assuming that something spread around the Internet is automatically true.
That’s all we can share at this time. Thank you for checking with us in the spirit of Proverbs 18:17and Proverbs 18:13.
This, then, is the Old Schoolhouse’s official company position on the allegations: that “they are false” and nothing more than “something spread around the Internet.” TOS also seems to insinuate the possibility of legal action by speaking of “legal and other advisors concerning false accusations, defamation, libel, and slander.”
One thing is true: truth shall be exposed in due time. And I do not advise placing any bets on the side of the Old Schoolhouse.
We like to think that we know what child abusers look like. That we can pick them out of the crowd based on their creepy mustaches, darkly-tinted cargo vans, or their giant, thick-rimmed glasses.
But those stereotypes are just that: stereotypes.
And like all stereotypes, they fall tragically short. The fact is, child abusers are not Others. They do not walk around with signs that say, “Monster.” They are able to violate our trust — and children’s lives and bodies and minds — because we trust them. Which means they have our trust, because they are a part of our community. They are friends and family and teachers and loved ones. Boz Tchividjian from G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments) is spot-on when he says,
“Those who pose the greatest risk to our children are within our families, churches, and circle of friends.”
A month ago, news broke that demonstrates just how true this is. A homeschooling family — the Jackson family from North Carolina — was revealed to have hidden child sexual abuse for over a decade. Homeschooling’s Invisible Children reports,
A 16-year-old girl was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by the six Jackson brothers (Eric, 27; Jon, 25; Matthew, 23; Nathaniel, 21; Benjamin, 19; and Aaron, 18) from the time she was 4 until she was 14. Though the girl was not identified, it appears that she was the brothers’ younger sister. The boys’ parents, John and Nita Jackson, knew about the abuse and did nothing to prevent it.
You can read the original news report from WTKR here, which notes that “the Jackson brothers’ parents were charged in this case because they witnessed the abuse.” Furthermore, as Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board has pointed out, “At the time of the alleged abuse, they were living in North Carolina and two of the brothers were reportedly members of Scott Brown’s church, Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina.” This would be the same Scott Brown who has “very close ties with the now defunct Vision Forum Ministries and recently fallen Christian Patriarchal leader, Doug Phillips. Brown also heads up National Centers for Family-Integrated Churches.”
I was intrigued to find out that the Jackson brothers still had their Facebook pages active. So I decided to go look at their pages and see what their public lives had looked like. I was interested — but not surprised — to find out that the Jackson brothers had mutual Facebook friends with me. Several brothers actually had quite a few. So these kids (some now adults) clearly had somewhat social lives. They weren’t growing up in a stereotypical compound in the middle of nowhere. They existed within groups — like homeschool speech and debate — that I used to exist in. And yet no one seemed to have any idea what was going on. No one, including some people I myself know.
But here’s the thing: their Facebook pages look normal. They look like the Facebook pages of conservative Christian homeschool students and graduates. And that is exactly the point here. If this case wasn’t being criminally prosecuted, how many people do you think would be defending these people as “godly” and “upstanding” men who would “never do something like that” because they “love Jesus”?
To make this point more salient, let’s look at what the average Facebook posts by the Jackson brothers look like. Because this will tell you what child abusers look like in homeschooling communities.
What Child Abusers “Like” on Facebook:
What Books Child Abusers Read
What Movies Child Abusers Watch
What Child Abusers Post About on Facebook:
Obviously one can “like” any of the above sites, people, books, or movies and not be a child abuser. One can post pictures of sunsets and attach Bible verses to them and not be a child abuser. But it’s the opposite mindset we need to focus on, isn’t it?
— The mindset that assumes people who love the Bible and share its wisdom and love respected homeschool leaders are somehow safe, or safer to “ungodly” people.
— The mindset that “good Christian boys” would never abuse anyone.
— The mindset that homeschooling will make better, more holy, children.
We will not be able to fight child abuse in homeschooling communities until we realize that the child abusers among us effortlessly blend right in. They might be our respected leaders (in fact, sometimes they have been our respected leaders, like Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips); they might be a homeschool celebrity that HSLDA publicly calls a “hero” (like Michael Gravelle); they might be the owners of our beloved companies or those owners’ children (like the son of Paul and Gena Suarez, owners of The Old Schoolhouse); they might even be some of the people claiming to be allies of abuse survivors. There is no magic formula.
This means we must constantly be on our guard. It means we must know the warning signs and know how to report abuse to law enforcement and we must actually report the abuse. We cannot sweep it under the rug or turn a blind eye. We cannot shame those trying to bring it to light. We must start taking a stand, we must start raising a ruckus, and we must demand that our leaders and communities do so as well.
We must demand that our leaders and communities do more than write blog posts about not looking away and actually do the hard work of not looking away.