Monday, October 6, 2008


Journal Gazette, The (Fort Wayne, IN) - January 5, 1993
Private religious schools such as Hephzibah House in Winona Lake are under no obligation to meet Indiana laws governing health and education, state officials said Monday.

The lack of regulation has generated considerable disagreement between those who advocate more state control and those who argue that any state control over private schools violates the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state.

The only government agencies that appear to have any regulatory control over such schools are the state fire marshal's office, which inspects such facilities to ensure they meet fire codes, and the Indiana Division of Family and Children, which would review such schools only if there are complaints that children are being mistreated.

An official with the Indiana Division of Family and Children said the agency may investigate reports that girls at Hephzibah House in Winona Lake are denied solid food as punishment. {

Hephzibah House, a fundamentalist Christian boarding school for troubled girls, is at the center of a custody battle between a New York man and his former wife, who placed the couple's daughter at Hephzibah House last February.

In a suit filed in Kosciusko Superior Court, the father said school officials denied him visits with his daughter in violation of his New York divorce decree. A Kosciusko County judge sided with the father last week and ordered a visit. The family is due back in court Thursday for a hearing on the father's suit for temporary custody of the girl.

The father, who had to obtain a court order before Hephzibah House officials would allow him to meet with his daughter, has questioned some of the conditions and rules at the home.

The lack of government jurisdiction over private schools makes it easy to abuse the spirit of the law, and impossible to ensure that children receive an adequate education, according to advocates of more state control.

``What we really need is a definition of the term: `school,''' said Tracy Dust, executive director of
the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. ``If we could get that defined, we could deal with some of these matters. We've seen some very serious problems. From time to time, there have been schools spring up that were really nothing more than a place of work for youngsters.''

Dust said several bills have been introduced in the Indiana General Assembly over the past 15 years to regulate private and home schools, but all have been defeated by a strong coalition of private and home school parents, who argue that regulation of private schools violates the Constitution.

``Private schools must have the freedom to hire their own teachers and choose their own textbooks,'' said Eric Miller, an attorney and executive director of Citizens Concerned for the Constitution. ``Schools should be measured by the outcome, what the child has learned, not whether the parents have doctorates and master's degrees. Our elected officials have
generally agreed that private and home schools have the right to exist free from government control of their internal operations.''

The Division of Family and Children will decide whether to investigate Hephzibah House after consulting with a physician and dietitian to determine whether conditions described by the girl
involved in the current custody action are harmful, said department spokesman Rich Schneider.

{{NOTE} bit repetitive but ... That agency is virtually the only agency in Indiana with any jurisdiction over the operation of private schools such as Hephzibah House

The girl involved in the custody action was quoted in The News- Sentinel as telling her father that girls at the school are denied solid food as punishment. She also said she had stopped having menstrual periods, and that other girls complained of missed periods, too.

Her account of the strict disciplinary rules and conditions at the home was similar to accounts given by former residents at the home described in an article in The Journal-Gazette a year ago.

Under Indiana law, accreditation by the Department of Education is voluntary, spokesman Joe DiLaura said. The law requires only that schools notify the state of their existence and that the state keep a list of the schools.

There are 736 private schools in Indiana, DiLaura said, about 296 of which are either accredited or seeking accreditation from the state. Those schools educate about 67,600 students.

The remaining 440 schools, which educate about 30,000 Indiana children, are unaccredited.

The Indiana State Board of Health enforces regulations on physical facilities, food service, sewage and refuse disposal for public and accredited private schools, said public information officer Mary Ann McKinney. But private, unaccredited religious schools are exempt from all regulations.