California house of horrors case a 'wake-up call' for state to toughen private school oversight, lawmaker says

The disturbing case of a California couple accused of shackling their children inside a home listed as a private K-12 school is “a wake-up call” for lawmakers and officials to scrutinize the state’s lax oversight of private and home schools, an assembly member says.

David and Louise Turpin are scheduled to appear in court Thursday after police say they found "several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings” in their Perris home, following a 911 call from a 17-year-old daughter who said she escaped Sunday.

“It’s definitely a wake-up call,” Jose Medina, a Democratic assembly member who represents Perris, told Fox News. “We need to do more.”

The address of the home is listed in a California Department of Education directory as the location of the Sandcastle Day School, which opened in 2011 with David Turpin as the principal.

According to California law, private schools are required to file an annual affidavit, containing information on students and administrators, with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to create the directory.

But the state’s department of education “does not have the authority to license, evaluate, recognize, approve, or endorse any private school or course."

Turpins home google

The Turpin's home in Perris, Calif., was listed as the address of a private school on the California Department of Education's website.  (Google Maps)

“The CDE does not oversee any aspect of private school operations which are considered private businesses,” adds a section on the California Department of Education’s website. It also "does not provide guidance on how to home school." 

The U.S. Department of Education says private school buildings are subject to an annual inspection through the California state fire marshal’s office, but a spokesperson there did not tell Fox News whether or not the Turpin’s home had been recently inspected.

Beyond that, government monitoring of California’s private and home schools -- such as the Turpin’s -- appears almost nonexistent.

“I am extremely concerned about the lack of oversight the state of California currently has in monitoring private and home schools,” Medina said earlier this week in a statement. “I have been in conversation with the Riverside County Office of Education, which agrees that we need to do more to protect our students and validate that they are in safe learning environments.”

"One incident like this is too many."

- Ron Reynolds

Medina told Fox News that he is considering proposing state legislation that would have an entity, such as a county office of education, take the responsibility of monitoring what goes on inside local private and home schools on an annual basis.

“I do think the state needs to do more since we are not really doing anything at all at this time, or we have not in the past,” he added.

The Riverside County Office of Education told Fox News that Superintendent Judy D. White spoke to Medina on Tuesday about what could be done to increase oversight of schools in the county where the Turpin family home is located.

“Assemblyman Medina and I both share a concern for ensuring that students have a safe learning environment that can best meet a diversity of student needs,” White said in a statement. “As educators, we are always open to dialogue about what is best for children.”

In the past school year, the Sandcastle Day School had a reported enrollment of six students, with one each in fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grade, according to the Associated Press.

These Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, photos provided by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department show Louise Anna Turpin, left, and David Allen Turpin. Authorities say an emaciated teenager led deputies to a Perris, Calif., home where her 12 brothers and sisters were locked up in filthy conditions, with some of them malnourished and chained to beds. Riverside County sheriff's deputies arrested the parents David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin on Sunday. The parents could face charges including torture and child endangerment. (Riverside County Sheriff's Department via AP)

Louise Turpin, left, and David Turpin were being held on suspicion of torture and child endangerment.  ((AP/RCSD))

The children living at the home ranged in age from 2 to 29 and reportedly appeared on the verge of starvation when they were rescued by police Sunday.

“We are sickened by this tragedy and relieved the children are now safe and authorities are investigating,” the California Department of Education told Fox News in a statement.

“Private schools are required to register with the state to record their students’ exemption from compulsory attendance at public schools,” the statement added. “Under current California law, the CDE does not approve, monitor, inspect, or oversee private schools, but we will gladly work to make changes in the law that would prevent this type of tragedy from occurring in the future.”

Ron Reynolds, executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations, told Fox News the majority of instances of private schooling are parents paying tuition for others to educate and protect their children. He said in California, law requires school employees to report suspected child abuse to the police, but in a situation like the Turpin case, authorities only found out about the alleged abuse after the daughter escaped.

“It’s an unusual case because it’s not so much a private school matter, but a matter of parental abuse,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds, whose organization describes itself as an “advocate, catalyst, and creative leader for strengthening and advancing K-12 private education in California,” reiterated the call that “lawmakers should be thinking seriously” about revamping government oversight of private and home schools.

“One incident like this is one too many,” he said. “If there is any way that state regulation can reduce incidents of abuse such as this, who wouldn’t applaud an effort?”