After investigating the neo-Nazi homeschool network in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, the Ohio Department of Education appears to have concluded that the group is doing nothing wrong.Logan and Katja Lawrence were unmasked last week as the operators of a neo-Nazi homeschool network with thousands of members, known as Dissident Homeschool on Telegram, by VICE News and the Huffington Post based on research from an anti-fascist research group called the Anonymous Comrades Collective.
The Lawrences openly advocate white supremacist ideologies with the aim of making the children they teach, they’ve said, “become wonderful Nazis.” Katja Lawrence said she initially started the group because she “was having a rough time finding Nazi-approved school material for [her] homeschool children,” and has shared lesson plans that include Hitler quotes, pictures of a cake she baked for Hitler’s birthday, and a recording of her children saying ”sieg heil” in unison. Days after the news broke, the Ohio Department of Education said that it was investigating the Lawrences and the neo-Nazi homeschool network. Stephanie Siddens, the interim superintendent of public instruction at the Department of Education, told VICE News that she was “outraged and saddened” by the news, adding that “there is absolutely no place for hate-filled, divisive and hurtful instruction in Ohio’s schools, including our state’s home-schooling community.”But, in a new statement to VICE News, the findings from the Department of Education’s investigation seem to have concluded that there is simply nothing the department can do, or would do, to sanction the Lawrences or anyone else doing something similar due to the state’s homeschool policies.“While there are certain minimum requirements for home education, the Department of Education is not involved in the excusal of a particular student from attendance in order to participate in home education,” the department said in a summary of its findings shared with VICE News. “Moreover, the district superintendent’s review of home education is limited to ensuring that the minimum educational requirements are met and that the academic assessment report shows that a child is demonstrating reasonable proficiency.”
Eric Landversicht, the superintendent in Wyandot County, where the Lawrences live, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the findings or whether the department spoke to him as part of their investigation. Please send tips about the Lawrences or the neo-Nazi homeschool network to David Gilbert at email@example.com. For Signal, DM @Daithaigilbert on Twitter.The department’s statement did not reference the Lawrences and the neo-Nazi homeschool network and instead focused on the home schooling regulations in the state. “Parents or guardians who decide to educate their children at home are responsible for choosing the curriculum and course of study,” the statement says. “They select the curriculum and educational materials and take responsibility for educating their children.”A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to VICE News’ question about whether their investigation has not been closed.The Upper Sandusky Police Department and the Wyandot Sheriff’s office both told VICE News that there are no investigations under way into the Lawrences or their homeschooling group.There are currently over 51,000 homeschooled children in Ohio. While the state has some rules in place to try and ensure homeschooled children are receiving a proper education, those involved in Ohio’s homeschooling system say that oversight is minimal.
“The amount of oversight is just shocking to me because there's really no oversight, it's basically just a rubber stamp,” Megan, a mother who homeschools her child in Ohio, told VICE News. “Nobody really seems to know what anybody's doing because people like to have freedom and they just do what they want. Everything just seems to happen very fast.”Megan, whose last name has been withheld due to safety concerns, also said that while other states require homeschool children to take part in standardized testing and meet in person with teachers to assess their child’s development, “Ohio has none of that.”"You can just basically pick your curriculum, and the superintendent doesn't really have a lot of say,” Megan said. Republicans in the Ohio Senate are pushing several pieces of legislation which would relax homeschool oversight even further. A bill sponsored by Republican lawmakers in Ohio would increase the amount of tax breaks that homeschool parents can receive annually from $250 to $2,000.“If programs that perpetuate antisemitism, hatred, and bigotry are something the Ohio legislature and Ohio Department of Education unleashed when it allowed unfettered access to the structure of Ohio public education, then it must revisit those unwise decisions,” Rep. Marcy Kaptur told VICE News. “Hate should not be foisted on future generations or on Ohio’s communities. Ohio’s state government leaders must address this apparent failure of the system they created.”
Some lawmakers have also sought to downplay the significance of the revelations about the Nazi homeschool network, claiming it is an isolated situation. “I hope we're long past the point in our society where we take the actions of one person or a small group of people and paint the entire group as though somehow they're participating in that,” Senate President Matt Huffman told News 5 Cleveland, speaking about homeschooling.Other lawmakers are angry about the lack of guardrails for homeschooling in Ohio.“I think we can all agree this is a broken system,” Democrat Rep. Casey Weinstein told VICE News in response to the Department of Education findings.“Unless you support ridiculous conspiracy theories or if you want to make sure your child ‘becomes a wonderful Nazi,’ then it’s time to add some guardrails and transparency to how home schools are managed in Ohio,” Weinstein said. “These people are grooming children to be Nazis and we need to do something about it. Full stop.”Huffman, who is trying to push a bill through the Ohio Senate that will further gut public school funding and redirect it towards private schools, attacked other lawmakers he claimed were trying to use the revelations to help themselves politically. “I hope, frankly, that people will not try to take some political advantage or policy advantage... basically trying to decide that a couple of sociopaths somewhere in Ohio who are doing strange things that... somehow should affect the policy of the rest of the state is anathema to me," Huffman said.But Democrats say that a change in the education system in Ohio needs to start by addressing the issues uncovered by the Nazi homeschool revelations in Upper Sandusky.“Some Republicans in Ohio are in such a rush to turn our public education system upside down that they're missing the blind spots in other areas of education, like the lack of transparency when it comes to homeschooling that was exposed by the Neo-Nazi curriculum being taught and amplified in Upper Sandusky,” Rep. Jessica Miranda told VICE News.The Dissident Homeschool group on Telegram operated by the Lawrences was deleted earlier this week. A new group with the same name was set up, but so far no content has been posted in the channel and it’s unclear if the Lawrences are involved.