Technically, Nicole Naugler Is Not a Homeschool Mom

Photo from Blessed Little Homestead’s Facebook page.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 9, 2015.

Over the last few days, my social media pages have blow up with comments and articles about Joe and Nicole Naugler, an “off-grid” couple whose ten children were removed by CPS following the discovery that the family was living in tents and had inadequate heat, water, and sewage—a discovery that followed a standoff between Joe and one of the neighbors, in which Joe trespassed on a neighbor’s property in order to steal water, and then, when confronted, threatened to shoot said neighbor.

News articles about the removal tend to have titles like this:

Kentucky Police Seize Ten Children of Homeschooling Off-Grid Family, Arrest Pregnant Mother

BREAKING: Police Seize 10 Children From Homeschool Family Because They’re Off-Grid

Pregnant Homeschool Mom Assaulted by Sheriff as CPS Kidnaps Her Kids in Kentucky

Some homeschooling parents are posting article on the situation to HSLDA’s facebook page to try to get them involved, and I’ve seen scads of homeschooling parents defending the Nauglers as a good, honest, hard-working homeschooling family that just happens to have made different lifestyle choices from other families. If you want an honest look at the situation and what all is involved, see Kathryn Elizabeth’s post, Here Are 7 Surprising Things You Need to Know about Joe and Nicole Naugler. But there’s something slightly tangential that I want to touch on here.

Technically, Joe and Nicole Naugler are not homeschooling.

Yes, you read that right.

Kentucky does not require homeschooling parents to submit academic assessments of their children’s progress or keep portfolios of children’s educational materials, but the state does require homeschooling parents to file paperwork with the local school board, and the Nauglers have not done so.

Technically, the Naugler children are not being homeschooled—they’re truant.

Please don’t think I’m here to nitpick or to suggest that education cannot take place at home if the proper paperwork is not filed. I’m not. Because the Naugler’s self-identify as homeschoolers, I’m inclined to think of them as homescholers even though they’re not considered homeschoolers before the law. This blog post is absolutely not to say that we should reject the family’s identification as homeschoolers (though we absolutely should support them filing the paperwork to homeschool legally).

Why, then, am I bringing this up? Simply put, because it seems like every time a homeschooled child is horrifically abused or killed by his or her parents (such as the cases listed here), anti-oversight homeschooling parents disavow the family as not actually homeschooling. We saw this most recently after the deaths of Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry, who were in fact legally homeschooled regardless of what anti-oversight homeschooling parents claimed. There are other cases of horrific abuse where the parents claimed they are homeschooling but never filed the proper paperwork.  In these cases, homeschooling parents are quick to distance themselves and denounce the family as not actually homeschooling. I would understand this if it was consistent, but as the response to the Naugler family makes clear, it’s not.

Homeschooling parents have not (that I’ve seen) questioned Nicole Naugler’s self-identification as a homeschooling mother even though Nicole never filed the required paperwork and her children were therefore legally truant. But it goes further than this. I’ve been told that the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) accepts families as members even when they’re not following their state’s legal requirements for homeschooling. In other words, HSLDA accepts as members families that are not considered homeschoolers before the law, and are instead legally truant. But then, when horrific abuse comes to light in a family that claimed to be homeschooling but didn’t file the required paperwork, they’re suddenly not actually homeschoolers.

How is it not obvious how inconsistent this is? You either need to not consider any families that are legally truant as homeschoolers, regardless of whether they claim to be homeschooling—and that includes Nicole Naugler—or you need to count all families that are legally truant as homeschoolers if they claim to be so—even if they are revealed to have brutalized or murdered their children.

Here is how Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, run by the alumni-founded Coalition for Responsible Home Education, determines which cases to include in its database:

What is your criteria for including a child in the HIC database?

We include all school aged children (ages 5 to 17) who were the victims of severe or fatal abuse or neglect who were legally homeschooled or whose parents, guardians, or captors claimed to be homeschooling them at the time an incident occurred.

While not everyone may agree with their method of characterizing which children are and are not homeschooled, they do at least have a consistent standard. I’d like to see homeschooling parents who oppose oversight demonstrate the same consistency.

17 comments

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Why, then, am I bringing this up? Simply put, because it seems like every time a homeschooled child is horrifically abused or killed by his or her parents (such as the cases listed here), anti-oversight homeschooling parents disavow the family as not actually homeschooling.

    AKA “No True Scotsman fallacy”.

    I would understand this if it was consistent, but as the response to the Naugler family makes clear, it’s not.

    With the Nauglers, it’s a combination of “We Have a Martyr!” and “One of Us! One of Us! Gooble! Gobble! One of Us!”

    (And of course the Nauglers didn’t file homeschooling paperwork. That would be bending the knee and burning the pinch of incense on the altar of the Secular Humanist Antichrist Gubmnit Conspiracy.)

  • I understand that the HSLDA has disassociated themselves from the Nauglers. This is about abuse and neglect, not homeschooling or living off the grid.

  • The Stanley family in Hot Springs,Arkansas, also failed to meet the minimum requirements for home schooling in that state. Their case has been spun in the media as about a “mineral supplement”, but legal home schoolers they weren’t. The father said as much on his Facebook page.

  • There is so much more to this story than what the Nauglers have put out there. They are not representing the facts as relayed by various sources. They have no access to clean water other than to pilfer it from their neighbor. The father, who has a criminal record, pulled a gun and threatened to shoot his neighbor when the neighbor finally caught them stealing water. They have completely inadequate shelter for the family. They don’t even live in a one room shanty. It’s a lean-to with three walls and a tarp for the fourth. These people are not just living off the grid, they are completely off their rockers.

  • They also claim to “unschool.” Does that fall under the legally truant part of your post? I’m the mom a public schooled child (though honestly considered homeschooling until we found the STEM model that fit our son perfectly) and quite unaware of homeschooling protocol.

    • Unschooling requires the homeschool parent(s) to pay close attention to the interests of each child and provide appropriate instruction and materials for independent learning in whatever field(s) the child chooses. Some unschoolers extend this child-directed theme as far as meals and sleep time, but this is not a core principle. Unschooling is suitable for children who have a strong drive to pursue a topic as far as it goes and a long attention span. It’s harder, IMO, than other methods of homeschooling, because of the potential range of the child’s interests and the need for continual new experiences that might trigger the next exploration. It’s also not cheap.

      They’re unschooling in the same way that they’re free range or, for that matter, homesteading: because it sounds cool and for a while it got people to stop asking inconvenient questions.

      • The unschooling model sounds like it would work best in wealthy families with no more than a few kids and highly educated parents. Nicole looks exhausted as one would be living in those conditions. Nobody in that family is organized or motivated enough to get the basic needs up an running so I doubt they were doing unschooling right. Someone described the kids as feral and that seems appropriate.

      • @brbr2424: If whatever keeps dragging the family down* had magically gone away the same week they lost their mini-prefab, they might have turned things around. Even if they really don’t own the land and so can’t cut any trees or dig a well, they could’ve done so much better.

        Accept that there is no way to build a house that isn’t a bad joke; build a camp instead. Make three snug little shelters in the most sheltered spot on the property, one for Mom and the little ones, one for the older girls, and one for Dad and the older boys. Make them in anticipation of winter, with double walls stuffed with as much insulation as can be found. Look up the basics of shelter building–this kind of thing is all over the Web. Arrange them around a hearth that has a gazebo over it to keep out the worst of the rain. Let everything be neatly kept: sawn fallen limbs under a tarp, a box or tub for each child’s things, the dirt floor of the kitchen swept daily, etc. Apply for cash assistance and use that to improve the shelter. Apply for jobs–any jobs that will help the family get even a little ahead; if there is a job offer, leap at it and keep it, and the first priority with the paychecks should be SHELTER. And find after-school jobs for the older children. That’s what they had to do in the Great Depression.

        Protect the pond from anything that might get it dirty. If the livestock and dogs can’t be penned, get rid of them. Build an outhouse. Even a bucket with a double trash bag in it and a toilet seat on top would help. Remove the feces inside the bags if they cannot be safely composted. Fence the pond and tell the kids to stay out. Put a tiny rock quay on the edge so that people can stand there and dip buckets without stirring up mud. Also catch rain and snow. When water is abundant, boil, boil, boil, and store the boiled water in thoroughly cleaned juice bottles (not milk jugs–milk proteins stick to plastic much too well). In summer, use the stored water to eke out what’s left in the pond. If the dog grooming business is running, bathe everybody there after hours; otherwise, learn how to take catbaths to conserve the water.

        Plant a vegetable garden. 20-plus acres and no vegetable garden–seriously? If there isn’t even money for canning supplies, plant what can be cellared or hung up to dry, and build food storage areas to suit. If the right crocks or jars can be found, sauerkraut and fermented pickles are pretty cheap to make, but don’t just go “Yay, we’re gonna pioneer this up!” and ruin a batch of food; read a book by somebody who’s done it. Study up on what can be safely gathered and legally hunted on the property and make an effort to get as much of it as possible. Also apply for any and all types of food aid and put the kids in school, where they will almost certainly qualify for free meals (not to mention the flush toilets at school, and possibly showers). And plan meals so that things that can’t be refrigerated, but should, aren’t sitting out in the heat. (Camp cooking from basic ingredients: something else that can be learned from a book.)

        Get to know the neighbors. Pioneers without neighbors are up a creek without a paddle. Be polite. Know the local ritual of hospitality and be prepared to offer it to visitors. Establish a network of favors owed and owing. Pay people in food for the use of their washing machine; chop wood in exchange for eggs.

        People have come back from worse. Possibly better people than these two can manage to be, but still.

        *At this point I suspect that a dreamer married a user, and neither of them is very good with research or planning. So at least one conscience transplant and a rush of brains to the head.

      • Necroposting because the Naugler Report mentioned my post on Facebook: I’ve read and seen a lot more regarding this situation since I made the previous post about what the Naugler parents could have done if they’d had a rush of brains to the head the day they lost their prefab (that is, if they’d previously been merely ignorant, impulsive, and disorganized rather than all that plus self-absorbed, arrogant, and belligerent). I’ve gotten much angrier since then.

        There’s what Mrs. Naugler describes as “a well or cistern,” used by a previous occupant. Testing either one costs, what, $100? $200? Even if the well water has sulfur in it, which is an issue in parts of Kentucky, there are ways to deal with that. Somebody posted the Google Maps coordinates for the property elsewhere; I entered them and I think I found the wellhead, with what may be an aerator that would remove most of the sulfur. With regular cleaning, provided that none of the parts cracked during the winter, it could provide most of their water needs. Adding a filter for the drinking and cooking water or installing a rain barrel ditto might cover all of their needs. But Mrs. Naugler has recorded her disappointment that the property came with a potential source of potable water because she wanted completely unimproved land. Was her ideal so important that she couldn’t bring herself to scale back her high-speed online plan a bit in order to get clean water for her children to drink?

        There’s also a septic system. I know that getting a disused septic system back into operation could cost beaucoup bucks, so I looked up composting toilets. The Nauglers (or maybe their desperate children) appear to have seen plans for the humanure composting system that has the least number of moving parts. That little thing they call their composting toilet is only a third of the system, though. There’s supposed to be a bucket (and they have a zillion buckets) full of something innocuous, like leaf litter (and what do you know, they have a couple dozen acres of that) parked next to the composting toilet and mixed in on a schedule. Then the other bucket that is presumably under the toilet seat is supposed to be hauled to an aboveground compost bin, which can be built from junk (and oh boy do they have a lot of that), and which must also be tended on a regular schedule.

        Anybody want to bet that any of that was happening before CPS rescued the children? Mrs. Naugler had no problem posting photos of her kids desperately ill from eating bad food or herself stark naked and pooping while giving birth, but there’s not one snap of a complete humanure system?

        And then there’s the issue of the free-range animals and their free-range dung. At least some of their dogs are chicken killers and the rest are pretty darn big, so they eat a lot and do no work. Why did these self-described homesteaders have them at all, if they were so hard up for money? Coyotes frequent the property; why aren’t the surviving chickens securely penned? A chicken tractor, which can also be built mostly from junk, could be moved around as needed. As for the goats, there’s a way to keep them from climbing all over your cookstove and crapping where your children play–without having to build any fences, even. Just tether them during the day, changing the location regularly so they can find fresh browse, and pen them at night. You can use a swivel system like the one used for dogs. But that would involve using those wifi hotspots on their phones for actual research into something they claim to be doing.

        I wonder if they ever stopped to think that if even one of those animals picked up a parasite from the local soil, the younger kids are all infected.

        There’s ignorant and then there’s culpably ignorant.

      • @Jenny Islander –

        I suspect the reason they didn’t bring water home from her business is because that is water they will be billed for and expected to pay for, so much better for them to rely upon everyone else giving them water and disregarding what it cost them to provide it.

        Most people don’t really think about how much water costs until suddenly there is an unexpectedly large bill due (to the water company, in particular). The more you use, the more they charge. In the case of a well, the more you use the more you risk depleting it. Nicole wouldn’t risk that herself, not when she can persuade other people to take the risk for her. It must have really upset both Nicole and Joe to be told, “No – you can’t do this anymore. Take your buckets and get off of my property.”

  • Clearly, filing paperwork with the state is the least worrisome minimum requirement these parents have failed to meet.

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  • I thought it was worth mentioning that Mr. Naugler took an Alford plea rather than seeing his menacing case through to the end of a jury trial.

    In addition, Mrs. Naugler had her 11th child recently. A little boy. I hope that the state insisted he was examined by a licensed, qualified pediatrician shortly afterward.

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