Authorities believe they found the bodies of 14-year-old Mary Crocker (left) and her brother Elwyn Crocker, Jr., who would have been 16, buried behind their family home in Effingham County. Elwyn was last seen in November 2016.

Lawmakers react to Effingham County deaths by requiring checks on children

Georgia lawmakers passed legislation Thursday that requires safety checks on students withdrawn from school in some circumstances.

House Bill 530 was brought in reaction to the gruesome discovery in December of the corpses of two children buried in the family backyard in Effingham County. Mary Crocker and her brother, Elwyn "JR" Crocker Jr. were allegedly being home schooled.

It happened a few miles from the home of Bill Hitchens, a retired state patrolman, former state public safety commissioner and now state representative.

Hitchens, R-Rincon, wanted sweeping investigations for any child withdrawn from school under conditions that gave educators “reasonable grounds” to be suspicious.

“Most home schoolers love their children,” he said. “But it’s also an easy way to make the children become invisible.”

Parents who home school pushed back against the broad mandate for investigations by the Division of Family and Children Services, fearing an invasion of privacy.

“There was so much room for, in our minds, abuse,” said Mary Beth Morris, a board member of the Georgia Home Education Association. She noted that DFCS and law enforcement were aware of concerns raised about the Crocker children’s well-being and might have intervened without this proposed law.

As a result of the pressure, Hitchens’ bill was pared down. Now, it only requires an investigation if parents don’t file a declaration of intent to home school within 45 days of a student’s withdrawal and there is no record of a transfer to another school. Hitchens said the House of Representatives tried to balance the protection of children against parents’ rights.

It won’t prevent all cases of abuse, he said, but it is still an improvement. Currently, there is no oversight “whatsoever,” he said. “This will bring oversight in some cases.”

The bill, which had already passed the House, was adopted by a unanimous Senate vote Thursday.

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