The Californian home where 13 siblings were allegedly kept imprisoned in squalid conditions and starved by abusive parents was used as a private school for the children—but it was never inspected by education officials.
David Turpin, 57, had been homeschooling his children at the property, which he called the Sandcastle Day School, reported The Sun.
Six of the children were enrolled in the 2016-17 school year, with one student each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades. There was no indication as to whether other children apart from the siblings were enrolled, reported the newspaper, citing authorities.
Susan von Zabern, director of the county’s social service department, told The Associated Press that it was “the first opportunity to intervene.”
Californian private schools have less government oversight than public schools. They are not licensed by the state education department and do not have any agency that regulates or oversees them, according to the news station.
Private schools are only required to file an affidavit with the state every year that details the number of students, staff members, and information about administrators.
Bill Ainsworth, a spokesman for the California Department of Education, explained that full-time private schools must register with the state to record their students’ exemption from mandatory attendance at public schools. The education department lacks the authority to monitor, inspect, or oversee private schools, reported The Associated Press.
However, private schools are subjected to an annual inspection by the state or local fire marshal.
“We are sickened by this tragedy and relieved the children are now safe and authorities are investigating,” Ainsworth told the newswire.
Representatives for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Riverside County Fire Department, and the Perris Fire Department did not indicate whether the Sandcastle Day School was ever inspected.
Ron Reynolds, executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations, told The Associated Press that private schools are generally regulated by parents who often sign contracts and review standards before enrolling their children. He believes oversight of the 1,500 private schools in California is sufficient.
He said private school staff are required to report suspected child abuse to authorities.
“We always desire as our first priority safeguarding our children,” Reynolds said. “We never resist or oppose legislation aimed at protecting students.”
Turpin and his wife, Louise Turpin, were arrested and charged with child endangerment and torture on Sunday, Jan. 14, when their 17-year-old daughter, whom officials thought was only 10, escaped through a window and contacted police. They’re now each being held on a $9 million bail.
The 13 children were aged 2 to 29 and appeared to be malnourished and very dirty when police got there. Police said the children were “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings.”
The Turpins are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday, Jan 18.