HSLDA Members Put Naked Child in a “Cage With Feces and Urine”


By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

5 years ago, in 2009, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) claimed Karen S. Tolin and Timothy E. Tolin as a victory for their organization. According to an HSLDA press release on January 12, 2009 (archived as a PDF here),

“When Tim and Karen Sue Tolin received notice that officials with Ubly Community Schools in Michigan had called a due process hearing for their son Sean, they turned to HSLDA for help… They currently have nine adopted children, seven of whom they homeschool. Sean, their 8-year-old, has been diagnosed with multiple challenges… The Tolins withdrew Sean from public school to homeschool him… School officials insisted that the Tolins have Sean undergo the evaluations they recommended and that he be given an Individual Education Plan… Mr. and Mrs. Tolin refused.”

The Tolins were members of HSLDA and contacted the organization for help. HSLDA attorney Darren Jones put pressure on the school district and “Ubly Community Schools dropped the proceedings.”

Fast forward 5 years. Last month, this headline appeared:

Two arraigned on charges after teen found in cage in Michigan’s Thumb

That headline eerily resembles the case of Michael Gravelle, the abusive father and husband that HSLDA attorney Scott Sommerville once called a “hero” and who was later indicated to be a child abuser and wife-beater. Gravelle had similarly placed his adopted children in cages. As it turns out, the two arraigned on charges last month were — you guessed it — Karen S. Tolin and Timothy E. Tolin, the parents HSLDA defended in 2009.

Here are the conditions the Tolins forced their developmentally disabled child into:

Police responded to investigate a civil dispute about 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20, to a home at 3700 Minden Road south of Priemer, when they discovered the mentally challenged male teen in a caged bed with the door chained shut, the Huron County Sheriff’s Department said in a prepared statement. 

“The odor was very noticeable as the deputy began to climb the stairs,” Hanson said.

Huron County Prosecutor Timothy Rutkowski said the teen was found naked in the cage with feces and urine around him, based on his review of the police report. The 19-year-old has a developmental disability called Angelman syndrome

Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism first discovered this story, and made the following observation:

“This is another verifiable case where HSLDA defended the rights of people who turned out to be abusers. In this case, it was actual legal assistance. (I know several individuals whose abusive parents were also defended by HSLDA, but these are stories where social services never became involved and the abuse was never discovered.) Now yes, abusers should have legal defense. It’s how the system works. But HSLDA doesn’t position itself as an organization that defends all comers and sometimes has to do dirty work, it positions itself as the family-friendly smiling face of homeschooling and actively works to shape policy. That HSLDA doesn’t vet those it defends, and does in fact defend abusive and neglectful families, needs to be more widely understood.”


  • Anyone know if they’re still active HSLDA members? If not, HSLDA will probably wash their hands of them as fast as they can.

  • HSLDA will never admit to them being active members now. But as in the case of the Gravelles, they were probably active members up until HSLDA read this in the press.

  • My guess is that they didn’t know that the Tonlins were abusive people. I don’t believe that HSLDA would support abuse if they knew about it. They have made mistakes, but so do we all.

    • Dont you think an elephantine organization like HSLDA should do their HOMEWORK on a family before giving them blanket permission to keep their (biological and adopted) children at home 24/5?

      My guess is that the Tomlins said “hey, bad school district wants to meet with us!” and HSLDA said “OMG, GOVERNMENT SOCIALISM STRIPPING AWAY RIGHTS” and wrote all the letters and did the legal legwork without caring one ounce for those kids.
      They have made more than one mistake. They have made more than one snafu. They have told more than one outright lie.

      It is about time they get called on it.

    • I don’t believe HSLDA would defend abusers either, however, their behavior is representative of the homeschooling community at large – holding to the idea that parental authority should never be questioned and the state is always “out to get you.”

      The HS community rejects efforts by the state to keep a watchful eye on families like this and chooses not to self police. As someone else here said, HSLDA simply didn’t do their homework. So sad that this could maybe have been prevented back in ’09, but not at all surprised to see HSDLA finally being outed for the BS organization it’s always been.

    • HSLDA has made it crystal clear they do not give a tiny damn if children are caused horrific pain. If children’s lives are ruined, if children’s futures are ruined, so be it. HSLDA is a hateful/heartless organization that thinks children and women need to suffer and men do not. Any body who supports sexually sadistic Michael Pearl and sexually sadistic James Dobson supports abuse. When people screw up it usually doesn’t leave children in cages, well, people who hate for kids to have pain, that would it exclude HSLDA and their sadistic selfish followers.

    • In this context, HSLDA is primarily a legal services organization. Therefore, the question of who is the client is of paramount importance. The client is always the parents, never the children. The client is certainly NEVER “the family” as a whole. If there is a conflict between the best interests of the parents (i.e., the parents getting what they want) and the best interests of the children (i.e., protection from harm), HSLDA will default to the parents’ side as a matter of course except for the exceedingly rare instances in which taking the case would tarnish HSLDA’s image. It is unethical for HSLDA to market itself as a defender of homeschool families as such, when they are really just a parents’ rights organization. But I guess “Abusive Parents Legal Defense Association” just didn’t get a pass with the marketing department.

  • I was showing HSLDA founder Michael Farris a home I was remodeling. A large closet was being fitted with cedar, and many pieces were still lying on the floor. His eyes lit up with, what I took for joy. Then he quickly picked several up pieces, one after another, swinging them back and forth. Then he gushed, “I would love to have these to spank my kids! Mmm!” It was sick.

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