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Parents of missing 10-year-old Zahra Clare Baker were not operating a home school when Zahra was reported missing, according to records from the North Carolina Division of Non-public Education.
Hickory police said Zahra, who was reported missing Saturday about 2 p.m., was home-schooled at the time of her disappearance, and she previously attended Caldwell County Schools.
There are no operating home schools, however, listed under the names of Adam Baker, Elisa Baker or at the Baker residence in Hickory, according to Jill Lucas of the North Carolina Department of Administration communications office.
Once a child's family decides to remove the child from the public education system, they are required to register their home school with the NCDNPE, said Melanie Elrod, Newton-Conover City Schools Student Services director.
After the child is removed from public schools, however, there is little that public schools can do to ensure the child remains actively engaged in a learning environment.
"That is (parents') right to take students out of public school, and we have to respect that," Elrod said. "We have to take their word for it."
Since Zahra's disappearance, reports surfaced that the child was mistreated at home.
Adrienne Opdyke, a victim's advocate with the Children's Advocacy Center in Conover, said reports of violence against children come from a variety of sources within the community, but many complaints of suspected child abuse come from a child's school or daycare.
The NCDNPE does not have the authority to investigate misconduct or abuse in a home-school environment. People with complaints or concerns should contact their local law enforcement office or department of social services.
All adults in North Carolina, however, are mandated to report to police or department of social services officials anytime they suspect a child is being mistreated.
"Cause to suspect is more than a vague suspicion," according to Catawba County Child Protective Services reporting guidelines, "but is suspicion connected to something observable, something the child or someone else has said, or to the child's behavior."
According to the NCDNPE website, the home-schooled student's parent or guardian becomes the chief administrator in the child's education. The parent or guardian is in charge of designing and retaining the child's transcript, as well as providing verification of student enrollment and attendance and graduation.
Government agencies do not maintain the information, according to the website.
Curricula and other school procedures are largely based on each individual home school, Elrod said.
NCDNPE officials, however, can investigate the home school if they think academic rules and standards are not being upheld by the parent or guardian.