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Justice, lawmakers focus on tightening homeschool reporting laws following Kyneddi Miller’s death

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Justice, lawmakers focus on tightening homeschool reporting laws following Kyneddi Miller’s death

Jun 07, 2024 | 5:47 pm ET
By Amelia Ferrell Knisely
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Justice, lawmakers focus on tightening homeschool reporting laws following Kyneddi Miller’s death
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Gov. Jim Justice said during his Friday, June 7, 2024 briefing that he might call a special session of the Legislature to tighten up homeschool reporting laws. (Perry Bennett | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

Following the death of 14-year-old Kyneddi Miller, the governor and state lawmakers are pushing to bolster homeschool requirements in an effort to prevent future child deaths. 

Kyneddi, who was found in a “skeletal state” in April, was homeschooled beginning in 2021. Her family lived in Boone County.

On Friday, Gov. Jim Justice said that he may call a special session that would focus on the issue.

“We’re in discussion with the legislature,” he said during a news conference. “The homeschooling issue — we probably need to find a way to tighten it. That’s an area we can [for] sure probably make things a little better.”

Senate President Craig Blair has already called on the Legislature to look at homeschool regulations. “We must act quickly to ensure that something of this magnitude doesn’t happen again,” he said. 

Any bolstering of homeschool requirements could face an uphill battle in the Republican supermajority Legislature — particularly in the House of Delegates — as lawmakers have expanded school choice and approved financial assistance for families who homeschool.

Justice, lawmakers focus on tightening homeschool reporting laws following Kyneddi Miller’s death
Del. Kathie Hess Crouse, R-Putnam

Del. Kathie Hess Crouse, a homeschool educator and advocate, stressed that homeschool laws shouldn’t be altered. 

“More than anything, it’s the parent and the grandparents’ fault. I don’t see what else we can do,” said Crouse, R-Putnam. “Child abuse and child neglect is already against the law.” 

Kynnedi’s mother and grandparents are facing felony child neglect charges.

Her mother hadn’t turned in the required homeschool assessments to the local school district that could have prompted someone to check in on the child. 

Parents or legal guardians are required to submit to the county superintendent academic assessments of the homeschooled student at grade levels three, five, eight, and 11. 

If documentation isn’t submitted, state education law permits but does not require local school districts to take action against the family.

“I do believe that the actual following up on our homeschool kids is more of an issue than specific homeschool law,” Justice said. “I think this is still in its infancy, and we need to do more work with the Legislature to see how we can tighten up some things to insure that maybe just nothing will happen … like this again.”

West Virginia has high rate of child abuse

West Virginia has one of the nation’s highest rates of child abuse, and the state’s foster care system has been overburdened largely with abuse and neglect cases.

Justice, lawmakers focus on tightening homeschool reporting laws following Kyneddi Miller’s death
Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Amy Grady, a public school teacher, said the state’s mostly rural areas can make it difficult for people to find abused or neglected children who have been pulled from public schools. Teachers and school personnel are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect to Child Protective Services.

“It’s very easy for these families in these rural areas to pull their child and abuse them and there not be eyes on them,” she said.

West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt said she was looking at strengthening homeschooling guardrails, but would need the support of the Legislature to make those changes. 

Grady said, “We don’t want to take rights away from parents, and I completely support school choice. I hope whatever we do solves the problem the best we can and lets homeschool parents know we’re not attacking you. We’re just trying to protect kids who don’t have good parents. I don’t know if we can find that balance, but I hope we can.”

Blair, in a statement on Thursday, asked the House of Delegates to “sit down with us as we start working toward these plans” to improve regulations related to homeschooled children.

I hope whatever we do solves the problem the best we can and lets homeschool parents know we’re not attacking you. We’re just trying to protect kids who don’t have good parents. I don’t know if we can find that balance, but I hope we can.

– Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason

House members, particularly, have been adamant about protecting the right to homeschool with limited government intervention. Several delegates currently homeschool their children.

“I think it will have a harder time in the House,” Grady said.

House Spokesperson Ann Ali said in a statement that Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, “often says every bill is important to somebody, and he also believes not every problem within the state is the Legislature’s to fix.” 

She continued, “He is always open to meaningful legislative proposals that lead to a majority of Delegates agreeing that the change they work through the legislative process is necessary” to improve safety and education for its residents.  

Crouse said the school system was largely to blame for not following up on Kyneddi’s education. Homeschool laws shouldn’t be altered as a result, she stressed, noting that there are nearly 30,000 homeschool students in West Virginia.

“We already have laws on the books, and the school system chose not to take them to court,” said Crouse, R-Putnam. “How are you going to do anything?”  

She also said there were CPS failures in Kyneddi’s case.

In 2023, state troopers visited the Boone County CPS office to make an in-person referral about concerns for Kyneddi’s mental health. The Justice administration has verified the trooper’s car went to the office, but CPS doesn’t have verification of the troopers entering the building and the referral cannot be located in their system. 

Additionally, the state has records of CPS referrals in 2009 and 2017 that involved Kyneddi’s family. The secretary of the  Department of Human Services said that those referrals were not connected to Kyneddi’s death.

Justice, lawmakers focus on tightening homeschool reporting laws following Kyneddi Miller’s death
Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio

“I am surprised that they totally absolved CPS and [Boone County Schools] of any issues and that none of that appeared to be their fault,” Crouse said. “I knew they were going to go after homeschooling, and this was one of the ways they could go after school choice.”

In February, the House approved a bill amendment known as “Raylee’s Law” that would have paused or potentially denied a parent’s request to homeschool if a teacher has reported suspected child abuse. The bill failed to be taken up in the Senate.

The legislation, championed for years by Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, was named for an eight-year-old girl who died of abuse and neglect in 2018 after her parents withdrew her from school to homeschool.

“Raylee’s Law finally made it out of the House after years of trying and the Senate would not even put it on the agenda,” Fluharty said. “The governor’s office has been silent this entire time while story after story reveals a broken system begging for leaders to step up. 

“I’m tired of the press conferences, we need actual policy.”