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The West Virginia Legislature continues to ignore acting on actual problems


The West Virginia Legislature continues to ignore acting on actual problems

Feb 27, 2024 | 5:55 am ET
By Leann Ray
The West Virginia Legislature continues to ignore acting on actual problems
Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, reintroduced Raylee's Law, an amendment that would prevent parents pr guardians who were reported for abuse from withdrawing their children from public school to homeschool them, on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Charleston, W.Va. (Perry Bennett | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

Update: The House of Delegates passed House Bill 5180 with Raylee’s Law as an amendment on Tuesday afternoon. The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Following the West Virginia Legislature is kind of like riding a rollercoaster, except it’s mostly lows and there’s nothing enjoyable about it. 

Last week, they really fooled me into thinking they were actually going to do something to help vulnerable children. 

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, introduced Raylee’s Law as an amendment to House Bill 5180. Raylee’s Law would prevent parents or guardians who are being investigated for or have been convicted of child abuse from removing the children from public school to homeschool them. This would give a layer of protection to children by having them around people who can look out for them to make sure they are safe and have someone to go to if they are in danger — it’s easier to abuse children when they’re kept at home and no one else can see their bruises.

Committee Chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said while he agreed with parts of the amendment, he worried about the length of child abuse investigations and false allegations.

“This could be abused very easily,” he said. “I would say the majority of children who are abused are in the school system.”

Well, yes, it could seem that children in public school are abused more than homeschooled students, but that’s because there’s a higher number of children in the school system and it’s more likely that their abuse will be seen and reported. If someone is homeschooling to hide abuse, who is there to advocate for that child? How many children were abused until they were old enough to escape without anyone ever knowing what they survived? Also, child abuse cases might move quicker if the Legislture would take some action on the issues plaguing Child Protective Services.

Raylee’s Law was named for 8-year-old Raylee Browning, who died from abuse and neglect in 2018 after her parents took her out of school, even though teachers had notified Child Protective Services about potential abuse. 

The amendment was voted down.

Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, was able to revive “Raylee’s Law” on Thursday, by narrowing the scope of the amendment to say a child couldn’t be pulled from school to be homeschooled if a teacher reports abuse. 

HB 5180 was expected to be brought up this week for its third reading, but on Monday morning it got bumped to Tuesday, and it’s likely dead.

How many children could Raylee’s Law protect? As Pushkin told his colleagues, even if it’s just one, then it would be worth it. However, that number is likely to be much higher. 

Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate released a report in 2018 after a child who was removed from public school to be homeschooled died from starvation. The office requested data from six school districts from three school years and found that of the 380 children who were withdrawn from the schools to be homeschooled, 138, — or 36% — were living with someone who had been reported for suspected abuse or neglect. Keep in mind that’s only the cases that were reported.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 1 in 7 children has experienced child abuse or neglect in the United States, and that number is likely severely underestimated because many cases are unreported. The rate of child abuse and neglect is five times higher for children in poverty, and remember that about a quarter of children in West Virginia live in poverty. 

Crossover Day isn’t until Wednesday. If the Legislature wants to protect vulnerable children, they need to hurry.