Homeschools need more oversight

In the wake of 14-year-old Kyneddi Miller’s death earlier this year, two of the West Virginia Senate’s top Republicans are calling for a reevaluation — and possible tightening — of the state’s homeschool regulations. Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, chairwoman of the House Committee on Health and Human Resources, and outgoing Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, are pushing for change.

We whole-heartedly agree — especially since that’s something   for which we have been advocating for over two years. It’s a shame, though, that it took another child dying to get even some legislators to reconsider the state’s laissez faire attitude toward homeschooling.

Kyneddi Miller was last seen in a public school sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, but subsequent investigation determined her family didn’t submit a notice of intent to homeschool until 2021 and the Boone County Board of Education has no record of any academic assessments for her on file. In the four years preceding her death, Kyneddi was only seen outside the house a handful of times. In 2023, a relative in another county called police in Boone County for a wellness check. An officer spoke to Kyneddi, and, according to the officer, she had a deep fear of COVID-19, disproportionate enough that the officer decided to make an informal referral to human services. That referral was not recorded in the system and therefore wasn’t followed up on.

In April, Kyneddi was found dead in her home, “emaciated to a skeletal state.”

Currently, the parents or legal guardians of homeschooled students must submit assessment scores to the superintendent at the ends of grades three, five, eight and 11. This is one of the few existing regulations for homeschooling — and, as the legislative investigation into the circumstances surrounding Kynnedi’s death indicate, one that’s all too easy to get around. As the law is written, county boards of education “may” follow up when a family fails to submit a homeschooled student’s assessment, but they don’t have to. (It’s unclear if the county pursued truancy charges in the year or more between Kyneddi’s withdrawal from school and her family’s notice to homeschool.)

In the last several years, West Virginia legislators have fought hard to rollback what very little oversight exists for homeschools. They have introduced bills to make it easier for families to remove kids from the accountability of a public school into home-based “schools” or pods; to require only one assessment at the end of a child’s first year in a homeschool/learning pod/microschool; and to allow kids as young as 14 to work without receiving approval from the State Superintendent of Schools. All of which would make it easier for guardians to exploit the adolescents in their care.

They have also repeatedly rejected Raylee’s Law, to prevent parents or guardians with credible allegations of child abuse or neglect, or convictions for domestic violence, to homeschool their children. Based on comments from Sen. Patricia Rucker, there may have been prior allegations of abuse and neglect against the Millers; Raylee’s Law, therefore, might have protected Kyneddi.

Despite all the evidence that the education system’s few safeguards failed, Rucker — who chairs the Senate’s school choice committee — still seems to think the failures were everywhere else. And while there were indeed failures elsewhere, particularly with human services, it’s impossible to deny that West Virginia’s lack of oversight for homeschooling contributed to the circumstances leading to Kyneddi’s death.

We’re glad to see that at least some lawmakers are starting to see these loopholes for the fatal flaws they are. We hope their indignation continues through next January and they find the political will to push for better oversight. Our fear, though, is their passion for change will cool in the coming months, and any attempts at tighter regulation will fall to the wayside. We just hope it doesn’t take yet another child’s death to finally spur the Legislature into action.