House spends 90 minutes debating amending Raylee’s Law – concerning child abuse — into homeschooling bill

MORGANTOWN – An amendment to a bill making some tweaks to state homeschooling law plunged the House of Delegates into a 90 minute debate about child abuse prevention, the failures of Child Protective Services and potential harm to homeschooling families.

HB 5180 is the bill. It adds microschools and learning pods into state code concerning homeschooling.

The furor erupted over an amendment proposed by Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, with bipartisan contribution and support, to amend into the bill his separate bill called Raylee’s Law.

That bill, HB 4491, is named after Raylee Browning, who was 8 years old when she died in 2018 from sepsis caused by bacterial pneumonia. Public school student, she was subjected to abuse. Teachers contacted CPS multiple times but CPS failed to act. To avoid further scrutiny, Raylee’s guardians pulled her out of school to allegedly homeschool her, but in fact continued the abuse.

Raylee’s Law would forbid a county school board from authorizing home instruction if there is a pending child abuse or neglect investigation initiated by a teacher or other school staff against a custodial parent or guardian that the child lives with.

County school superintendents would be required to develop policy to ensure they are informed of abuse or neglect reports. The Department of Human Services would have 48 hours to confirm the investigation, and 14 days to substantiate the complaint. If the two-week deadline wasn’t met, the superintendent would authorize home instruction.

Fluharty emphasized the current homeschooling families would not be subject to the amendment’s provisions, and only a report by school personnel would qualify – not something from a disgruntled ex-spouse, for instance.

Education chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, offered the first objection, saying CPS is overburdened with 4,000 reports a month and manages to respond to only half of them. CPS takes 30 days to substantiate a complaint and can’t do it in 14. So the amendment could delay instruction and undermine a parent’s ability to homeschool.

Also, he said, Raylee was in public school when the abuse was first observed and reported, not homeschooled, and CPS failed in its duty. “Homeschooling is not the focus of this issue” and the amendment doesn’t belong in a homeschooling bill.

Delegate Kathie Hess Crouse, R-Putnam, said she believes the amendment deprives parents of due process and considers them guilty until proven innocent. Families can be subject to false reports by school staff who oppose homeschooling. “his is a CPS problem. This is not a homeschool problem. … I know that this amendment will be abused.”

Delegate Diane Winzenreid, R-Ohio, was among the amendment’s supporters, telling of an Ohio County case where a family pulled their child from school and abused and isolated the child for two years. “If 14 days is what we have to do to keep these kids safe, then I would be willing to take that risk.”

And Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said it will aid and assist CPS in resolving these matters.

Delegate Todd Kirby, also R-Raleigh, made a move to save the amendment from possible doom by working Fluharty to add in a extra phrase, to say: a county board may not authorize “a currently enrolled public school student to be instructed: in the home of there is a pending investigation.

Fluharty closed the debate by holding up a giant photo of Raylee. He said, “The only attack this is on is on child abusers. That’s the target today.” And fixing the CPS system. ‘If there is one duty I believe we have as a body is to be a voice for the voiceless.”

The voice vote on the amendment was divided, and Speaker Roger Hanshaw called it for adoption. The bill itself then passed 99-0 and goes to the Senate.

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