Briana Heaney Published

Death Of Kyneddi Miller Sparks Policy Conversations Around CPS And Homeschooling

A wide shot of the center of the Capitol Rotunda from the second floor. There are white, marble walls, and the room is well lit. There is a statue of Robert C. Byrd in the distance.
Officials are debating what policies could protect children in the state from abuse.
Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

Kyneddi Miller was found dead in her home in April. A police report said the 14-year-old girl was found deceased in what a police report described as a “near skeletal state.” Her grandparents and mother have been charged with abuse and neglect. 

Now officials are pointing fingers at what organizations and policies created the crack that Miller fell through. There is also a rally planned for Wednesday morning by community members. 

There are conflicting reports about the actions of state agencies involved in the case. Police officers claimed they saw the now deceased girl nearly a year before her death. They say they were concerned about her wellbeing so they went to Boone County’s Child Protective Services  to file a referral in person.

Officials with CPS, which is a division of the Department of Human Services, say they have no record of that. 

But GPS data, police reports, and audio obtained from the police officer who visited Kyneddi in 2023, all corroborate the police officer’s claim that they went to CPS to make a referral.

Brian Abraham, the governor’s chief of staff, said he interviewed the police officers and has come to the conclusion that they did visit CPS, but that the officers may have not followed the proper protocol.  

“Based upon that information the troopers relayed to me, with cooperating evidence, I am with 100 percent certainty that they were present that day at the office and made an informal communication with the department,” Abraham said. 

A man stands at a podium and three people sit at a desk with microphones Infront of them. They mood is serious.
(left to right) Chief of Staff Brian Abraham, West Virginia Department of Human Services Secretary Dr. Cynthia Persily, West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt, and West Virginia State Police Chief of Staff Maj. James Mitchell.

Courtesy of WV Governor’s Office

Department of Human Services Secretary Cynthia Persily said the police should have called a 1-800 number to officially make a report, instead of going to CPS and speaking with staff directly. 

“So consequently, we won’t get into the situation where we have someone who says that they made a report, or a referral, or whatever we want to call it, of abuse and neglect without that actually happening,” Persily said. 

A Call For Home School Reform 

Police are mandatory reporters of abuse, meaning if they see abuse they have to report it. So are teachers, but because Miller had been pulled from school, teachers no longer had access to her. 

Now many lawmakers, agency heads, and the governor are calling for changes to home school laws in the state. 

They say public school classrooms are often where child abuse is discovered and have attributed Miller’s homeschooling status a factor in her death. 

The pre pandemic national rate for home schooling is around 3 percent. A study in the Journal of Adolescent trauma notes that children are homeschooled in nearly half of all child abuse cases. 

West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt said she would like to strengthen homeschool requirements. 

“The West Virginia Department of Education is eager to work with the legislature to really see how we can strengthen the guardrails around our homeschool reporting requirements,” Blatt said. “While we know that we have a great deal of homeschool parents that do things the right way and take care of their kids and it’s the best choice for those families, I think that our 7,000 foster kids in the system is proof that not all parents do what’s best for their children.”

A man in a suit, amongst other legislatures holds a sign of a little girl in one hand, and a microphone in another.
The House passed Raylee’s law after hours of debate. It was never taken up by the Senate.

Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislature Photography

Delegate Shawn Fluharty has been a proponent of homeschool policy reform ever since he received a call about a young girl in his district, Raylee Browning in 2018. 

“I was contacted by her former teacher Carrie Caliberty years ago, about the situation with Raylee who was taken from a public school while a CPS report was being investigated by her abusive father,” Fluharty said. “And months later, Raylee was found dead in the home.”

He said Kyneddi Miller’s story is eerily similar. Fluharty wants to change the oversight laws for homeschooling in the state. 

We’re just saying this process of removing a child needs to be vetted properly,” Fluharty said. “And if there’s a mere hindrance, on the time period of removing a child from public school, to homeschool, so that we know that child is safe, then too damn bad!” 

School Choice Advocates Push Back

On the other side of the debate, Advocates of school choice are saying that home schooling has become a scapegoat for other systemic failures. 

Sen. Patricia Rucker, a Republican from Jefferson County, is a staunch advocate for home schooling and the chair of the newly created School Choice Committee in the State Senate. She said there were missed opportunities to intervene in the child’s life before she died. 

“It is really interesting to me that this entire story is focusing on the fact that they put in a Notice of Intent (for homeschooling),” Rucker said. “Even though this is a family that had not been in a public school for over two years, and had already broken the law and already should have thrown red flags before they ever even put in their application.” 

A woman stands on the Senate floor in a brown suit speaking into a microphone.
Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, is a home schoolteacher to her five children.

Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

Prior to homeschooling Miller was truant for an extended period. Then after two years of homeschooling her mother had failed to complete the required academic assessment.  And the school failed to take action. 

There are existing laws that require the school to follow up on a student who has failed to complete an academic assessment. However, those laws lack mandatory enforcement mechanisms. 

Change Needed

Rucker said that there are multiple other factors that contributed to the girl’s death, including an overloaded and under-funded CPS system. 

“There were clearly many, many ways in which folks dropped the ball. Home schooling was not the way that we might have been able to save this young girl,” Rucker said. 

Multiple bills that would address CPS, absenteeism in schools, and child welfare in the state were introduced to the floor. None of those bills made it across the finish line in April. 

“It’s very concerning to me that no one in current leadership is taking any responsibility for any of the things that have happened, or failed to happen,” Rucker said. “If we’re gonna have a system that the people of West Virginia are going to have faith in, it means that if things go wrong that someone needs to tell them what went wrong, and take responsibility, and say how they’re going to change it.” 

Brian Abraham, the governor’s chief of staff, said it’s going to be up to policy makers to craft laws that balance protecting vulnerable children while also protecting West Virginians’ right to home school their children. 

“The governor wholeheartedly supports school choice and the parents’ right to choose homeschool,” Abraham said. “But, you know, we can see it has potential ramifications. It’s a trade off. We have to find the sweet spot.” 

On Wednesday, June 19 at 9 a.m. at the Boone County Courthouse there is a rally for accountability and action. The rally was planned by the group “Parents Against Child Abuse.”