Briana Heaney Published

Sen. Rucker Denounces Home School Policy Reform After Death Of Boone County Girl

A woman stands on the Senate floor in a brown suit speaking into a microphone.
Rucker is the chair for the school choice committee in the state Senate.
Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

Conversations around the death of a young girl in Boone County have some officials questioning whether home school rules need to change. Now advocates of home schooling and school choice are saying that home schooling has become a scapegoat for other systemic failures. 

At a press conference last week, Gov. Jim Justice suggested he would be open to calling a special session of the legislature to change home school reporting laws. After being truant for an extended period of time, 14-year-old Kyneddi Miller was being home schooled by her mother. After two years of home schooling her mother had failed to complete the required academic assessment. Even so, the school did not take action. 

In April, she was found dead in a near skeletal state by authorities. Now state leaders are all pointing in different directions about what exactly went wrong. 

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, is a staunch advocate for home schooling, and says there were missed opportunities to intervene in the child’s life before she died. 

“She had stopped attending public school for two years before a notice of intent to homeschool was submitted,” Rucker said. “Why didn’t this event trigger a truancy investigation? It appears that informal referrals were made to CPS (Child Protective Services), but they were not followed up. The family had previous reports of abuse and neglect, so when these referrals were made, CPS should have intervened to prevent the tragedy. When mandatory assessments were not submitted, county officials had every tool they needed to follow up and intervene. Regrettably, this did not happen.”

She says 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, you know, folks dropped the ball,” Rucker said.  “Home schooling was not the way that we might have been able to save this young girl.”

During the past legislative session no bills were passed that directly addressed a distressed CPS or foster care system or home schooling. 

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, aimed his goals for any upcoming legislative session on reforming home schooling. 

“We will work with the Governor’s Office, the Department of Education, the Department of Human Services, and the State Police to discuss ways that we, legislatively, can improve our regulations related to home schooled children to ensure that no children suffer this same outcome,” Blair said in an emailed statement. “We encourage our colleagues in the House of Delegates to sit down with us as we start working toward these plans. We must act quickly to ensure that something of this magnitude doesn’t happen again.”

West Virginia has above average home school requirements, according to the U.S. Department of Education. One of which is a requirement for an academic assessment, which had not been completed by the girl’s mother. 

Rucker said she hopes next time that the legislature convenes that they instead pass legislation aimed at aiding child welfare in the state. 

Rucker said the leadership needs to engage in introspection and acknowledge where they failed in this tragedy instead of shifting blame.