Jack Walker Published

Special Session On Homeschool Oversight Possible After Death Of Boone County Teen

A gold-accented dome extends up in to a night sky darkening from a lighter blue lower in frame to a dark night blue higher in frame. Below the dome can be seen the larger building, with lights illuminated in the windows.
Gov. Jim Justice said Friday said he was open to calling a special session of the West Virginia Legislature to reexamine state oversight on homeschooling.
Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

Gov. Jim Justice said Friday he is open to calling a special session of the West Virginia Legislature to reexamine how state agencies respond to allegations of abuse and neglect against homeschooled children.

The declaration came in response to a question about whether he would pursue legislative changes during the remainder of his term in response to the death of 14-year-old Kyneddi Miller.

“If need be, just for this, I would call a special session. Just for this,” Justice said Friday. “Because this is just not fair.”

Miller, who was homeschooled, died in her Boone County home in April, where she was found in an emaciated state in a case of alleged parental neglect. Miller’s death sparked uproar across the state, and a search for answers from state agencies and members of the press.

Justice, whose term ends in January 2025, has the authority to convene members of the legislature for special sessions over specific issues. Last month, Justice exercised this power and reconvened lawmakers for further discussions on the state budget.

For state officials, Miller’s death has deepened calls to reexamine state policies surrounding homeschooling, which has proven a contentious issue in the Mountain State.

Lawmakers like Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, raised concerns about a lack of regulation over homeschooling during the regular legislative session

“We keep hearing of these horrific incidents that could be prevented if we could actually do something meaningful here to protect these kids,” Pushkin said. “If we save one kid’s life with this, it’s worth it.”

And calls for more oversight have been especially pronounced regarding parents with histories of child abuse or neglect.

Under state law, Miller’s parents were required to submit homeschooling assessments to the state in June 2023, at the completion of her eighth grade year. But, according to state officials, Miller’s assessments were never received.

County officials have the ability to perform in-person check-ins on households that do not submit these assessments, but state education officials say these check-ins are rarely conducted. In Miller’s case, no such visit was reported.

During a Thursday press update on a state investigation into Miller’s death, Brian Abraham, the governor’s chief of staff, underscored that Justice supports school choice and parental rights in education.

Still, he acknowledged that the state must ensure its policies provide sufficient oversight on children who are homeschooled to keep them safe.

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

Other state officials were more explicit in their calls for increased government regulation over homeschooling.

West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt said during the same press briefing that her agency would like to “strengthen the guardrails” around homeschooling.

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said in an email statement Thursday that he is eager to “improve our regulations related to homeschooled children to ensure that no children suffer this same outcome.”

Unless Justice calls another special session — or three-fifths of both the West Virginia Senate and the West Virginia House of Delegates vote to convene, per state code — lawmakers will have to wait until February 2025 to take action on the state’s homeschooling policies.

But Blair said preparations for new legislation will need to begin long before lawmakers return to the Capitol to ensure the state protects its youth.

“We encourage our colleagues in the House of Delegates to sit down with us as we start working toward these plans,” he wrote. “We must act quickly to ensure that something of this magnitude doesn’t happen again.”