For Immediate Release: Kansas Child’s Death Related to Lack of Oversight for Homeschooling
Canton, Ma., 12/03/2015: On Thanksgiving day, police found the remains of a child in a barn owned by Michael and Heather Jones. It is believed that these remains belong to Adrian Jones, whom police had discovered missing the day before, and that the child was beaten to death and fed to the family’s pigs. It is unclear how long Adrian’s death would have gone unreported had police not learned of his absence while investigating a domestic violence call. “Adrian’s death is just one more example of the problems inherent to Kansas’ lax homeschooling laws,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the alumni-founded Coalition for Responsible Home Education.
In Kansas, homeschooling takes place under the state’s private school law, which offers virtually no oversight. Parents beginning to homeschool are required to submit paperwork establishing their home as a private school, but after the initial filing state involvement ceases. Michael and Heather Jones registered their homeschool in July 2012 under the name Jones Academy. After this, their contact with education officials likely ended. “Parents who homeschool take sole responsibility for their children’s education and wellbeing,” said Coleman. “We need to hold them accountable for that responsibility and ensure that homeschooling is not used to cover for abuse and neglect.”
Currently, Kansas has no law preventing parents who have been convicted of serious crimes from homeschooling, and no system for flagging cases where families with concerning past social services involvement begin to homeschool. Because the Joneses had prior contact with both police and social services, such protections might have helped prevent Adrian’s death. Florida is currently grappling with similar questions after the death of a young girl, Janiya Thomas, whose mother was allowed to homeschool despite having a criminal record and a concerning history of social services involvement. A bill intended to prevent deaths like Janiya’s is expected to be introduced in Florida’s next legislative term.
Adrian is not the first Kansas homeschooled child to die of child abuse, or the first Kansas homeschooled child whose parents have failed to report him missing. Nine-year-old Brian Edgar was suffocated by his parents in 2002, and 11-year-old Adam Herrman disappeared in 1999 but was not reported missing until 2008, nearly a decade later. While no body was ever found, it is believed that Herrman, who was withdrawn from school to be homeschooled after teachers reported suspicions of child abuse, was murdered by his parents. Nor is Adrian’s death the only ongoing child abuse investigation to involve a homeschool family this month. Two weeks ago in Topeka, a city councilman’s 14 homeschooled children were removed from the home due to abuse.
“While child abuse may occur anywhere, there is some reason to believe that homeschooled students may suffer severe and fatal child abuse at a higher rate than other students,” said Coleman. Barbara Knox, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin who specialises in child abuse, found that nearly half of the 38 cases of child torture she and her colleagues had collected for a 2014 study of child torture involved homeschooling. “This is a pattern all of us see over and over and over again,” Knox noted. Similarly, preliminary data on child fatalities collected by CRHE indicates that the rate of child fatality may be higher among homeschooled students than among other children. “It’s not that homeschooling makes parents abusive, but rather that homeschooling exacerbates risk factors that are already there,” said Coleman. “We need a system for flagging and identifying at-risk homeschooled children. We must prevent child abusers from hiding behind lax homeschool laws.”
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.http://www.responsiblehomeschooling.org