A bill that would prevent parents from withdrawing their children from school in abuse and neglect cases faces an uncertain future in the Kentucky Senate, with this year’s 30-day legislative session more than halfway completed.
Senate Bill 181 was filed Feb. 14 by Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, and was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the bill, parents who have a substantiated instance of child abuse or neglect on their record would not be allowed to remove their children from public school without court approval.
Jones sponsored the bill after reading in the Herald-Leader about an 8-year-old Berea girl who was tortured nearly to death by her father and his girlfriend. The father withdrew the girl from her elementary school, claiming that he would home-school her, after school employees twice reported the girl’s injuries to social workers.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said Friday that he plans to read the bill over the weekend and then decide whether to allow a hearing on it next week. In recent days, the judiciary committee has been busy with substantial bills dealing with juvenile justice reform and helping felons return to society, Westerfield said.
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“I just haven’t finished reviewing the bill yet. I’m not saying no to it,” Westerfield said.
Westerfield said that, in an unrelated conversation with school district officials recently, he heard about parents removing their children from school and falsely claiming to home-school them to avoid criminal truancy charges. After that, the children no longer received an education, he said.
“I didn’t realize it’s so easy to take your kids out of school for home-schooling,” he said.
Jones has secured the endorsement of a Massachusetts group, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, that lobbies for stronger oversight of home-schooling. Once children are taken from school, they often become invisible to the outside world, the coalition said in a prepared statement.
“We are pleased with Sen. Jones’ bill and urge the Kentucky legislature to act,” Rachel Coleman, the coalition’s executive director, said this week. “We have documented hundreds of cases, like the one in Berea, where children are withdrawn from school to be home-schooled after a substantiated abuse claim. These children often go on to be tortured or even die.”
Jones said he asked Senate Republican leaders late Thursday about his bill’s chances. They answered “no promises,” he said.
“If they don’t hear this bill, it’s simply because it’s a Democrat’s idea,” Jones said.
The number of child abuse and neglect reports that are substantiated in Kentucky has climbed from 9,934 in 2012 to 15,378 in 2016.