Justice: Additional measures needed to protect homeschooled students | News, Sports, Jobs

Submitted photo Gov. Jim Justice said more grants will be made available to high school graduates with financial need to attend college in the fall.

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice expressed confidence that steps West Virginia agencies are taking to ensure reports of child abuse and neglect do not fall through the cracks will be successful and said the State should consider providing more contact between homeschooling families and education officials.

Speaking during his weekly virtual administrative briefing from his offices in the State Capitol Building, Justice also said more grants would be made available to high school graduates with financial need to attend college in the fall.

Officials from the governor’s office, Department of Human Services, Department of Education and West Virginia State Police briefed reporters Thursday on an internal investigation into the state’s handling of past encounters with Kyneddi Miller, 14, of Boone County. Miller was found dead in April by deputies in what they called a “skeletal condition”. Miller’s mother and grandparents were charged with child abuse resulting in death.

Child Protective Services previously had contact with Miller’s family in 2009 and 2017, according to media reports and state officials, although those visits were unrelated to Miller. Last year, two troopers conducted a welfare check on Miller after family members said they hadn’t seen Miller in some time. According to documents and audio recordings, one of the troopers said he made a referral to CPS and went directly to the DoHS regional office.

According to the internal investigation, the two officers went to the regional CPS office, but only to make informal contact with CPS workers after Miller told them she was concerned about COVID-19 and the presence of people. While the police could name the CPS workers, the workers could not remember the meeting.

Miller was also not in public school starting in spring 2020, when schools moved to virtual learning due to the COVID pandemic. She was removed from the public school system in 2021. Her family had not filed Miller’s eighth-grade assessment with Boone County Schools, required every three years for homeschooled students. Boone County Schools never followed through.

State officials now require that all reports of child abuse and neglect – whether by citizens or mandatory reporters, such as law enforcement, first responders and educators – be made through the state hotline at 1-800-352-6531, even for in-person visits. to DoHS regional offices. The ministry is working to educate its employees and mandatory journalists.

Justice said these measures won’t guarantee another child death will not occur in the future, but she believes state officials will be in a better position to spot potential problems.

“We discovered things in areas that we can improve on, and that’s exactly what we did.” » said justice. “There’s nothing foolproof…I’d like to tell you that nothing will ever happen again in the state of West Virginia or any other state, but I can’t tell you that. All I can do is tell you that we will try every day to improve things. I’m confident that the things we’ve changed will make things better. But at the same time, such a thing is beyond comprehension.

Justice and public education officials will also work with the Legislature to improve policies and procedures to ensure county schools follow required assessments of homeschooling families. The judge said he wasn’t sure new laws were needed to restrict what homeschooling families had to do. But if new legislation is needed, it could be on the agenda for a special session in the near future.

“The homeschooling issue, we probably need to find a way to tighten it up,” said justice. “That’s one area where I’m sure we can improve things a little bit.” Any ideas I’m open to…I believe that actual monitoring of our homeschooled children is more of an issue than specific homeschooling laws. But I think this is still in its infancy. We need to do more work with Parliament.

Separately, Justice signed Senate Bill 1007 Friday afternoon, providing $83 million in funding for new students and higher education institutions. The bill provides $51 million for grant programs due to FAFSA delays and $32 million to cover PEIA 80/20 employer/employee matching costs.

Justice declared a state of emergency in late April – later extended by Parliament in a special session in May – to give the Higher Education Policy Commission flexibility to award PROMISE scholarships and grants for higher education based on needs. Earlier Friday, the HEPC voted to increase the new maximum grant amount from $3,400 to $6,800.

“You had children held back who didn’t know what to do” said justice. “This is a good thing.”

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