'Nobody wants to stop it:' When abusive parents use homeschooling to sneak under the radar

KANSAS CITY - While it doesn't speak for the majority of homeschooled children, there are some who become victims of daily abuse, and even death, at the hands of their parents who use the system to sneak under the radar. 

In January, Jacole Prince, a mother from Kansas City, Missouri, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for abusing her oldest daughter.

The 10-year-old was rescued from a locked closet, located inside the family's apartment. At the time of her rescue, the girl fit into toddler-size clothing, weighed just 32 pounds and had marks on her body that indicated she was physically abused.

In the summer of 2015, Adrian Jones, 7, went missing from his home in Kansas City, Kansas. Child remains were found on his parents' property in November. While the coroner is waiting for DNA to identify of the remains, Adrian's father and step-mother were charged with first-degree murder.

In October of last year, the body of Janiya Thomas, 10, was found in a freezer, located inside her mother's Florida home. 

Prince's daughter, Adrian and Janiya all had one thing in common: They were all homeschooled. 

Rachel Coleman, director for the Coalition of Responsible Home Education, calls them "invisible children."

"A homeschooling parent can cut a child off from relatives, from friends, from neighbors - from whoever they want to," Coleman said. 

National group calls for stricter regulations

Coleman is working toward her doctorate in history. She was homeschooled and raised in a loving environment. Still, she said that's not the case for every child.

She wants the country to take action when it comes to protecting homeschooled children.

"There are problems. There are good things," Coleman said. "We need just reasonable oversight to protect homeschooled children's interests."

Homeschool regulations vary from state to state.

In Kansas, parents are only required to register a homeschool online. After that, no additional oversight is required. 

Missouri is one of just nine states where parents don't have to give any notice that their children are being homeschooled.

Map of state laws for homeschooling

Map courtesy Home School Legal Defense Association

Still, Todd Kangas, president of Midwest Parent Educators, doesn't think additional regulations are the answer.

"The problem isn't education, the problem is parents," Kangas said. "Until we can do something to regulate parents then we're not going to see a change in child abuse."

Susanna Grubbs was homeschooled in Missouri. When looking back on her experience, she wishes stronger regulations had been in place.

"I think that, in a lot of ways, me and my siblings totally fell through the cracks because of my mom's discipline techniques and educational neglect," Grubbs said. "I don't think that would've been possible if people would have been checking up more regularly."

While Grubbs didn't want to go into detail about the physical discipline she received as a child, it's difficult for her to see cases where homeschooled children are abused.

"It's really terrible that it's happened and it keeps happening and nobody wants to stop it because parental rights are so paramount to everything else in this country," she said. 

Calling for more oversight

Coleman wants to prevent some parents from homeschooling altogether. 

She wants guardians to be barred from educating their children at home if:

  • They've lost custody of due to abuse
  • They've ever been convicted of an egregious crime

"We want to basically say, when there are these extra red flags, homeschooling shouldn't be permitted because it increases the risk level in these cases," Coleman said. 

In addition to barring high-risk parents, Coleman also wants there to be additional oversight for families who have several open cases with Child Protective Services. 

Coleman also thinks children should have an annual assessment where a certified teacher looks over their progress. 

"It would make sure that these children are in front of a mandatory reporter at least once a year," she said. 

Would tighter regulations have made a difference?

While there's no data that proves tighter regulations would put homeschooled children at a reduced risk of being abused, Coleman thinks it could have made a difference in cases across the metro.

Prince had lost custody of her children at one point, though they were later returned to her care. Under Coleman's suggested guidelines, this would've prevented Prince from homeschooling. 

Also, those who knew Adrian's family told the 41 Action News investigators that several people contacted the Kansas Department for Children and Family with concerns about abuse. KDCF wouldn't release the boy's file due to the open investigation. However, having several open cases would have required his parents to have additional oversight while homeschooling. 

Still, parents like Kangas stand firm that additional oversight wouldn't help.

"I think we do see that Child Protective Services do offer protection for children when they are involved with situations that are challenges," Kangas said. "We have all sorts of government rules, regulations and laws, and people are still violating them no matter how much oversight we have."

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Jessica McMaster can be reached at jessica.mcmaster@kshb.com

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