CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) —The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children, is urging lawmakers to support “Raylee’s Law,” also known as House Bill 4440. “Raylee’s Law creates critical protections for vulnerable children,” said Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE, which was founded by homeschool alumni in 2013. “Abusive parents should not be able to exploit the homeschooling law by using it to conceal child abuse.”
House Bill 4440 would prevent parents from withdrawing a child from school to homeschool them when there is a pending child abuse or neglect investigation, and when a parent has been convicted of domestic violence or child abuse or neglect. “We are working with lawmakers and speaking with homeschooling parents in West Virginia to ensure that the state’s homeschool statute supports West Virginia’s homeschooling families and vulnerable children alike,” said Coleman. “We are grateful to Del. Fluharty for taking bold action to protect vulnerable children in West Virginia.”
Raylee’s Law is named after Raylee Browning of Oak Hill, West Virginia, who died of severe abuse and neglect in 2018. She was 8 years old. Raylee’s father exploited the homeschool statute to isolate her from contact with mandatory reporters. Raylee was brutally tortured and died of sepsis. According to CRHE, which maintains a database of severe and fatal child abuse cases in homeschool settings, cases like Raylee’s are far too common. “When abusive parents realize they can avoid reports from teachers and other school personnel by withdrawing their children from school under the homeschooling statute, children like Raylee pay the ultimate price,” said Coleman.
A study published by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate in 2018 found 31% of children withdrawn from school to be homeschooled lived in families with founded or multiple child abuse or neglect reports. 47% of school-age victims examined in a 2014 study of child torture were removed from school to be homeschooled. (Another 29% were never enrolled in school.) Researchers noted how in these cases, the homeschooling statutes were being deliberately abused “to further isolate the child.”
CRHE has long recommended preventing parents who have been convicted of violent crimes or crimes against children from taking advantage of homeschooling laws. Only one state, Pennsylvania, currently has such a provision on the books, and Coleman says lawmakers in a growing number of states are becoming aware of this problem. “By passing Raylee’s Law, lawmakers in West Virginia have the opportunity to provide leadership in this area,” she said.