Jones Case Highlights Lack of Homeschool Oversight in Oklahoma

For Immediate Release: Oklahoma parents who nearly starved their 15-year-old son to death used lax homeschooling laws to hide their abuse

Canton, Ma., 07/20/2018—This week, the 15-year-old son of Jimmy and Amy Jones was rescued from starvation and imprisonment in his parents’ barn. The boy weighed only 80 lbs. and investigators believe that if a passerby hadn’t noticed and reported the boy’s condition, he would have been dead within a week. “This boy is far from the first homeschooled child to be starved and abused by their parents,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization founded by homeschool alumni that advocates for homeschooled children. “Oklahoma should enact basic legislation to protect children like this boy from horrific abuse.”

CRHE runs a database that tracks cases of abuse and neglect of homeschooled children across the country. That database, which is not comprehensive, contains 13 other cases of severe or fatal abuse of homeschooled children in Oklahoma alone, including the case of Marcus Holloway, a homeschooled 10-year-old who was imprisoned in a “dungeon” in Fort Sill and starved to death in 2011. “Our goal is to identify themes that will help us prevent these tragedies before they happen,” said Coleman. “The Jones case has many characteristics in common with the cases we have observed, such as prior social services involvement, starvation, torture, and scapegoating.” While many parents use homeschooling to provide children with an individualized education in a nurturing home environment, Oklahoma’s lax homeschooling laws allow abusive parents to effectively hide their abuse without the intention to provide an education.

In the Jones case, the boy was removed from a prior home by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services; children who have had prior involvement with child services are at greater risk of abuse and neglect and are in need of closer monitoring. It appears that the boy was scapegoated by the Joneses, whose other children were well-fed and lived in the house with them. The Joneses tortured the boy, deprived him of medical care, and starved him, all forms of abuse that would have been much more difficult to hide if he attended school. “When children are enrolled in school, they have access to school meals, a school nurse, and trusted adults they can tell if something is wrong at home,” Coleman said. “But children homeschooled in Oklahoma are not required to be seen by anyone outside the home, allowing abusive parents to isolate their children from anyone who could help them.”

Oklahoma’s homeschooling law exempts students for whom “other means of education are provided” from compulsory school attendance, requiring only that homeschooling parents provide 180 days of instruction. Parents are not required to register their homeschooled children with the district, so school officials have no way of checking up on them to ensure they are receiving instruction, and there is no requirement that students ever be assessed academically. What’s more, there is no requirement that homeschooled children receive medical care or interact with mandatory reporters. There is no law barring Oklahoma parents who have been convicted of child abuse from homeschooling. CRHE maintains a list of policy recommendations that would close these loopholes and prevent homeschooled children from slipping through the cracks.

“Oklahoma’s laws are among the worst in the country for providing protections for homeschooled children,” said Coleman. “It’s not surprising that cases like this keep occurring. Oklahoma’s lawmakers should include homeschool alumni in the conversation about how to best prevent things like this from happening.”

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.

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