TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — When Adrian Jones was murdered, the 7-year-old boy was supposed to be getting schooled at his Kansas home by the mother and stepfather who have since admitted to killing him.
Authorities aren’t sure how long he had been dead when his remains were finally found, and they believe he was subjected to months of horrific abuse that went unnoticed by the outside world.
Now, Adrian Jones’ grandmother, Judy Conway, wants answers from the state and tougher rules for home schools. But despite Adrian’s death, the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature is wary of stepping on parental rights or what goes on in homes.
“I just wanted some oversight,” said Conway, an Emporia State University administrator whose contacted legislators about Adrian’s case. “I don’t think I’m asking too much.”
Kansas does little to regulate home schools beyond requiring parents to register them with its Department of Education and directing them to provide “competent” teachers. Some lawmakers are pursuing legislation in response to Adrian’s case, and some want to discuss oversight of home schools. But a serious debate isn’t likely until at least next year.
Authorities believe Adrian died in September or October 2015, and Conway said she has seen photos of videos of him being tortured and starved. His remains were found in the family’s pig sty only after officers learned the boy was missing while responding to a report that the boy’s dad, Michael Jones, had attacked his wife, Heather, at the Kansas City, Kansas, home. The father, 46, has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is scheduled to be sentenced Monday. Heather Jones pleaded guilty in November.
Conway last saw her grandson — who called her “Nana” — in 2012, when Michael Jones took custody of the boy and his two siblings. She says she’s determined to make sure vulnerable children who are home-schooled have some contact with the public school system or other agency.
Kansas City, Kansas, Democratic Rep. Louis Ruiz is having legislation drafted to deal with cases in which family members witness abuse but don’t report it. Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said she wants the court system to review and propose changes in how records are sealed, as they are in Adrian’s case.
But attempting to ramp up oversight of home schooling could spark a backlash. Republican Rep. Kevin Jones, a conservative Wellsville Republican, said the horrific nature of Adrian’s case naturally causes people to look to the government to do something.
“It’s a liberty issue,” said the local school board member, who also home schools his seven children. “To say somebody should be able to come into my house — that would be huge governmental regulation.”
The state doesn’t specifically authorize home schools but treats them as non-accredited private schools. The Department of Education doesn’t have a good estimate of how many children are home-schooled and acknowledges that its list of several thousand registered schools contains many that have ceased operating.
Conway also is strongly critical of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, which investigates child abuse and neglect complaints. The agency said its last contact with the family was February 2012. Department Secretary Phyllis Gilmore issued a statement Friday saying reports involving Adrian were “thoroughly investigated.” Missouri officials also monitored the family, which moved frequently.
“It is very difficult to assist families who are constantly transient, especially those who move across state lines,” Gilmore said.
Conway believes that greater oversight by Kansas of home schooling would have helped. She said abusive parents can use home schooling as an excuse to isolate their children.
Conway said she didn’t know that the Joneses were claiming to home-school Adrian until his remains were discovered and, “That would have been a major red flag.”