Topeka Judy Conway of Emporia held back tears Tuesday morning as she testified before a Kansas House committee in favor of a bill named after her deceased 7-year-old grandson, Adrian Jones.
"Before Christmas in 2015, I was notified that the remains of a child had been found at the home of Michael and Heather Jones," she said, referring to her former son-in-law and his wife. "At the time, of course, we didn't know that it was Adrian. But since that day I've been fighting to seek justice for him."
Adrian's badly mauled body was found in a pig sty at the Jones' home in Wyandotte County just before Christmas in 2015. According to public records, he had been severely beaten, starved and neglected for at least two years and had been monitored by child welfare officials in Kansas and Missouri as his parents moved frequently back and forth between the two states.
Now, Conway, the mother of Adrian's biological mother, is pushing for legislation that she hopes will protect other children in similar circumstances. House Bill 2425, which has been dubbed "Adrian's Law," would add all adults living in a household with a child to the list of people required under state law to report instances of suspected child abuse or neglect.
Currently, that list extends only to certain licensed professionals such as teachers, school administrators, child care providers and health care workers.
But even Conway said she doesn't think the bill goes far enough. One of the reasons why Adrian's abuse and neglect went undetected for so long, she said, is that Adrian's father and stepmother home-schooled their children, so teachers and school administrators never saw his condition.
"There's a lot of great home schools out there who love and educate their children," she told reporters after the hearing. "But, unfortunately, there are people like me where evil comes knocking at the door, and they use home schooling to isolate their children."
Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark DuPree Sr., said he also supported putting more state oversight on home schools.
"I am a major fan of home-schooling," he told the committee. "I think they produce bright children. But sadly, our system has been used in a negative way by criminals. They learn the law, they adapt to the law, and then you have an Adrian Jones. And because the child did not have to report to anyone, did not have to be seen by anyone, did not have to go to school, the only reporters were the mom and dad who were the abusers."
Home schools are not specifically authorized under Kansas law. According to information from the Kansas State Department of Education, they are classified as nonaccredited private schools.
They are required to comply with the state's compulsory attendance laws, and they must register with the State Board of Education. But their teachers do not have to be licensed and they do not have to comply with state accreditation standards, including administering state reading and math assessments.
Committee chairman Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, who is a former district court judge, said he agreed that the state should provide more oversight of home schools.
I've seen that in court years ago. I've seen it in court," Barker said. "Parents would use that as a mechanism to keep them out of school. And we should go back in and test them once a year to make sure the parents are doing their job."
Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, a former administrator in both public and private schools who serves on the Federal and State Affairs Committee, also agreed on the need for oversight.
"It's sad to hear the testimony we heard here today," he said. "What happened to Adrian. And it wasn't over a short period of time. It was lengthy, and obviously (his father) was playing games with the system. But there needs to be something in place to protect kids."
Historically, Kansas lawmakers have been reluctant to consider regulations on home schools because it raises concerns about interfering not just with parental rights but with religious freedom as well.
The bill currently does not contain any language regarding home schools, and no home-school advocates testified about the bill Tuesday.
Conway said after the hearing that she has received considerable negative feedback from home-school advocates because of her public statements calling for more oversight, but she said she is not deterred.
"They haven't dealt with this grandma yet," she said.
Heather and Michael Jones are both serving life sentences for their roles in Adrian's murder.