DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- A man facing child endangerment charges for allegedly keeping his 10-year-old daughter locked in a darkened, empty room was able to remove her from school by filling out a simple two-page form.
Jon Neely took his daughter out of Winterset Elementary School in November, telling school officials she was going to be home-schooled. Not even a signature was required.
Under the home assistance program, Neely was to be advised by a certified teacher, who would meet with his daughter twice a month. The task fell to Josh Morgan, the Winterset home school coordinator, who met twice with Neely's daughter in December.
The meetings, which lasted about an hour, took place in the family's living room.
"We were working on some reading activities," Morgan said. "She was pulled out in November, so we were also following up on some things that she started in the classroom."
He said the red flag came in January, when Neely's father began canceling meetings because of "family emergencies."
Police went to the home in February and found the girl in a room emptied of furniture, except for a TV cabinet. The windows had been covered with foil and there was no bulb in the light fixture.
Neely told police he was punishing the girl because she stole food, but officials said she was 30 pounds below average weight for her age.
About 1 percent of Iowa's 480,000 students are home-schooled. Nationally, 1.1 million students are home-schooled.
Parents in Iowa who remove children ages 6 to 16 from school for home-schooling have three options: pure home-schooling, home-school assistance or dual enrollment, said Kathi Slaughter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
Pure home-schooling requires no face-to-face contact with school officials, she said.
If the parent is not a licensed teacher, the child must take an annual skills test or supply a portfolio of his or her work. If the parent hires a licensed teacher, the only communication with school officials is a one-page form submitted once a year.
Dual enrollment allows students to attend one or more courses, or participate in extracurricular activities at school.
Under the home assistance option, a teacher, such as Morgan, oversees home-school instruction. He is required to talk to the child at least twice a month, but only half of those conversations must be in person.
Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, questions if two meetings a month is sufficient.
"I think that may be an error on the part of the state. We ought to be able to check in with the kids," Mascher said.
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School officials in Winterset told The Associated Press that they were concerned about the girl's losing weight even before she left school, but Morgan had not met her before then.
Mascher said she also would like to review home-schooling in which school officials have no face-to-face contact with children.
"The parents who are doing a good job have nothing to fear and it won't be an issue," she said. "But the parents who aren't doing that, we need to hold them accountable and protect the kids."
Neely and his live-in girlfriend, Kimberly Holtmyer, each have been charged with child endangerment. They remain free on $26,000 bond pending trial July 12.
Neely's daughter and Holtmyer's teenage son both were removed from the home and are in state custody.
Mascher said she plans to review other states' home-school laws to compare with Iowa's.
"If there are glaring holes I would like to address those," she said. "We have wonderful parents who home school their children, but there are also those we believe are trying to hide child abuse."
In North Carolina, removing a child from school requires state approval, which usually takes 30 days, said Rod Helder, who oversees nonpublic education. A parent must provide evidence that the child's instructor has a high school diploma or equivalent.
Once home-schooling begins, parents are asked randomly to submit attendance records and test scores. If a parent fails to comply, a red flag goes up, Helder said.
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, which represents 80,000 American families, the primary benefit of home-schooling is that it is tailored to each child.
"There is no way to get that individualized attention when there is one teacher and 20 kids," spokesman Ian Slatter said.
He said the Neely case was an isolated incident.
"It's unfair to suggest that just because a parent wants to take their child out of school, there should be heightened awareness," Slatter said.
On the Net: Home School Legal Defense Association: http://www.hslda.org/
Iowa Department of Education: http://www.state.ia.us/educate/