Kentucky ‘Free Range’ Family Loses Custody of 10 Kids Over Apparent ‘Unschooling’

News & Politics

A Kentucky “off-grid” family had their 10 children seized this week by authorities, and their supporters say they were targeted “simply because the government disagrees with their lifestyle and their educational choices.”

An anonymous tip sent sheriff’s deputies Wednesday to the 26-acre rural Breckenridge County home of Joe and Nicole Naugler, who document their “back to basics” lifestyle on social media.

They believe the complaint was lodged by an acquaintance who threatened to report the family to Child Protective Services during a Facebook feud with Joe Naugler.

The father was away with eight of the couple’s children when deputies arrived, and Nicole Naugler – who is five months pregnant – tried to drive away with the couple’s two oldest sons, according to a fundraising page set up by the family.

Investigators attempted to question the teens away from their mother, and she was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest when deputies said she interfered.

“I am a free range human, not meant to be caged,” Nicole Naugler said. “But I will stand up for my rights.”

Authorities ordered Joe Naugler to hand over all the children Thursday morning or face felony charges, and the family believes they were removed due to their “unschooling.”

The Nauglers follow the so-called unschooling method that allows children to learn through natural experiences – including play, household chores, travel, and personal courses of study.

A family friend said that’s the way all children learned before public schooling.

“You let your kids decide the curriculum,” said family friend Pace Ellsworth. “In unschooling, education doesn’t take a backseat. It’s listening to what they’re interested in and fascinated in.”

Kentucky, like all states, sets minimum standards for child education that all families must follow — even if they are educated at home – and it’s not clear whether the Nauglers met those requirements.

Child abuse or neglect investigations operate in something of a legal gray area, because records are kept sealed to protect the child’s privacy and because their caregivers are frequently the target of authorities.

The investigations can be launched by a single anonymous complaint, and parents are often reluctant to assert their constitutional rights out of fear they could lose their children – even for a day.

Authorities have not commented – and likely will not – on the reasons the children have been removed from the home.

The Nauglers will be told why the children were removed during an upcoming family court hearing, and they will likely be ordered to comply with certain guidelines before the children are returned to their custody.

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