Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Governor's Office Calls A Meeting Regarding DCF Abuses Of Homeschool Families In CT

This was after last week when the governor's office said, "We don't get involved in DCF issues".

Apparently now they do.
Here is the report by NHELD and my comments follow:

Governor Rell’s office held a meeting on Monday, June 11, 2007 to discuss the issue of public school districts reporting parents to DCF for educational neglect after the parents withdrew their children from enrollment in the public schools. This is to inform you about how the meeting came about and what happened at it.

On Wednesday, June 6, 2007, NHELD participated in a press conference at the Legislative Office Building. The press conference was sponsored by Republican State Representative Arthur O’Neill of Southbury and Democrat State Representative Patricia Widlitz of Guilford. Rep. O’Neill and Rep. Widlitz co-sponsored an amendment in this past legislative session that would have codified the right that parents traditionally have had to withdraw their children from the public school system. The amendment said that when a parent sends a letter of withdrawal to the superintendent of the public school system, certified, return receipt requested, the school district must accept that letter of withdrawal and immediately consider the child withdrawn. Unfortunately, that amendment was deemed “not germaine” to the bill to which it was attached, and, therefore, the amendment failed. Rep. O’Neill and Rep. Widlitz will introduce the measure as either a bill or an amendment at the next opportunity.

Also at the press conference were three families who told their stories to the press about having been improperly reported to DCF. The families told their stories in heart rendering simplicity, detailing the abuses of the public school system in falsely labeling their children as truant and in falsely alleging the parents as educationally neglectful. The parents were representative of the reasons why the legislation is necessary. The press conference can be viewed online on the CT-N web site at mms://ctnv1.ctn.state.ct.us/CNB/cnb_homeschool_6-6-07.wmv or http://www.ctn.state.ct.us/ondemand.asp - or on this blogpost

On Friday, June 8, 2007, NHELD received a telephone call from an aide to the Governor stating that the Governor would like Attorney Deborah Stevenson and Research Director Judy Aron to attend a meeting with the aide, the Governor’s legal counsel, MaryAnn O’Neill, the newly appointed, but not yet confirmed, DCF Commissioner, Susan Hamilton, and State Representative Arthur O’Neill. The aide also invited Theresa McGrath, the person who assisted NHELD in setting up the press conference to attend. The meeting was to be held on Monday, June 11, 2007. Naturally, we attended that meeting.

Unfortunately, DCF Commissioner Hamilton was not as helpful as one would hope. As Attorney Stevenson began by presenting a packet full of background information on the history of the C-14 Guidelines, otherwise known as the “Suggested Procedure for Home Instruction”, which contains the provision for filing a Notice of Intent, Hamilton appeared to be in a hurry to rush through the information being presented, routinely interrupting. Representative O’Neill and Judy Aron also interjected with explanations to more thoroughly enlighten both Hamilton, and the Governor’s legal counsel. The legal counsel appeared to listen more attentively than Hamilton. Hamilton expressed that she already had some knowledge of the issues, although when she spoke about them, it was apparent that she was mixing law with policy and otherwise showing her lack of understanding of the issues, or her patience that day in expressing her understanding of them.

Attorney Stevenson explained to her specific instances of abuses by DCF social workers in accepting false reports from school systems, and in berating parents upon the first meeting with parents, and in bullying parents into compliance with the social worker’s or the public school system’s demands. Upon hearing of those specific instances, Hamilton professed that this type of action by social workers is not appropriate, and that she would “look into” specific cases if we wished her to do so. Hamilton also expressed that she wanted to see if there was anything DCF could do in a general way to address the issue, perhaps by means of changing their policies.

NHELD has met with DCF Deputy Commissioners in years past, specifically in 2004 and 2006, also in conjunction with other homeschool groups, and has requested that DCF change its policies to accurately reflect existing law. NHELD, once again on June 11, 2007, presented Hamilton with the changes in the DCF policies that we presented to DCF in 2006. Hamilton promised to review the proposals.

NHELD also offered to stay with Hamilton after the meeting to go over specific ongoing cases in which DCF found the parents to be substantiated for truancy or neglect. Hamilton declined to stay saying NHELD could give her copies of whatever documents from those files we felt appropriate. NHELD did provide Hamilton with some documents from one of the cases that day.

Hamilton, at one point, indicated that she may not agree with us on every issue, but that she would “look things over” and “get back to us”. When questioned about what she did not agree with at the point, she indicated that “educational neglect” is a vague term and that it is difficult to know when a parent is providing an appropriate education. She gave no further details. When asked when she would get back to us, at first she gave no time frame. When we asked both Hamilton and the Governor’s legal counsel to “get back to us” in a week, Hamilton said it would take at least two weeks. When asked if we could get an exact date from either the Governor’s legal counsel or Hamilton, the Governor’s legal counsel said they would “get back to us” in two weeks, on June 25th.

NHELD will let parents know when, and if, either the Governor’s legal counsel or the DCF Commissioner “get back to us.”

Ok, so here was MY take on this meeting (since I attended):

All Susan Hamilton could say was she wanted to read the folder NHELD presented to her, as well as the list of DCF policy changes we recommended, and "get back to us".

As far as I am concerned that doesn't do anything to immediately help the families facing hearings and other threats. It was more of the "same old same old" from the bureaucratic agencies that CT families have had to deal with.

For once I'd like to see an agency head take complete control of a crisis situation and make some executive decisions. She has full power to immediately end this harassment of homeschooling families by school systems and the Department of Education once and for all. She has the full power to tell the Department of Education that she isn't going to tolerate false complaints and prosecute those school systems that have filed false complaints (so far 23 out of the 25 referrals by school systems filing complaints against homeschooling families to DCF have been unsubstantiated - that says something!). And she has full power to drop all pending homeschool cases and expunge the records of all families falsely accused of educational neglect and other spurious charges.

She has refused to prosecute school systems filing false complaints, even when filing a false complaint on purpose is a crime in CT!

- and this is the person the Governor chose to head up DCF? Someone who doesn't want to uphold the law?

The State Department of Education should not be allowed to use DCF to coerce and harass families. Maybe next, the CT Department of Education will be asking the businessman with suspected ties to the mob, Mr. Galante, "to pay a visit" to homeschool families???

But instead all we got from Susan Hamilton was .. well let's wait and see.. we have to look at the information.. we'll get back to you in a few weeks ..

I am not buying the line "I am new to this job". Hamilton has been in this agency for quite a while now. She should be able to take immediate action, especially for these families who are facing uncertain actions by DCF which may include removing their children from their homes!

So finally after we pressed her for a date, she agreed on letting us know something by June 25th.. What it is she will "let us know" was quite vague.. will it be some decision as to what she is going to do? will it that she wants to set up a "follow-up" meeting? who knows..

And so in CT the beat goes on.