AN EXAMINATION OF THE AUTHORITY OF PARENTS TO INSTRUCT THEIR CHILDREN FROM THE INCEPTION OF THE CONNECTICUT COLONY TO THE PRESENT
The earliest codified law of the state of Connecticut is known as Ludlow's Code of 1650. The founding fathers of this colony believed that it was imperative that parents should instruct their children and so incorporated that mandate into law. It was first and foremost the duty of parents to instruct their children and the selectmen of the towns were empowered to ensure that the instruction took place in the home. For those parents who could not or would not undertake their obligation, or for those children who "grew stubborn and unruly", the education of the children could take place in the public school system or in the home of masters who taught the children as apprentices.
In each of the subsequent revisions of the code of laws, now known as the Connecticut General Statutes, some changes or additions were made. However, throughout the changes, one thing remained constant - the fact that it is the duty of parents to educate their own children. This basic obligation is outlined today in the first sentence of Connecticut General Statute 10-184. The title of that statute is, "Duties of parents." It reads:
"All parents and those who have the care of children shall bring them up in some lawful employment and instruct them or cause them to be instructed in reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic, and United States history, and in citizenship, including a study of the town, state and federal governments."Clearly, instruction of children by parents is not a parental "choice"; it is a parental "obligation." Parents do have a choice, however. They may decide not to undertake their obligation and instead send their children to public or private schools.
Throughout the history of this state, parents retained total control over the type of education they provided during instruction at home. No state statutes or administrative regulations were adopted in any way "regulating" home instruction.
In the 1970's, under the direction of State Commissioner of Education, Mark Shedd, the State Board of Education adopted a set of "Guidelines" for those who wished to instruct their children at home. Under the "Shedd Guidelines", it was suggested that parents bring the curricula they proposed to teach to the local public school district for "approval" before they began home instruction. While the "Guidelines" were only suggested procedures and were never adopted as statutory law, many public school districts required that parents abide by them as if they were law. Consequently, rather than enter into a legal argument with a public school official misinterpreting suggestions as statutory law, many parents refused to approach the public school district and instead "went underground". That is, they opted not to follow the "Guidelines" and not to inform anyone that they were, in fact, home educating for fear that the school districts would report the children as truant or report the parents as neglectful.
In the late 1980's, one family did engage in a legal argument with a public school district. The district then requested an opinion from the State Department of Education. Then Education Commissioner Gerald Tirozzi asked the Chief of Legal Affairs for the State Department of Education, Mark Stapleton, to conduct an investigation of the issue. Headed by Stapleton, a committee composed of people who worked within the Department conducted a lengthy review of the history of parental rights in education culminating in "A Report Concerning the Findings of the Home Instruction Committee" prepared by Mark Stapleton dated February 6, 1990.
That report detailed several options for the State Board of Education to consider adopting including a revised set of "Guidelines" that would have specified such things as the minimum qualifications a parent must possess in order to instruct their children, whether participation in the state mastery exams would be required of children instructed at home, and steps for the public school districts to take to ensure parental "compliance" with the "Guidelines."
Parents from across the state became involved in requesting that these provisions not be adopted. The State Board of Education decided that an advisory committee, comprised of parents and public school authorities, would be formed to study ways of revising the "Shedd Guidelines".
In early 1990, that advisory committee met and discussed a variety of issues. In the course of those discussions, the "Shedd Guidelines" were abandoned in favor of adopting provisions contained in a document developed by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). The NASBE document called for even more stringent "regulation" of parental instruction. The advisory committee was to issue a report on the committee's findings, including recommendations for new guidelines. However, many parents objected to the implementation of any new stringent "regulation". It was at that point that Connecticut's Citizens to Uphold the Right to Educate (CT's C.U.R.E.) was founded by Attorney Deborah Stevenson and Alison Brion. CT's C.U.R.E. and other statewide home educators' groups joined forces to disseminate information about the pending proposals. (In 2003, CT’s C.U.R.E. was reorganized to form National Home Education Legal Defense, LLC, or NHELD.)
Supporters picketed the State Department of Education's offices in Hartford and undertook various legal maneuvers, including the filing of a complaint with the State Freedom of Information Commission, in order to block the adoption of the proposals. Supporters also undertook a massive letter writing campaign requesting that the State Board of Education hold a public hearing on the issue. Hundreds of parents stormed the State Board of Education's meeting to express their discontent. So many attended that meeting that the building overflowed, and due to fire code regulations, many of the people in attendance were forced to remain outside of the building for the duration of the meeting.
All of this action served to persuade the State Board of Education to change its plans, to reject the committee's proposal, and instead to propose an entirely new set of "Guidelines". The Board invited a select few representatives from the parents' groups (including Attorney Deborah Stevenson) and a select few representatives from the public school districts to a meeting for their opinion concerning the new "Guidelines". Each group of representatives commented and made certain suggested improvements. At the conclusion of those meetings, Commissioner Tirozzi recommended that the State Board of Education adopt those "Guidelines." The Board did so. Those "Guidelines" are still in force. They are now known as the "C-14 Guidelines" because the Commissioner disseminated them to public school districts in a Circular Letter, number 14. The C-14 Guidelines were a compromise to appease all of those involved in the earlier controversies. As such, it is an imperfect document. However, from the perspective of parents, it is a vastly superior document to the one previously being proposed. Under the C-14 Guidelines, parents simply file a Notice of Intent form with the public school superintendent and suggest a date when they would like to attend a portfolio review at the public school at the end of the school year. The State Board of Education did not adopt the Guidelines as a regulation. The Board specifically left them as "suggested procedures" only. In fact, the Board entitled the Guidelines, "Suggested Procedures of Home Instruction."
A few public school superintendents were not satisfied that the Guidelines did not require parents to obtain approval for home instruction from them or that the Guidelines did not require other more stringent measures. The superintendents then requested Representative Anne Dandrow to propose a bill in the state legislature that would again require parents to revive the more stringent proposals and give them the full force of statutory law.
Once again, parents joined forces, engaged in a massive letter writing effort and attended the legislative public hearing on the bill in force. The bill was killed in committee.
1990’s legislation that enforces parental rights
In the 1990’s the legislature (with the help of some supportive legislators and homeschooling parents) decided again to reinforce parental rights by passing three new laws pertaining to education. There is 10-198a which basically says that if you are educating your child in accordance with CGS 10-184 then you child cannot be considered truant. A second law 10-184a allows parents of children educated at home or in private school the right to refuse special education services offered by public school. A third law, 10-184b, reinforced parental rights by curbing the Commissioner of Education’s authority. It states that notwithstanding any of the Commissioner’s power to waive other provisions (which he might do to improve public education), the Commissioner shall not waive the authority of parents to home educate under CGS 10-184. Over the years, we have been fortunate to have legislators who continue to see the importance and validity of parental rights.
For the next decade, the laws remained static, and the C-14 Guidelines remained in place. In the spring of 2003, a few public school superintendents, again, were not satisfied that the Guidelines did not require parents to obtain their approval for home instruction. They, again, requested a legislator to propose a bill resurrecting the more stringent proposals as statutory law. This time, they asked Representative Cameron Staples. This time, parents again joined forces, engaged in a massive letter writing effort and attended the legislative public hearing on the bill in force numbering over a thousand and overflowing not only the hearing room but three other rooms as well. Again, the bill was killed in committee.
Because the C-14 Guidelines was originally a "compromise document" there was language left in there which is confusing and actually conflicts with state statute. The entire document is a "suggested procedure" but language in the document may suggest to superintendents that filing a Notice of Intent is mandatory, and failure to file constitutes truancy, despite the fact that state statute (CGS 10-198a) clearly states that truancy applies to children enrolled in public or private school, so homeschoolers cannot be deemed truant, and section e also applies to homeschoolers following CGS 10-184. NHELD has requested, for years now, that this discrepancy be fixed and that the wording to the suggested procedure be changed. The Department of Education (DOE) is fully aware of this issue and has continued to allow the discrepancy to exist. Internal DOE documents obtained through Freedom of Information even show how their position had changed from filing the Notice of Intent as being a "suggested guideline" to "call the cops/DCF if parents refuse to comply", the latter having no basis in state statute.
Additionally at this time, June 2007, (and for the past 3 years) homeschoolers in CT are trying to get codified language which would clarify that when a parent writes a letter of withdrawal to the school that the child should immediately be deemed dis-enrolled. This is to remedy the problem that is occurring where schools are keeping children on the enrollment lists, doing PPT's without parents consent, and even issuing report cards for kids who are not attending! Schools are reporting children for truancy and neglect to DCF, despite the parents having written a letter informing the school that the child will no longer be enrolled or if they have voluntarily submitted a Notice of Intent form. It is thought that special education children have become targets because schools want to keep them on the enrollment lists in order to collect state and federal special education money!
(H/T Deborah Stevenson, NHELD)