Wednesday, July 25, 2007

CT Law Tribune Unable To Research CT Law Properly And Spreads Misinformation

My apologies - but this just has to be a long post - so get a cup of coffee and a danish or something - I promise you it will be worth your time if you are interested in the CT DCF-DOE issue here in CT.

DOUGLAS S. MALAN, reporter for the CT Law Tribune, interviewed Attorney Deborah Stevenson for an article appearing this week in that publication entitled, "Homeschool Advocates Claim Bias" (website registration required). He not only butchered the piece, but he misquoted Ms. Stevenson several times, and failed to look up the laws he was writing about! He pretty much continued to disseminate the misinformation by the Department of Education, and the lawyers that represent them, by not challenging them with what is actual statute and what is not actual statute.

With the photo of Ms. Stevenson captioned:
Southbury attorney Deborah Stevenson founded an organization that represents parents who teach their children at home. She and other advocates are upset that some of those parents are being reported to the Department of Children and Families.

and a photo of Mr. Mooney captioned:
Thomas B. Mooney, a school law partner in Shipman & Goodwin’s Hartford office, said school administrators can’t be sure that children are getting a good education unless homeschooling parents file curriculum plans.

The article starts off by saying this:
Deborah G. Stevenson believes the founding fathers of Connecticut got it right when they allowed, and in fact encouraged, parents to homeschool their children through a 1650 law known as Ludlow's Code.
Excuse me? Ludlow's Code was not a particular law. Ludlow's Code was the title given to the first codification of all of the laws that were in existence in our colony in 1650. Homeschooling was not even mentioned in Ludlow's code of 1650. Ludlow's code outlined the duties of parents and one of the duties of parents was "that all parents and masters do breed and bring up their children and apprentices in some honest, lawful calling, labor, or employment, either in husbandry or some other trade profitable for themselves and Commonwealth, if they will not nor cannot train them up in learning, to fit them for higher employments." That was later codified and is still present in our statutes (CGS 10-184) as "All parents and those who have the care of children shall bring them up in some lawful and honest 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". It was, and always has been, the duty and obligation of a parent to educate their child, or see to it that their child obtained an education. You think the author might have done some research on this?
Now, more than 350 years later, Stevenson and other homeschooling advocates say the state is going back on its word. They have gone public with complaints about educators threatening to report parents to the Department of Children and Families if the parents don't follow certain procedures in withdrawing children from school and drafting educational plans that describe how children will be taught at home.
Yeah... the schools are saying this: Either follow the VOLUNTARY guidelines or we'll report you to DCF.. and by the way, parents are not required by any CT statute, or even the voluntary guidelines, to "draft educational plans".
"There's a feeling on the part of some school administrators that their way of doing things is the only way of doing things," said Stevenson, a Southbury attorney who is founder of National Home Education Legal Defense.

In June, the organization held a news conference at the state capitol that featured three homeschooling parents who said they had been reported to DCF after public school officials labeled their children truant and alleged that the parents were educationally neglectful.

The news conference was attended by state Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, and Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, who co-sponsored an amendment that would have codified the rights of parents wishing to withdraw their children from the public school system. The amendment was not approved during this year's legislative session.
How could the amendment not be approved? The amendment did not even come up for a vote! Raising the amendment was killed on a procedural issue that it was not "germane" to the bill being considered. The withdrawal bill originally proposed never even had a public hearing or even made it out of committee!
Education officials, and the lawyers who represent them, said that school administrators are not trying to be hurtful or petty, but they are being cautious about following the law and making sure children are being properly educated.

"The law is parents are supposed to file an education plan with the school district," said David H. Larson, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. "It truly is a minimal law. The state of Connecticut is doing children a big disservice by not monitoring what is happening" with homeschooled children, who are not required to take standardized tests.
David Larson is absolutely mistaken here, and clearly does not know what he is talking about, even as he is sitting and representing this group of school superintendents. What he said is in fact NOT the Law! I'd like to see him produce a copy of this law to me. He can't ... because THERE IS NONE! We have NO law that requires a homeschool parent, or even a private or non-public school, to file an education plan! David Larson needs to read the state statutes. I would have expected the author of this article to have asked for a copy of that law.
The dispute comes at a time of rapid growth in the homeschooling ranks. The numbers have increased nearly 30 percent in this decade, according to some estimates, as parents choose to teach their children at home for religious, academic or safety reasons.

Nationwide, a little more than 2 percent of all students are taught at home. If that ratio holds true in Connecticut, the state has roughly 15,000 homeschoolers.
Gee, isn't that interesting! Just last week on WNPR radio, Department of Education spokesman, Tom Murphy, said homeschooling was eroding in CT! - hah!
Under C.G.S. §10-184, parents are obligated either to instruct their own children or delegate that responsibility to another party, i.e. a public or private school. A home educator is fulfilling his or her statutory obligation if that parent or guardian "is able to show that the child is elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction in the studies taught in the public schools."

The statute also requires parents of public school children to formally inform the school district of their intent to withdraw their children and homeschool them.
This is not true at all. This is not what the statute says at all. You'd think the author of this piece would have looked at the statute to see what it says! Elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction is the phrase in which this state allows private schools to exist and has nothing whatsoever to do with parents educating their children! There is nothing in the statute about withdrawal except for children over the age of 16 or 17! Read the statute for yourselves CGS 10-184
Other statutes require boards of education to maintain a census of children in each school district and keep records of their identity, age and where they are being educated. Parents can be fined if they don't share that information when asked.
That's CGS 10-249
It was around 1990 when Stevenson joined the fray. She was not yet a lawyer, but she was a mother who had homeschooled her daughters since the mid-1980s. Stevenson and others became upset when the state Department of Education unveiled a proposal to further regulate home instruction.

Stevenson recalled that homeschooling advocates shouted down the state plan during a public hearing. The result was a compromise known as the C-14 guidelines. The guidelines suggested that parents file a notice of intent to homeschool their children, that they share an education plan with school officials and that they set a date to meet with school officials each academic year to review a child's portfolio.
What is this guy talking about? There is no requirement to submit, share or discuss an education plan!
Parents 'Intimidated'

But the precise wording caused confusion. One heading in C-14 reads "Suggested Procedures for Home Instruction." It states that parents "must file with the superintendent" of schools basic information about the home educational program. Homeschoolers focus on the word "suggested," school officials on the word "must."

The problem, said Stevenson, is that what started out as suggested procedures for parents on how to inform school officials of their intention to homeschool has been misinterpreted as law by some educators. Stevenson said the result is that officials try to pressure parents into obtaining school board approval.

Some parents are "intimidated into doing that which they don't want to do," said Stevenson.
And Deborah Stevenson never said this! Again, it isn't about what they do not want to do... it is about what they are NOT REQUIRED TO DO !!! The fact of the matter is that the "suggested procedure", the guidelines, do not match what the statutes say. Superintendents confuse the guidelines to be law, and the State Department of Education refuses to clarify that and instead encourages them to report parents to DCF for not following VOLUNTARY guidelines. I would like to know what part of VOLUNTARY or SUGGESTED they do not understand.
She gets involved when school officials and parents disagree over whether parents need to formally apply for permission to homeschool or to file an educational plan. "Most often, it is a matter of misunderstanding [the statutes] and it's resolved quickly," Stevenson said. "Certain few officials really dig in their heels" and make threats of reporting parents to DCF.

Not one of her clients, she noted, has ever lost custody of their children, and no claim of educational neglect against her clients has been substantiated.
Again, the author of this piece has his facts wrong.. Attorney Stevenson had several clients who had substantiated claims.. but those claims were later reversed to "unsubstantiated" by DCF after the files and the facts were reviewed, or the claims were withdrawn by the prosecutor in juvenile court.
Cautious Superintendents

There about a dozen in-state lawyers in the National Home Education Legal Defense referral network. Among them is New Britain attorney Ralph D. Sherman, who has been homeschooling for 13 years. The bulk of Sherman's legal work is criminal pardons and firearms law, but he also handles cases involving homeschooling matters.

"I've had no recent cases with DCF, but I've had to sit down [in the past] with superintendents of schools and explain what's going on [with the law]," Sherman noted. "The superintendents are not attorneys, but are told to be cautious, and I don't blame them for that. [But] for it to end up in the lap of DCF is outrageous."

Ellington attorney Michael H. Agranoff also provides help to Stevenson's organization. Agranoff defends parents in DCF cases, and he contends that the agency relies on the public school system for many of its referrals. School officials, he said, are quick to report any possible problems so as not to expose themselves to future lawsuits if actual abuse is found to have occurred.
Yeah, I like the term "possible problems" - what is this Minority Report type of thinking? Criminals are apprehended based on some sort of hunch about what might happen? Does the acronym CYA come to mind? Let's report a parent in case they might abuse or neglect their child at some point in the future. We have no real evidence now - but send DCF over and they'll dig around and go on a witch hunt to find something. It's scary and sick all in one breath.
In his experience, Agranoff said, children who are taught at home are more likely to be checked on by the DCF, even when parents are doing nothing wrong.

"What [Stevenson and I] have in common in parents' rights," Agranoff said. "There's a relationship because people who have homeschool problems usually have DCF problems."

Other attorneys, however, say that school administrators are receiving unjust criticism. They say educators are sensitive to children's needs and that they are right to report potential problems to the DCF. If parents won't file an educational plan, the lawyers say, administrators can't be sure a child is being properly educated.
OK - once again - parents are not required in CT to file anything. If they are removing their child from public school then they submit a letter of withdrawal telling the school to remove their child from enrollment. That's it. And schools are now even ignoring letters of withdrawal and keeping children on the enrollment lists as well! Then they later claim them to be truant. The truth is that parents MAY CHOOSE to follow the C-14 guidelines and file a Notice of Intent and do a portfolio review for that year, but they are NOT REQUIRED BY LAW to file an EDUCATIONAL PLAN or to file a Notice of Intent. Tell me, how does a school know if a child being enrolled in a private school is receiving what they consider to be "a proper education"? Do they check up on the private schools? NO. It is a bogus argument, and children not enrolled in public school are not the concern of the school administrators, otherwise they would have to monitor private school students as well.
"In the absence of any information [about the homeschool curriculum], it would be appropriate for DCF to check it out," said Thomas B. Mooney, a school law partner in Shipman & Goodwin's Hartford office.
It is not appropriate for "DCF to check it out". DCF is not, and should not be used as, the "school police" - they have much more important issues to address than running around after false complaints by the DOE or school administrators, just because some family didn't submit paperwork that is not required to submit. But what the hell, Mooney makes his money off of school legal cases.. he'd love to have these cases come to court so he could pay for his next car. Never mind what is best for the kids.. let's just traumatize the whole family with a false DCF referral. Lawyers like Mooney really nauseate me.
Around 1990, he was counseling the Avon Board of Education when it asked the Department of Education if a school board could reject a parent's homeschool educational plan. That request, said Mooney, helped launch the debate that led to C-14.

He said homeschooling parents should not see school district's reporting requirements as burdensome. "It is simply a matter of families and school officials working together in a minor way so school officials can be sure their statutory obligations are met," Mooney said.
If school officials knew their statutory obligations then this whole mess would be avoided in the first place. School administrators know nothing about what the law says or doesn't say, and it isn't until Attorney Stevenson sends them a copy and explains it to them that they leave families alone to homeschool in peace. Of course the Department of Education should be the ones doing that. And of course they don't.

I am very disgusted at how poorly researched this piece was. The author had no idea about what the statutes say. He obviously took what the school attorneys said as gospel when it is they that are only operating at the behest of the Department of Education, who have every interest in keeping these children hostages in their schools and discouraging homeschooling. They would rather have children commit suicide than allow them to leave in peace. We know that because it has happened. And as schools continue to berate and bully parents and their children in their system, we will continue to see the homeschool statistics rise in CT.

Do me a personal favor... drop these guys a line or two and let them know what poor reporting this is and how disappointing an article it was. If anything, the author could have done a bit of research on the statutes and quoted Ms. Stevenson properly.

Is is incredibly disappointing that journalism is in such a sorry state these days. Doesn't anybody check their facts anymore?