Saturday, July 21, 2007

WNPR Features Homeschooling - DOE Spokesman Tom Murphy Less Than Truthful On Radio

Christine at Thinking Mother blogged about this before I had a chance to get my post finished, so here is my take on the program.

WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil contacted NHELD after the protest we had at the State Capitol in Hartford on June 28th. She wanted to do a show on the DOE-DCF issue. She invited me and Deborah Stevenson to be on the show. Then they uninvited me - because I found out that they wanted me to be a spokesperson for CT Homeschool Network. Since I have not been involved on their board for a while now, I indicated that I could not fulfill that function - so they uninvited me. The show was supposed to be entirely about the DCF DOE issue and then it got watered down to include a segment in the beginning about homeschooling and support groups in CT, the middle segment was with Tom Murphy of the DOE and Deborah Stevenson of NHELD, and the last segment featured Northstar Learning Center in Massachusetts. I'd be remiss if I did not mention that Sue Stern, of the Quiet Corner Homeschoolers, was featured in the first segment of the program to speak about homeschool support groups in CT. Sue is a good friend of mine and a veteran homeschool mom.

Listen to the WNPR radio segment - it is an hour long program. Here is the webpage for that program.

Tom Murphy, spokesman for the CT Department of Education, spoke some untruths on that show.

1) He tried to marginalize the parents who are fighting against being reported to DCF by marginalizing the homeschool growth in this state and by saying that it was only a handful of parents who were fighting the current issue of DCF and DOE abuses. He claimed that this handful of parents are those who object to following the DOE's guidelines and filing a Notice of Intent - yet there were parents who were reported who DID file an NOI, as well as submit a letter to withdraw their child(ren) from school. For Mr. Murphy to say homeschooling is eroding in CT is laughable. His agency is obviously trying to marginalize the issue, and/or it is apparent that they are totally clueless as to the growth of homeschool support groups all across the state! Maybe what is eroding is the number of people filing their Notice of Intent form. Yes.. that is what they don't like, people making the choice not to file or do annual portfolio reviews.

2) No one is fighting against filing an Notice of Intent as he claimed. What we are fighting about is that despite signing an NOI or even submitting a letter of withdrawal both are ignored and the families are almost automatically reported to DCF for withdrawing their child(ren) to homeschool them. The fact is that NHELD has always said that filing is voluntary and you can choose to do so if you wished but that you are not statutorily bound to do so. The DOE doesn't want people to know that they have a choice and they act like it is statutorily required... and they will report you to DCF if you do not sign one yearly. The issue that "it is just a piece of paper"... is nonsense. Signing an NOI is not just mere notification... it has become more of a matter of control for the DOE. If they want to know who is homeschooling they have a statute that already allows them to do that. (CGS 10-249).

3) Mr. Murphy also misconstrued the issue of equivalent instruction. There is no issue of homeschoolers having to meet "equivalency" with the public schools. If so, equivalent to what? Equivalent to schools in Hartford, or schools in Greenwich? Public government schools cannot even meet equivalency among themselves! That is one of the things that Sheff v. O'Neill is all about (i.e. in a sense saying the suburban schools are better than the urban schools). The notion of equivalent instruction is a myth. But honestly, why would anyone want to be equivalent to the education received in government schools? That's one of the reasons why these families are leaving!

4) Yes, CT is a free state to homeschool in, but Mr. Murphy apparently does not know about what is going on in other states with regard to homeschool legislation. Many states like NH have started to relax their homeschool requirements. With HB406 signed into law, now they no longer have to submit their curriculum! We have seen a shift in state legislation being very stringent to states letting go of ridiculous requirements, especially those costly to the taxpayer. To say we are a "laissez-faire" state is also misleading by Mr. Murphy, now that they are attempting to control homeschooling by coercing families to sign documents not required by law under threat of being reported to DCF for truancy and neglect. That is far from laissez-faire.

5) Oh yes, and he of course liked to drag in the old "abuse and neglect" issue. Regarding signing and submitting an NOI to the school - it will not stop child abuse - it will not insure that people do a good job in educating their kids. The DOE is saying that they need people to sign it so they can make sure that those things are or are not happening in the home. That is total malarkey.
For Mr. Murphy to assert that filing an NOI insures that the school knows what is happening to these kids is ridiculous. Children who are in government school are not learning anything and are being abused by instances of bullying or teacher humiliation of the student (and more!). So much for oversight. Abuse and neglect are not homeschool issues. They are social issues that are already addressed by our laws. The CT Department of Education fails to understand the basic presumption of innocence which our system is based upon. But in their minds homeschoolers are guilty of abuse just by virtue of their homeschooling. To them we are to be suspected.

The fact of the matter is that the schools in CT already have a means of knowing who is homeschooling - either people write a letter of withdrawal indicating they will be homeschooling (so there is no need for an NOI) or the school can simply do as the statutes allow and contact parents in the district to ask how their child is being educated (CGS 10-249). The NOI is merely a means of control.

Tom Murphy mentioned how schools are afraid of the liability regarding what would happen if a homeschooled kid later sued the DOE because he didn't receive an "adequate education". I think he better be more concerned about government school kids suing the school system for not receiving an "adequate education". Especially compared with the track record that homeschoolers have in this state and nationwide.

I also want to mention that Lucy Nalpathanchil opened her show by saying that homeschooling in an unconventional way of educating one's children. It is not unconventional, it is how people have educated their children since the beginning of time and before government education arrived on the scene.

Tom Murphy from the DOE was allowed to make false statements about the growth of homeschooling in CT - and about numbers of people protesting the DCF DOE issue of parents getting reported to DCF after withdrawing their children from school. With the excuse that time was running out - Mr. Murphy was not allowed to be questioned by Deborah Stevenson about why a letter of withdrawal is not honored, and why children are still being kept on enrollment lists after submitting a letter of withdrawal, and the audience was not allowed to be educated by the facts that homeschooling is growing in CT and all across the country (not eroding as Tom Murphy claimed). Tom Murphy used this opportunity to marginalize homeschoolers. He did not tell the public why even though filing an NOI is voluntary, that the school administrators are being encouraged by his agency to coerce parents into filing by threatening DCF referral. Deborah Stevenson was not given adequate time to rebut some of Mr. Murphy's inaccurate information.

There was much that was NOT said in this interview and I encourage you to not only listen to the show - but to write to the station about it.

I would all encourage you to write to Lucy Nalpathanchil, or

Lucy Nalpathanchil
WNPR Reporter/Producer
1049 Asylum Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105

860-275-7482 (fax)

Oh and by the way - yet another family's substantiated DCF referral was overturned by DCF to be "unsubstantiated". It is nice to see that DCF is seeing these school complaints for what they really are, false and a complete waste of their resources.
We are glad that Commissioner Hamilton is working to resolve this issue.
Congratulations to the Aguillar family!
Congratulations to Attorney Deborah Stevenson and her determination to fight this harassment and coercion of homeschool families in CT. The good thing too is that other lawyers in CT are now coming forth and contacting her to work together on this issue.