Select Committee on Children

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-162

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE WITHDRAWAL OF A CHILD FROM ENROLLMENT IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL.

Vote Date:

2/28/2008

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute Change of Reference to Education

PH Date:

2/19/2008

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Select Committee on Children Representative Art O'Neill

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill was originally created to allow parents to have an easier time removing their children from the public school system in order to home school them. This bill would require the Board of Education to accept a student's removal into a home-schooling setting.

The bill that was heard at the pubic hearing was not the bill that the Committee sent out. The verbiage of the 2008 draft of the bill had drastically changed the meaning of the one that was proposed by Representative Art O'Neill in the 2007 legislative session. The testimony was unanimous during the hearing to urge the committee not to vote for the bill in its present form, but to amend it to reflect the language of the 2007 bill. Before the hearing, Senator Meyer assured those at the hearing that: “…the bill that is in front of us is not the bill that was raised by the Committee. We're going to ultimately, if there are no amendments, be hearing the bill that was raised by Representative O'Neill.”

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

None expressed.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Arthur O'Neill, State Representative: This bill would give parents the opportunity to nofity schools regarding their intent to remove a child from the system in order to begin home schooling via certified mail. He hopes that the legislation will move forward with this bill and “ensure that all parents who make the effort to home school their children will have a positive experience in the process of removing those children from public school. This legislation can prevent unnecessary conflicts, litigation and expenses associated with removing children school to begin home schooling.”

Elizabeth “Betsy” Ritter, State Representative: There is a need to “clarify the steps required to ensure proper notice and withdrawal of a child from public school.”

Dan Debicella, State Senator: While he is dedicated to making public schools excellent in CT, he also supports a parent's right to choose other schooling options. Parents have become frustrated by the lack of process when withdrawing their children from public school. “The lack of process simultaneously makes it hard for school districts to track which students are being home schooled, and makes it difficult for families who simply want to exercise their right to teach their children themselves.” This legislation would not change the law decreeing that children should 'receive equivalent instruction in the studies taught in public school' but it would clarify the process for beginning home schooling. Parents should have the right to choose however they want to for their children.

Al Adinolfi, State Representative: Current law is vague on this issue. Some towns “needlessly and falsely contact Department of Children and Families to report child neglect on the parents for pulling their kids out of the school system.” This creates a variety of burdens on DCF, the town, and the families involved. He has many constituents who have home schooled their children. “Their children are doing extremely well, are fully engaged in social activities, and are applying to top universities and colleges to further their learning.”

Lawrence Miller, State Representative: His neighbors home-schooled their children. One is attending Annapolis and the other is in the business sector. They have both been successful. While they were home schooled they were involved with many other home schoolers in the Fairfield County area.

Pamela Sawyer, State Representative: She thinks that the process of withdrawal should be kept as “simple as possible.” She shared an antidote of a public hearing in Education from a few years prior where home-schoolers testified to the committee and how impressive they were.

Edith Prague, State Senator: “I firmly believe that parents know what's best for their children and if some kids need to be home schooled, those parents should be allowed to do so without any interference or without any hassle from the school administration.”

Robert Kane, State Senator: “I think parents do need a simple and direct way, such as a certified letter to the local school board to withdraw their children from school. The current practices seem to create a bit of confusion and problems even when the parents follow all the applicable laws and sometimes, unfortunately, ending in litigation. The guidelines provided by the Department of Education, which do not have the weight of law, create confusion with the local school boards, principals and superintendents.”

Patricia Widlitz, State Representative: “Parents are the greatest advocates for their own children and when a parent comes up against the difficulty that we've heard so many express this morning and at other times, we get into a situation where we're not working for the best interest of the child and that's what we must keep in front of us at all times.”

Stephen Lyon, Willimantic: He was home schooled by his parents for all his life. He was able to enroll in college at 16, graduated from Quinebaug Valley Community College with honors and complete a Legislative Internship at the Connecticut General Assembly. He feels that his parents were “able to instruct me in a way that was more beneficial to my individual needs, and therefore allowed me to mature more quickly.” He think sthat it is important to recognize “the authority of parents in society, and treat them as members of the aforementioned society, not enemies that need to be checked up on.”

David Lyon, Willimantic: He home schooled his son. There are many reasons why parents home school their children—“some like the individualized attention and the ability to customize an education to the particular needs of a child. Some dislike the social structure of their local schools, where children have not been taught proper social skills.” They deserve the “full cooperation from local school officials” when withdrawing their child from public schools and putting them into home schooling. Home schooling is on the rise and with that there has been a variety of curriculum and tools that have become available to home schoolers. Home schooled students have been very successful. “Home education is succeeding in our state and additional regulations are not required to assure that home-educated students are receiving a quality education.”

Deborah Stevenson, Executive Director, National Home Education Legal Defense: “The purpose of this bill is to compel school districts to unconditionally acknowledge and respect the right of parents when they exercise their right to withdraw their children from a public school. Parents should not have to fear the loss of custody of their children simply because they exercise this right.” Many parents are falsely reported to DCF for neglect and threatrned with the loss of their child! The way the situation stands today is that “if you send your letter of withdrawal to the public school, the public school administrators keep your withdrawn children on their 'enrollment books' and then report them to DCF for truancy.” She also notes that she has home schooled her two children. They each entered college at ages eleven and ten respectively and have done well for themselves.

Judy Aron, Research Director, National Home Education Legal Defense: She also has home schooled her children. “The Department of Education and school administrators are under the false notion that it is their 'obligation under the law to educate all chidlren'” but this assumption is wrong because the state says that it “must provide an equal opportunity to receive an adequate education.” She quotes Governor Rick Perry of Texas, saying that, “Every child is entitled to a public education, but public education is not entitled to every child.” She feels that “passing this legislation will strengthen a parents right to make a clean cut between a school and their children, so that they can part ways and do what it is their duty to do as parents as outlined by CGS 10-184.”

Peter Wolfgang, President, Family Institute of Connecticut Action: “All that we are asking for is what the law already allows, the right to be left alone. It is unfortunately the case however that a bill protecting that right has become necessary because of a series of incidents of harassment of home schooling families by state and local officials.”

Abigail Blough: She was home schooled; she is now a junior at St. Joseph's College in West Hartford and interns for Senator Fassano. She had a wonderful home schooling experience, and, luckily, did not have any poor experiences with her school district. She does feel “sorry” for those who have, however, and feels that everyone should have the right to a home-schooling experience.

Ralph Sherman: He is testifying on the behalf of his wife and his two children; he also works with Deborah Stevenson on these cases. “I can tell you firsthand that a great many people in the education establishment think that there are a whole lot of requirements that are really not part of our Connecticut law. As an attorney and as a taxpayer, I just find it unforgivable that we tolerate this ongoing waste of resources. The legal bills for the families, as well as the towns, every town is broke. I'm sure that everyone in this Legislature knows that.”

Parents who have had experience home-schooling their children (Judith Shosie, Guilford; Tucker Chase; Sue Stern, Dayville; Connie and Jeff Kain, Ridgefield; Allison Careau; Anita and Andrew Formicella, Redding; Elizabeth Mazzella, Wallingford; Scott and Kathleen Jackson, Milford; David and Sharon Preusch, Trumbull; Isabelle Hall-Gustafuson, Windsor Locks): They all gave similar stories in regards to their children and the trials that they faced when trying to withdraw them from the public school system. Many of these children had special needs such as Autism, IBS, etc. that were not being met in the public schools even with 504 plans. In many cases, because of their special needs, students had missed extended periods of school (the absences were excused) but were then flagged as truants. In many cases, the Department of Children and Families was notified of the suspected truancies and went to the homes of these families. These parents had a difficult time removing their children from the schools even though it is within their parental right to home-school. Even after they had turned in written notification to withdraw their children, DCF still sometimes showed up at their homes questioning truancy. While these children suffered academically in the school system, they have flourished in their specialized learning environments. They participate in “after” school activities such as bowling, Robotics Competitions, tennis, guitar lessons, water color, etc.. and some have even written chapter books!

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

None expressed.

Reported by: Kelly A Juleson-Scopino

Date: 03.16.08