HARTFORD — Connecticut’s child advocate reported Thursday that many children withdrawn from state public schools to be home-schooled are in families that have been accused of child abuse or neglect, and there are no state regulations to protect them.
Child Advocate Sarah Eagan presented her office’s findings to state lawmakers as part of an investigation into last year’s dehydration and malnutrition death of Matthew Tirado. The 17-year-old disabled Hartford boy suffered prolonged abuse and neglect, hadn’t been in school for a year and his younger sister was allegedly being home-schooled, Eagan said. His mother has pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Home schooling advocates told lawmakers Thursday they felt like they were being unfairly attacked and scapegoated for the failures of local educators and state child welfare workers. They also said some parents are wrongly being reported for educational neglect for not following state guidelines on home schooling that are not mandatory.
Eagan told the legislature’s Committee on Children that her office examined a small sampling of six school districts, including Hartford, where a total of 380 students were withdrawn from 2013 to 2016 by their parents on the premise of home schooling. She said 138 of those children, or 36 percent, were in families that were reported for suspected child abuse or neglect at least once to the state Department of Children and Families.
“The majority of these families had a history of multiple prior reports to DCF of suspected child abuse or neglect,” Eagan wrote in the report. “None of the six districts had protocols to conduct follow-up with the withdrawn student or his/her family, such as an assessment of academic progress or a portfolio review of work, as suggested by the State Department of Education.”
Eagan said her office wasn’t criticizing or challenging the merits of home schooling. She said the concern is that children at risk of abuse and neglect are being pulled out of their schools for home schooling, but not actually being educated in their homes.
Eagan recommended bringing together education officials and home schooling advocates to consider regulations that would provide a “safety net” for home-schooled children and fulfill the state’s interest in ensuring children are educated while also supporting parents’ right to home-school.
While 39 states have at least some regulation of home schooling, Connecticut is among 11 states that have no regulations, the report said.
The state Department of Education, however, did issue voluntary guidelines on home schooling in 1994 that suggest local school officials perform an annual review of whether instruction in required courses is being given to home-schooled students. If parents refuse to participate in the annual review, the department suggests the children could be considered truant.
Diane Connors, who founded the CT Homeschool Network, told the legislative committee that local educators have been wrongly reporting home schooling parents for alleged educational neglect for not following the suggested guidelines. She also accused state education officials of improperly representing the guidelines as state law.
“Connecticut home school parents work very hard to give their children a quality education and should be respected as part of our diverse culture,” Connors said.