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Home Schooling – Balancing Parent Rights and Accountability

How far can you go to hold parents accountable when they decide to home-school a child rather than sending the child to public or private school?  School districts have a duty under Connecticut General Statutes section 10-220 to “cause” children between the ages of 5 and 18 living in the district to attend school, and section 10-184 provides that parents “cause” their children to attend public school unless the parent or person having control of such child is able to show that the child is elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction in the studies taught in the public schools.  If a school district is aware of a child living in the district who is not attending public school and not “elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction”, the district must refer the child to the appropriate state authorities for truancy.  While home schooling is not explicitly mentioned in the state statute, it is assumed that parents have the right to provide their children with instruction in the home, and that sending the child to school is not the only way to fulfill this obligation.

In practice, parents are ususally required to file a Notice of Intent to home school a child that explicitly states that school officials take no position as to whether the instruction being provided to the child actually meets the statutory requirements.  Practice varies from one school district to another on the subject of whether parents are required to appear before a school official for an annual “portfolio review” to show that instruction has been provided in the required subjects.  Can this portfolio review by required?  The answer depends on the person to whom the question is addresed.

Advocates of home-schooling will say that parents have an absolute right to home school their children in any way they choose, and that the state should not exercise its power to oversee or interfere with this instruction in any way.  However, the policy adopted by the Connecticut State Department of Education in 1994 by way of Circular Letter C-14 states that school districts may mandate both the filing of the Notice of Intent to Home School, as well as the annual portfolio review.  Presumably, if the parent either fails to comply with the portfolio review or the review proves to be inadequate, the school district would have reason to believe that the child may not be elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction, and this would be grounds for filing of a truancy referral.  In the absence of any subsequent guidance from the SDE, we presume that this circular letter continues to represent the agency’s position on this issue.  Sample board policies issued by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, however, appear to suggest that the annual portfolio review cannot be made mandatory and that the only step required of parents should be to file the Notice of Intent to Home School.

Where does your district stand on this issue?