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Report: In Conn., Many Homeschooled Kids In Families Accused Of Abuse

Home School
Jessica Hill
A homeschool art class being held in Watertown, Conn., in January.

Connecticut's Child Advocate Sarah Eagan reported Thursday that many children withdrawn from state public schools to be homeschooled are in families that have been accused of child abuse or neglect, and there are no state regulations to protect them.

“The numbers that we saw here, in just sampling, found that nearly a third of the children that were removed during the previous three academic years to be homeschooled, the majority of those children lived in families that had been the subject multiple reports to DCF,” Eagan said.

She 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 homeschooled, Eagan said. 

“We found that although Matthew was enrolled in the Hartford Public Schools, he had not been allowed by his mother to attend school for approximately a year prior to his death. And we learned that despite numerous reports by the school district to DCF alleging abuse and neglect in the Tiradio home over the years, in November 2017 Mrs. Tirado successfully withdrew Matthew’s younger sister from school by filing a notice with the district that she would homeschool her.”

Mrs. Tirado 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 homeschooling 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her office examined a small sampling of six school districts, including Hartford, where a total of 380 students were withdrawn from 2013 to 2016 by their parents on the premise of homeschooling. 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 homeschooling. She said the concern is that children at risk of abuse and neglect are being pulled out of their schools for homeschooling, but not actually being educated in their homes.

Eagan recommended bringing together education officials and homeschooling advocates to consider regulations that would provide a "safety net" for homeschooled children and fulfill the state's interest in ensuring children are educated while also supporting parents' right to homeschool.

While 39 states have at least some regulation of homeschooling, Connecticut is among 11 states that have no regulations, the report said.

The state Department of Education, however, did issue voluntary guidelines on homeschooling in 1994 that suggest local school officials perform an annual review of whether instruction in required courses is being given to homeschooled 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 homeschooling 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 homeschool parents work very hard to give their children a quality education and should be respected as part of our diverse culture," Connors said

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
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