FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE LAW, POLICIES AND PROCEDURES FOR HOMESCHOOLING IN CT
The following general information has been reviewed by Attorney Deborah Stevenson, CHN’s legal counsel. It is not intended to replace a legal consult if you need one. Please take the time to review this information for your own understanding. If you are a current CT homeschooler who would like to further network with thousands of other homeschooling families, we suggest that you join our facebook forum.
To maintain homeschool freedom, homeschoolers learn what rights and responsibilities they have. You certainly can, and many would argue that you should, refuse to do more than the minimum required by law. This avoids setting precedents that exceed the law and cause difficulty for homeschoolers down the road. That said, homeschool parents have the choices to make; so know your rights. So we ask everyone to know the law, the Guidelines, and make informed decisions about options such as the Notice of Intent & Portfolio Review, how to withdraw your child from a school district, and what to do if you are experiencing difficulty from a school district.
The following questions & answers are intended to give clarity to the common legal questions parents ask about when beginning to homeschool in Connecticut, or those who just want a refresher. It is also intended as educational information for superintendents of our CT public schools, other employees of CT schools, Boards of Education, the CT Legislature, and the CT Department of Education. Please take the time to read all of this information that was carefully put together so that, it is intended, everyone may be on the same page. When we have mutual respect and understanding, we can sustain positive relations between all of us who are choose different styles of educational options. In doing so, positive relationships can be sustained between families and school districts. Such families might want to re-enroll their children in public school one day and having a positive relationship makes that decision an easier one.
There are several sections explained below for you to become familiar with. You’ll learn about CT General Statute 10-184 (C.G.S. 10-184) which includes the state education statutes, including the difference between compulsory school attendance and compulsory school education. You’ll learn about the Letter of Withdrawal which you need to file if you are removing your child from public school enrollment. You’ll learn about the Notice of Intent (& Portfolio Review), which is an optional document some parents choose to file with their local school district. Finally, you will learn about some potential troubleshooting topics that you will probably never experience.
Q: I know I’m going to homeschool my child, but as a beginner, or a new-to-Connecticut homeschooler, what do I need to know for next steps on how to begin?
A: To varying degrees, what you need to do depends on the age of your child, whether or not you have already enrolled them in school, and whether or not you intend to have future contact with the school district.
Q: Is it legal to homeschool in CT?
A: Yes. It has always been legal to homeschool. Parents are given the right and responsibility to provide instruction for their children in **Connecticut General Statute 10-184**, Duties of Parents. The first duty of parents has always been to “instruct them” – homeschooling! It is recommended that you become familiar with the statutes pertaining to homeschooling rights and responsibilities. C.G.S. 10-184 is the law. “Sec. 10-184. Duties of parents. School attendance age requirements. All parents and those who have the care of children shall bring them up in some lawful and honest employment and instruct them or cause them to be instructed in reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic and United States history and in citizenship, including a study of the town, state and federal governments.” The statute states that it is the parent’s duty to instruct their child, first and foremost. Homeschooling! That first sentence of C.G.S. 10-184 is the Compulsory Education portion of the statute. That is important for you to know. That is the first statement in the C.G.S. 10-184, Duties of Parents.
Q: What is the difference between “compulsory education” and “compulsory attendance”? Understanding this is key to understanding all the other questions and answers that you will read about so that you understand the law. The answers hinge on the difference between these two components.
A: The first sentence in Chapter 168, Ct General Statute Sec. 10-184. Duties of parents. School attendance age requirements. “All parents and those who have the care of children shall bring them up in some lawful and honest employment and instruct them or cause them to be instructed in reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic and United States history and in citizenship, including a study of the town, state and federal governments.”
It is very important to understand that this first sentence of the Duties of parents is the compulsory education statute. It states that PARENTS and those who have the care of children shall instruct them. If they do not elect to do the instruction themselves, they may cause the child(ren) to be instructed “elsewhere”, by enrolling them in a public or private school. If the parents enroll the child, then, and only then, does the remainder of this portion of the statute come in to play. Why ? Because the rest of it pertains to the “compulsory ATTENDANCE” part of the law; public and private school children – not homeschoolers.
Q: What is the compulsory attendance portion of the statute?
A: “Sec. 10-184. Duties of parents. Subject to the provisions of this section and section 10-15c, each parent or other person having control of a child five years of age and over and under eighteen years of age shall cause such child to attend a public school regularly during the hours and terms the public school in the district in which such child resides is in session, unless such child is a high school graduate or 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. The parent or person having control of a child sixteen or seventeen years of age may consent, as provided in this section, to such child’s withdrawal from school. Such parent or person shall personally appear at the school district office and sign a withdrawal form. The school district shall provide such parent or person with information on the educational options available in the school system and in the community. ” If a parent is not homeschooling, (compulsory education & attendance are satisfied via homeschooling) then the compulsory attendance portion of the statute comes into effect for private school children who will not be public schooled. Private school children have to be able to show that their child is elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction via this compulsory attendance portion of the statute. In other words, where is your kid going to attend school if you are not homeschooling or sending them to public school?
Q: Can you explain this portion of the C.G.S. 10-184 statute on compulsory attendance ? “The parent or person having control of a child five years of age shall have the option of not sending the child to school until the child is six years of age and the parent or person having control of a child six years of age shall have the option of not sending the child to school until the child is seven years of age. The parent or person shall exercise such option by personally appearing at the school district office and signing an option form.”
A: This portion of the compulsory attendance statute is clear. For parents who have NOT elected to instruct their children at home, their children must attend public or private school from 5-17 years old. Children who are 17 years old may opt out of school attendance with parental permission. The school has the opt out form that needs to be signed by the parent, in person, at the school. Note that where it says, “is able to show that the child is elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction…” that is a reference to a child attending private school. Elsewhere means ‘other than’ public school. It is not a reference to a homeschooled child.
Q: I want to start homeschooling. What do I do next so that I am in compliance with the law? The Letter of Withdrawal.
A: In Connecticut you are not mandated to file any paperwork in order to homeschool. However, if your child is already enrolled in a public school, you need to write a Letter of Withdrawal (LOW) and deliver it to the school. Here is a sample Letter of Withdrawal. We suggest that you deliver the LOW in one of two ways. Bring two copies. Bring them to the superintendent’s office. The secretary will accept it and you should request that the secretary sign a copy for you to keep, simply acknowledging that it was received on the date you delivered it. That copy is for your personal records and the other copy is for the school district. The other option for delivering the LOW, is to snail mail the school a copy, return receipt requested – so you will receive proof that they received what you sent. Keep all of your documentation.
Q: What is an Opt-Out form?
A: It is a form that the public schools may use for children ages 5 or 6, or for older children who are 17, who want to either delay school entry until age 6 (legal compulsory attendance age) or to withdraw from school at age 17. Parents should appear at the school that their child would attend to obtain the form. This form is not necessary for homeschooled children! Homeschoolers do not “opt out” of public school attendance. They either enroll and attend, or if they are enrolled and want to leave to homeschool, they deliver and Letter of Withdrawal.
Q: I have never enrolled my 5 or 6 year old child in public school. I am certain I will be homeschooling them for kindergarten whether they are 5, 6 or 7. Do I need to file an Opt-Out form?
A: Legally, no. This form is not necessary for homeschooled children! Homeschoolers do not “opt out” of public school attendance. They either enroll and attend, or if they are enrolled and want to leave to homeschool, they deliver and Letter of Withdrawal.
Q: I think I am going to homeschool my 5 or 6 year old child, but I’m not totally sure yet. My child *has never been enrolled in public school*. Do I need to file an Opt-Out form?
A: You have not enrolled your child in school. So, you have nothing to “opt out” of, or withdraw from, since you were never intending for your child to be enrolled in public school. If you feel that you want to file an opt out form, because perhaps you are undecided about whether or not you’ll actually homeschool or enroll your child in public school, you can go to the local school district and do so. But it’s not legally required unless you are knowingly and intentionally opting them out of public school enrollment until a later age – basically, delaying kindergarten entrance. When parents are choosing to delay their child’s public school enrollment in kindergarten for a year, the opt-out form is intended to show the school district that a future public schooled child is having a delayed entry into public school until age 6 instead of the usual age 5. Again, it has nothing to do with homeschooled children because we do not “opt out” of a public school district that the child was never enrolled in to begin with.
Q: My child is 5 years old (or older) and IS enrolled in public school. We want to start homeschooling, instead of sending our child to public school. What do we do?
A: You need to withdraw your child. Parents have withdrawn their children from public school by a simple verbal notice, or by written notice to the school district. Depending on the district’s flexibility, they may or may not accept a verbal notice. It is strongly suggested for the benefit of the parents, and the school district, that you give the district a written letter of withdrawal. It is wise for everyone to have written, recorded proof of the child’s withdrawal from the school district, so keep a copy for your own records. This question was addressed further up on this page.
Q: What would I write in a Letter of Withdrawal?
A: It’s short and simple. However, please note that the Suggested Procedure for Home Instruction says to file a Notice of Intent within ten days of beginning to homeschool. Just keep in mind that parents start to homeschool during any month of the year, so which ten days is being referred to? It is not the public school calendar. It is within ten days of when you are going to start homeschooling. That could be any month of the year. Here is a sample Letter of Withdrawal:
“August 15, 2017
Dear Superintendent Jane Doe,
I am writing this letter to inform you that effective immediately, we are withdrawing our daughter, Suzie Q. Smith, (insert the child’s AGE), from the Your Town public school district. We will be instructing our daughter at home in accordance with CT General Statute 10-184.
Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Smith”
Q. Who can instruct my child?
A. Homeschool parents may instruct their own children and they may also hire a tutor or have a friend or relative tutor their child. The parent directs the instruction of the child, so they choose how that will occur.
Q. If a homeschool parent hires a tutor to instruct their child, does it matter if it’s 1 day a week, 2, 3, 4 or 5 days a week? Is there a magic number of days, or hours per week, that would make a difference between being seen as a homeschooler versus a private school?
A. No. There is no magic number. The parent can hire a tutor full time. The parent is still “causing the child to be instructed” in the subjects listed in C.G.S. 10-184. The issue of something looking like a private school is not an issue for the parent. It is an issue for the tutor. For example, if the tutor has 20 kids coming to the tutor’s home five days a week from 9 am to 3 pm, then that does look like a private school and the tutor would be subject to arguing why that is not a private school or to admit that it is a private school and comply with building codes, zoning regs, and/or day care regulations. Still, not an issue for any of the parents. At that point, however, the parent could argue also that the child is “enrolled” in a “private school” if the argument stands that the tutor was operating a private school.
Q: The local school district’s superintendent is demanding that I file the NOI.
A: No school district superintendent should be in any way demanding or threatening toward a homeschool parent(s) about a request to file the Notice of Intent. It simply is not required by any CT statue or administrative authority, and it never has been. If a superintendent believes it is required, they are unquestionably misinformed. The school district may contact you and respectfully request, or be more forward with a bold demand, or even threaten that you “must” file a Notice of Intent form. There has been confusion around this issue for many, many years, and for many reasons. Let’s review this in depth to clear up the confusion for everyone involved. Let’s intend that the goal for all CT children is for the adults in all roles to work respectfully together toward keeping positive relations. Both ‘sides’, if you will, need to understand that a child may return to public school one day. We even have homeschooled children in CT who have gone to college to become certified public school teachers. Let’s work together on all sides of the education choice issue! Having a positive, respectful relationship on both sides is the best situation for the child and probably also the community at large. Respect diversity.
You may notice that the letter to parents asks them to fill out the forms but does not say it is any kind of “legal requirement” – state or local, for them to do so. This is because the district and the CT State Department of Education knows it is not a requirement. By sending it, however, they make parents think it is a requirement. The wording they frequently use cites statutes out of context, which is misleading. Parents must know their rights. The Notice of Intent is a “Suggested Procedure for Home Instruction” document. It does not carry the force of law. Parents may choose to file it for their own reasons if they want to. But, no group or individual is correct, morally or otherwise, for putting pressure on a homeschool parent to file the NOI for any reasons other than legal ones; it’s irresponsible, misleading and inaccurate.
Q: Can a homeschooler be truant?
A: NO! Sometimes a school district will insist that homeschool parents “must” file the NOI form. The form they may send is the standard form used by the state since the policy was adopted in 1990. The districts typically leave off the title of that policy, which is “Suggested Procedure for Home Instruction”. The title is left off for obvious reasons. The state and local officials also know full well that the content of that procedure in no way conforms to existing law – specifically the truancy law, and DCF policy. The truancy law says that truancy only applies to children who are enrolled in a public or private school, and DCF policy says a dispute over paperwork to be filed
is not sufficient for a complaint of educational neglect. There is nothing new here. This has been the means for the state to allow local districts to coerce parents for years. Again, parents must know their rights.
Q: The local school district’s superintendent is threatening me with a referral to DCF if I don’t file the NOI.
A: This should never happen, but it sometimes does due to ignorance of the facts or just a mean-spirited superintendent. Superintendents, please understand that homeschoolers cannot be truant. Please do not threaten homeschoolers with letters claiming “truancy” and a subsequent referral to DCF because of it. Those are false allegations. Know the law.
Homeschoolers, when this ‘threat’ is made, it is typically because the school district is threatening to file a 136 form to report parents (via a ‘referral’) for ‘truancy’ if they don’t file the Notice of Intent. However, homeschoolers cannot be truant, because they are not enrolled in a public school district. If they are, once the parent delivers a Letter of Withdrawal, the student is no longer enrolled in that school district – effective at the moment the letter is delivered.
The statute states, relevantly, “Sec. 10-200. Habitual truants. “habitual truant” means a child age five to eighteen, inclusive, who is enrolled in a public or private school and has twenty unexcused absences within a school year.
Sec. 10-198a. Policies and procedures concerning truants. (a) For purposes of this section, “truant” means a child age five to eighteen, inclusive, who is enrolled in a public or private school and has four unexcused absences from school in any one month or ten unexcused absences from school in any school year.
The good news is that most public school districts do not hassle homeschoolers. Again, let’s do our best to keep positive relations between CT families and schools, so if the family ever wants to utilize the public school at a future time, hostile feelings don’t preclude even an attempt to do so.
Q. What is the difference between a guideline and a statute, in particular as it pertains to the Notice of Intent which is a SUGGESTED PROCEDURE?
A. It’s very important to understand the difference between a guideline (which is an internal policy which can say anything, whether it’s true or not, which is not enforceable law), a statute (which is enforceable law adopted by the state legislature after a public hearing and debate by legislators), and an administrative regulation (which is adopted after public input by a state agency in a formal process open to the public, which is designed to implement an already existing statute, and which also is enforceable law). The Notice of Intent Suggested Procedure for Home Instruction (guideline) is something individuals composed to appease people in a dispute. It is solely a suggested procedure that does not comply with existing law.
The C-14 Guidelines (Suggested Procedure for Home Instruction) was a compromise document and that it is in direct conflict with existing statutory law. That is precisely why it remains as a guideline only – because the attorneys in the CT State Dept. of Education know it conflicts with existing law and they cannot get the law changed. Just as the portion in the guidelines that says that if you don’t file a NOI “you may be considered truant” conflicts with existing law, so too does the section that says you “must show equivalent instruction”. The statute – 10-198a, that specifies a child “who is enrolled in a public or private school” may be considered truant. How can you reconcile that with the statement in the guidelines when homeschooled children are not “enrolled in a public or private school” yet according to the guidelines may be considered truant? The Suggested Procedure on Home Instruction guidelines are not in compliance with the law. Guidelines themselves are not law.
Further, the phrase “must be able to show equivalent instruction” is part of a sentence describing compulsory attendance. It is not part of the sentence describing the duty of parents to instruct (homeschool). If the only sentence in the statute that directs that parents shall instruct does not include anything about equivalent instruction, how can the guidelines say that it does? Clearly, the guidelines, again, are not in compliance with the law. Guidelines are not law. They were drafted to resolve a dispute, and language was placed into them to appease public school officials who disagreed with homeschooling and who wanted to retain control. The language in the guidelines was left in there to allow the public school officials to compel parents to comply even though the law does not compel parents to comply. Those who inserted the language in the guidelines knew that the language does not comply with the law – again, that is the reason that it was left as a guideline, and that is why attempts were made to insert that language into law through proposed legislation. That legislation was defeated twice. Please understand the importance of that. Legislation to change the law, to insert that parents are required to show equivalent instruction was defeated twice. It is not in existing law. Guidelines claiming that it is the law cannot make it law. Only the legislature can make it law. FILING A NOTICE OF INTENT (NOI) FORM DOES NOT EQUATE FULFILLING AN EQUIVALENT INSTRUCTION REQUIREMENT. ANY GROUP OR INDIVIDUAL THAT SAYS IT DOES IS MISINFORMED. Worse case scenario, if the majority of homeschoolers comply with filing the NOI, then it could be argued that since the majority of homeschoolers do so, then let’s make it legally mandatory. The form serves nobody. Let’s not even risk adding legal requirements where they do not need to be. There are multiple states in America who in the last few years, have reduced the amount of statutory oversight they’ve had over homeschoolers because it is clear to them it is unnecessary and unwarranted.
Q: What is the history of the NOI?
A: The Notice of Intent is n-o-t required by law. It was a compromise document that was developed & drafted in final form, after a meeting in 1990, between a group of homeschoolers and members of the State Board of Education. “They are now known as the “C-14 or C-4 Guidelines” because the Commissioner disseminated them to public school districts in a Circular Letter, number 14. The C-14 Guidelines were a compromise to appease all of those involved in the earlier controversies about homeschooling procedures. As such, being a compromise document, it is also an imperfect document. However, from the perspective of parents, it is a vastly superior document to the one previously being proposed. Under the C-14 Guidelines, parents file a Notice of Intent form with the public school superintendent and suggest a date when they would like to attend a portfolio review at the public school at the end of the school year. The State Board of Education did not adopt the NOI as a statute or as an administrative regulation. The Board specifically left them as “suggested procedures” only. In fact, the Board entitled the Guidelines, “Suggested Procedures of Home Instruction.” To read the full history, it’s all posted **here**. If you are unfamiliar with the history, it is recommended that you take the time to learn about it.
Q: What are the pros and cons I should consider when trying to decide whether or not I choose to file the NOI ?
A: There are parents who have their own reasons for wanting to file the NOI, and do and end-of-year Portfolio Review who have a positive experience with it. Most school districts are very flexible about the NOI and won’t even ask you to file it when you withdraw your child to homeschool. Others will ask you to file the NOI and accept your decision to either file it – or not to – with no further ado. However, there are a few school districts that will press the matter, unfortunately. Not only does this show that the administration in those districts are misinformed of statutory requirements, it also starts a negative relationship with the parents. The decision of parents to homeschool needs to be respected by those in public education, just as our personal choices about religion, childrearing practices, etc., should be respected. No one method of school, or childrearing, works for all children or all families; let’s support one another with respect.
There are many varied experiences that homeschool parents have experience with regard to filing (or not) the NOI and doing the Portfolio Review. There are parents who have filed the NOI, and perhaps also done the Porfolio Review (which shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes), and had negative experiences (with adult forms of bullying and/or intolerance) at their Portfolio Reviews; they don’t want to repeat those experiences. People talk, and the other families in the homeschool community, who are aware of those negative experiences, want to avoid them in the first place. So they just don’t file the NOI and risk putting themselves in a situation where their positive homeschooling is diminished or ridiculed (or worse), during the Portfolio Review meeting. Yet other families have not wanted to file, and have been threatened that they must do so.
Sometimes wanting to do the “right thing” works well and is without incident, and sometimes it brings regret. Superintendents change from town to town and year to year, so there is no guarantee of consistency for a homeschool family who has or has not filed the NOI or done a PR. When there is a change of superintendents, it has happened that area homeschool families suddenly hear from the school district. Since there is no consistent way to tell in advance what school districts are going to be respectful and supportive at a Portfolio Review (PR), so some parents elect not to file the NOI and/or do the PR. There are some families that believe that, since the document was developed as agreed upon, that it is spiritually dutiful to follow scripture and file it, and there are some support groups that recommend that a family do file. However, even legal counsel such as Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson of N.H.E.L.D., and the counsel for H.S.L.D.A. both acknowledge that it is not legally required to file the NOI. H.S.L.D.A. suggests, along with certain support groups, that families do file. That is risky business, as the dangers inherent in setting a precendent are very real, indeed. Other counsel and support groups suggest that, since it is the parents’ decision, they decide what action is correct for their family. Whether you file the NOI or not, there is just no guarantee that you will avoid a negative experience with your local school district. That said, most districts are quite content to leave homeschoolers to do their job; which they historically and statistically do, very well, indeed.
Q. If I file the NOI, and get called to meet for a Portfolio Review, what do I have to do ?
A. If you’ve filed the NOI, it is up to the school district to contact you (not vice versa) IF they want to meet for a Portfolio Review. What needs to be in the “portfolio” is simple. You have to “show that instruction occurred”. How do you want to do that ? It’s up to you. You may want to show samples of work your child did in different subjects; a math paper, a history report, etc. It’s not to be confused with showing progress from the start of the year, to the end of the year. You do not have to leave any materials you bring in, at the school. You share them visually, and take them back home. Though, you may choose to show samples of work from the start and the end of the school year if you wish. The review should last no more than 15 minutes and it is ONLY for the purpose of you to show that “instruction occurred”, it is not for the district to evaluation or assess the quality of your instructional materials. You might want to take someone with you for support, and to witness the review, though that is not in any way required. Note that the Portfolio Review is not required by law and even at the district’s request, parents may decline to participate.
There simply is no statute, or administrative regulation, that requires any parent to sign a NOI or attend a portfolio review. It remains a “suggested procedure”. That is what the original title was, as adopted by the State Board of Ed. Local boards may have adopted the “suggested procedure” as their own policy, but because parents who homeschool are no longer within the jurisdiction of the public school, they are not required to follow public school policies. If you choose to follow anything the public school asks you to do, you may, but you are not required by law to do so. If you signed a NOI, you agreed to attend a portfolio review, but you are under no obligation to follow through with that if you change your mind. Again, there is no law requiring you to do so. If you want to attend a portfolio review you may, but because there is no statute or regulation concerning a portfolio review, you are free to present whatever you want. If you don’t want to present anything, that’s fine also. In addition, if you do attend a portfolio review, keep in mind that you are no longer within the jurisdiction of the public school and they have no authority over your child or your child’s curriculum, so you need not heed anything the school tells you in that regard.
Q. What is the enumeration statute?
A. The public school districts in CT are supposed to “enumerate”, which is to determine how many children reside in a local school district, including the child’s age. Therefore, when withdrawing your child to homeschooling, it’s suggested that you include their age so that you are also covering that statute, as well. There is then, no reason for the school to separately attempt to contact you for information under the enumeration statute.
Q: I am a parent who has withdrawn my child to homeschool, and I am being pressured (or threatened with DCF) to file the NOI by the local school district, and I don’t choose to file it. Parents may find that they are contacted by a school district and told they MUST file an NOI immediately, “or else”. The details around “or else” may or may not be explicit in the request. If that happens to me, what do I do?
A: Take a deep breath. This has happened before, it is uncommon, but you’re not alone. Sometimes it is a genuine misunderstanding on the part of certain school administration and we can work together to educate them about this area of the law. There are attorneys who are happy to do that so this uncomfortable experience can be avoided in the future. Let’s all keep in mind that a homeschool family may want to enroll their child in the public school at some future time and maintaining positive relations and respect for educational choices is wise, and certainly appreciated all around. Most districts respect homeschoolers’ rights, and some of them even open their doors to homeschoolers to take a class or two at the public school; and that has worked very well. But the bottom line is, parents do not legally “have to” file the NOI – and many don’t. It is not, nor has it ever been, required by law. Again, why risk setting a precedent? If you have comments or questions, feel free to contact CT Attorney Deborah Stevenson at http://www.dgstevensonlaw.com/ (860) 354-3590. CHN recommends that each homeschool family makes the personal decision to file the NOI or not to do so.
If you have read this and still have questions, we suggest that you join our CHN facebook page where you can chat with others, contact CHN via our Contact Us page, or join our CHN Yahoogroup; there are people to help you!