National Home Education Legal Defense’s Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, offers advice on how to handle yourself if confronted by your local school district.
CT Parents’ Guide: What To Do If The School District Confronts You
by Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson
In Connecticut, it is not only the right of parents to teach their own children, it is also their obligation to do so. Parents are legally empowered to homeschool their children in whatever manner they choose, free from governmental interference. Often public school administrators are unaware of this. Other times, they simply refuse to acknowledge it. The following information is provided to assist parents in explaining their legal rights to public school administrators or to any other government official who may inquire.
1. Do public school administrators habitually “confront” homeschooling parents?
No. However, parents should know their legal rights in order to respond appropriately if necessary.
Read, understand, and keep a copy handy of the following sections of the Connecticut General Statutes: §10-184, Duties of Parents; §10-184a, Refusal of Certain Parents to Consent to Use of Special Education Programs or Services; §10-198a, Policies and Procedures Concerning Truants; §10-249, Enumeration of Children of Compulsory School Age in School Districts and by State Departments Having Jurisdiction over Such Children; and §10-251, Penalty for Refusing to Give Age of Child.
The statutes are enforceable laws by which parents must abide.
Read, understand, and keep a copy handy of the Suggested Procedure for Home Instruction developed by the State Department of Education, which is also known as the C-14 Guidelines.
The Guidelines are not enforceable laws and, therefore, parents are not required to abide by them. The Guidelines are suggested procedures only, which parents may or may not choose to follow.
These statutes and Guidelines, as well as a detailed explanation of them can be found at the NHELD website.
2. If a public school administrator contacts me, what should I do?
What you should do depends on what the administrator is requesting you to do.
The administrator, whether or not he is acting on behalf of the local board of education, legally may inquire about the name, age and information about school attendance of children residing in the public school district. Under Connecticut General Statute §10-249, the board of education is required to enumerate the children in the district each year. Under Connecticut General Statute §10-251, parents are required to provide that information or they become subject to a fine of not more than twenty-five dollars. If the administrator is requesting other information, parents legally may refuse to provide it.
It is possible that the administrator might tell parents that (1) they are required by law to follow the C-14 Guidelines and to file a Notice of Intent form with the public school district; (2) they are required to follow board of education policy; (3) they are required by law to attend a portfolio review of the child’s work annually; or (4) they are required by law to otherwise do as the board of education or the administrators request. All of these statements are inaccurate. Parents are not required to do any of those things. If an administrator confronts a parent in this manner, the parent should politely but firmly decline to do as requested and suggest to the administrator to send to you a copy of the “law” that requires you to do what is being asked. Obviously, he will not be able to do so.
3. How do I politely but firmly decline to do as an administrator requests?
How you decline depends on how the request was made.
If the administrator makes a verbal request, either by telephone or in person, politely ask him to put his request in writing so that there will not be any misunderstandings about what he is asking you to do. Don’t do anything in response to the administrator’s request until you have the request in writing. Once you have it in writing, keep one copy of it and send another copy to Attorney Stevenson by mail or by fax. Attorney Stevenson will respond to the administrator by certified mail, return receipt requested.
If parents prefer to send their own written response, keep a copy of the response and send it by certified mail, return receipt requested. The response should be very brief and concise, such as, “Thank you for your request, but I am declining to do so at this time. If you have any further questions, please contact Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Home Education Legal Defense Service of Connecticut, P.O. Box 704, Southbury, CT 06488.” Parents may also send a copy of their response to Attorney Stevenson to keep on record and to publicize the error of the administrator in making such requests.
If the administrator shows up at your doorstep, be polite, but do not let him in your house. Tell him that you will gladly address his concerns, but to avoid any misunderstandings you would prefer him to put any concern or request that he may have in writing and send it to you so that you can properly respond. Contact Attorney Stevenson immediately so that you may be properly advised. Write down any and all comments made to you by the administrator, sign it, date it, and keep it in a file. Do nothing else until you have received his letter, then contact Attorney Stevenson again and send her a copy of the administrator’s letter.
4. What do I do if the State Department of Children and Families (DCF) sends someone to my home?
This is a rare occurrence and it is usually done to intimidate parents into compliance. A DCF worker may or may not be accompanied by a police officer. Do not panic. Politely but firmly refuse to allow them into your house.
This is one reason why it is important to know your rights under the law and to be confident that you are doing what is legally correct.
No state official has the right to come into your house without your permission without first obtaining a warrant signed by a judge or a magistrate. In order for a state official to obtain a warrant, he must show the judge or magistrate sufficient probable cause to believe that a crime of some kind is occurring or has occurred. The simple fact that a parent is homeschooling a child, or that a parent has not filed a “suggested” Notice of Intent form, is not sufficient probable cause to justify issuance of a warrant.
Nonetheless, a state official erroneously may tell a parent that the parent “is required” or “must” file a Notice of Intent or other paperwork with the public school district, or allow the state official inside to make sure that the child is being educated. Keep in mind that while a state “official” may make such statements, that does not mean that those statements are legally accurate or that you must comply with the official’s demands. Often, the state officials do not know what the law requires at all.
If DCF or the police arrive at your house, do not go out of your house to talk with them. Once you open the door and discover that they are there, politely tell them to put their concerns in writing so that you may address them properly and quickly close the door. If they persist, repeat your statement through the door. If you allow them into your house, anything that they see or hear may be used against you, no matter how innocent the item or comment. If you go out of your house to talk with them, if a police officer is accompanying the DCF worker and if the police officer thinks he has cause, he can arrest you without a warrant. He cannot arrest you without a warrant if you are inside your home.
Remember, it is perfectly legal to homeschool your child, even though you have not filed a Notice of Intent, no matter what a state official tells you to the contrary. You are not subject to arrest for this, nor are you subject to follow any directive of the school district.
The only time that DCF or the police have a right to enter your house without a warrant or without your permission is if they have reasonable cause to believe that your child is in imminent physical danger. This is not applicable if the complaint is made solely on the basis of education or alleged lack thereof.
Always be polite and tell any state official inquiring to put his concerns in writing so that you may properly respond. When confronted, immediately contact Attorney Stevenson by phone at (860) 354-3590 or (203) 206-4282.
5. What kinds of things should I say to public school administrators?
If they inquire, you do not have to tell public school administrators anything other than the name of your child, the age of your child, and the fact that the child is being instructed at home in accordance with Connecticut General Statute §10-184.
If you choose to speak with the administrator further, here are some safe things to say:
a. I am instructing my children in accordance with Connecticut General Statute §10-184.
b. My children are not truant because they are not enrolled in a public or a private school and I am instructing them in accordance with Connecticut General Statute §10-184. Truancy only applies to children who are “enrolled” in a public or a private school and who have a specified number of “unexcused absences.” Because my children are not “enrolled” and do not have any “unexcused absences”, they cannot be considered truant.
c. I am not required by any state statute or administrative regulation to attend any portfolio review or to file any Notice of Intent form or other paperwork demanded by a public school district. I, therefore, decline to do so at this time.
d. Because my children are not enrolled in the public school system, policies adopted by the public school system are not applicable to them.
e. Please contact Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Executive Director of Home Education Legal Defense Service of Connecticut if you have further questions.
6. When in doubt, contact Attorney Stevenson at nheld.com
Please note: the above viewpoint is shared for informational purposes and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of all CHN members.