Is it Legal to Homeschool in CT?
Yes. It has always been legal to homeschool everywhere. You have a Constitutional right to the upbringing of your child. 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. For homeschoolers, it is both compulsory education and attendance, since homeschooling is based in the home.
Sample: The Letter of Withdrawal from Public or Private School to Begin Homeschooling
When parents are ready to begin homeschooling, they need to withdraw their child from the public or private school. This needs to be done within 10 days of when homeschooling begins. For the homeschool family, that can be any day of the year. Any day at all. It needs to be within 10 days of when you start to homeschool, which it is during a school year - as truancy law would apply.
Summer time would not apply because a public or private school student wouldn't have unexcused absences during summer when school is out. If your child is doing ESY (summer school), then you would have to count that time as school days and withdraw within ten days of consecutive, unexcused absences.
If a child who is enrolled in public or private school has 10 unexcused absences within a school year, they can be found truant.
Once parents deliver a Letter of Withdrawal for their child, from public or private school, the truancy statutes do not apply. Truancy only applies to children who are enrolled in public or private school. (CGS 10-198a)
A withdrawal letter for a public school is addressed to the superintendent of schools, and for a private school it is directed to the head of the school.
We recommend that you mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested. Keep the sales slip the postal worker will give you. Save that, and the green return-receipt postcard you will receive back after the letter is delivered. If you want to, you can follow up in a few days with an email that is "cc'd" to yourself and perhaps 1 or 2 others. This is your proof of withdrawal. Keep it. You only do this once. At this point, there it is not necessary to have any additional contact with the school. You're homeschooling, and you are in control of your child's instruction.
Here is a sample Letter of Withdrawal:
September 1, 2020
Dear Superintendent (or Head of School) Jane or John 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
Can a homeschooled student be truant?
NO! Sometimes a school district will insist that homeschool parents “must” file the NOI form. The form they may send is the 1990 form used by the state since the policy was adopted. 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 only applies to children who are enrolled in a public or private school.
"Sec. 10-198a. Policies and procedures concerning truants. (a) For purposes of this section and sections 10-198c and 10-220, “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."
DCF policy says, a dispute over paperwork to be filed, is not sufficient for a complaint to DCF 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.
What is a Notice of Intent (NOI)?
The Notice of Intent (NOI) 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 procedures for new homeschool parents. 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. Also, the district may suggest a date when they would like parents 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".
What is a Portfolio Review?
Toward the bottom of the Notice of Intent form, it says that parents will have to do an end-of-year portfolio review (PR). Whether you did or did not file the Notice of Intent, you do not have to do the PR. Why? Because all of it is a policy. Nothing on the NOI is required by law.
If you’ve filed the NOI, it is up to the school district to contact you if they want to meet for a Portfolio Review. Most districts do not request it. If they do, and you want to attend, you can. The meeting should take 15 minutes or less. You simply show them that instruction occurred. That could mean some math papers, reports, book lists, or other academic work your homeschooled student did during the school year. It's that simple. The school district may not comment on the appropriateness of your homeschool program. It is solely to show instruction occurred. Most parents and most districts do not bother with this. Parents are fully capable of instructing their child without needing to report to the government schools.
If you did not file the Notice of Intent, and you hear from your local district at the end of the year, requesting a PR, you are not required to participate. It is 100% voluntary, as part of the state's policy.
What are the pros and cons I should consider when trying to decide whether or not I choose to file the Notice of Intent (NOI) ?
There are parents who have their own reasons for wanting to file the NOI and do an end-of-year Portfolio Review (PR) who have a positive experience with it. Many school districts will request that parents file the NOI. Most parents do not file it. Historically, CHN and NHELD have told parents to make their own decision about filing or not, and informed the parents it was their choice to follow the policy. The NOI is not a law.
Through the years, there has been much inconsistency from districts in how parents are treated when they withdraw their children from public school, which itself is a reason not to file the NOI. A few school districts are overzealous and have become demanding or threatening to parents with their insistence on having the parents file the NOI. Superintendents change, so there is no guarantee of consistency for a homeschool family. Some homeschoolers have experienced a ‘friendly’ district change when superintendents change.
They have historically been a handful of naysayers in CT, who are in various positions in agencies or districts, who would like homeschooling to be regulated. The CT legislature has disagreed with that, and during the years when CT homeschool parents’ freedom was threatened via Raised Bills, the legislators have always supported freedom and voted against regulation.
In 2018, homeschool parents that did file the NOI learned that during a study by the Office of the Child Advocate, their personal information was taken from select districts, and used in a study. This was all done without parental permission, and for a while, without their knowledge.
In 2019 there was an attempt at regulation via SB-874, and if that bill had passed Sections 17 and 18, proposing that homeschoolers would have to appear in-person on an annual basis to “register” to homeschool. So, what? We were told that all of that personal information was going to be handed over to DCF. That is wholly unacceptable and inexcusable.
So, at this time, CHN and NHELD have taken a position on the matter of filing the NOI. We do not recommend it. The abuse of authority, the disrespect, and the collective history speaks for itself.
The NOI is 100% voluntary. File it if you want to but we don’t believe that you should.
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. 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.”
What is the compulsory attendance portion of the statute?
“Sec. 10-184. Duties of parents. School attendance age requirements.
"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.”
What does that mean? If a parent is not homeschooling, (compulsory education & attendance laws are both 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 child going to attend school if you are not homeschooling or sending them to public school?
What is an Opt-Out form?
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 public 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 a Letter of Withdrawal.
What does it mean to “opt your child out of school”?
It’s about the compulsory attendance age of CGS 10-184. There is no such thing as “opt out” of high school. One can “drop out” of high school at age 17 and not go to school ever again. Or, one can withdraw from school at any time to be educated elsewhere.
The “opt-out” term does not appear in the statute. Colloquially, it is used regarding the five and six year olds. The actual term in the statute is “an option form”. There is an opt-out form, or “option form” for withdrawal of 17 year olds. Yes, the statute used to mention 16 year olds, but now it mentions 17 year olds, and has since 2011. It provides for the “withdrawal” of 17 year olds. This is mentioned right after stating the compulsory attendance ages. The statute does not say for 17 years olds anything about educating the child after age 17. Therefore, it is talking about when a child can “drop out”, and not go to school at all if the child chooses. In that case, there is a statutory procedure to follow. “For the school year commencing July 1, 2011, and each school year thereafter, the parent or person having control of a child 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. Such withdrawal form shall include an attestation from a guidance counselor or school administrator of the school that such school district has provided such parent or person with information on the educational options available in the school system and in the community.” It was designed so that parents would have to be involved in a child’s decision to drop out. If a parent of a 16 year old wants to withdraw the child in order to instruct the child at home, the procedure is no different – send the letter of withdrawal. For a 17 year old, one could argue that the same method would apply – send the letter. But, to be on the safe side of “compliance”, and actually to have the school completely out of a parent’s life, the parent could follow the procedure of withdrawal in the statute.
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?
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 a Letter of Withdrawal, certified mail, return-receipt requested.
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?
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.
Who can instruct my homeschooled child?
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.
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? 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.
The local school district superintendent is demanding or threatening me about filing the NOI.
First of all, most superintendents do not give parents who withdraw their children to homeschool, a hard time. A few overzealous ones overstep their boundaries, so be sure you know your parent rights.
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. Parents can use this opportunity to educate the superintendent that the Notice of Intent is a policy, and is not a statute. Never was. 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.
CGS 10-184 requires parents to instruct, or cause their children to be instructed, in certain subjects listed in the first sentence of the statute. That first sentence is what is known as the compulsory education portion of the statute. In other words, parents are compelled to instruct their own children, or cause them to be instructed in those subjects. It says nothing about those subjects having to be equivalent to anything. It says nothing about how, when, where, why, or with what materials you instruct them. They must be instructed, period. There is nothing in the statute that says they must be tested or learn anything either. The second sentence of the statute is known as the “compulsory attendance portion of the statute. It applies to parents who are not instructing their own children or causing them to be instructed. Those parents, who are not instructing their own children and who are not sending them to public school, if they have children between certain ages, must send those children to public school, unless those parents are able to show that the children are “elsewhere” receiving an “equivalent instruction”. If the children are not being instructed by the parent, and are not being instructed in a public school, the only other way that a parent could be able to show equivalent instruction, is by showing the children are being instructed in a private school. In other words, if you are instructing your own child, or causing your child to be instructed, i.e., if you are “homeschooling”, then the second sentence, the “compulsory attendance”portion of the statute, including the phrase about being “able to show equivalent instruction”, simply DOES NOT APPLY to you. The schools frequently, intentionally or not, want you to think that it does apply to you, in order to retain control over what you do and what paperwork they want you to provide. You have the right to ignore any unlawful request made by any government official, should you choose to do so.
Failing to file a Notice of Intent (which include reference to a portfolio review), a document that is not required by any statute to be filed, is wholly insufficient as a basis to report you to the Department of Children and Families. Know your rights and do not let any government official fool you, or intimidate you, into compliance with things that are not required by law.