Sandy Hook Advisory Commission After Homeschoolers

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A Connecticut government task force wants to give special educators with public schools the power to veto homeschooling parents’ education plans.

The Connecticut Post reports the state has placed increased scrutiny on its roughly 5,000 homeschoolers since the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 students and six educators died.

The shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, was diagnosed in 2005 with Asperger’s syndrome. High school exacerbated his struggles, which included “extreme anxiety and discomfort with changes, noise, and physical contact with others,” a state attorney’s report said. Lanza’s mother, whom he also killed, began homeschooling him in about 10th grade with the aid of Newtown High School so he could graduate in 2009 with a public school diploma.

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Gov. Dannel Malloy created the 16-member Sandy Hook Advisory Commission in January 2013 to review and recommend new gun, school, and mental health safety standards. The team of educators, public servants, psychiatrists, and law enforcement officials reviewed its recommendations on mental health at a Sept. 23 meeting, and Malloy expects a final report in a few weeks.

Under the proposed recommendations, parents of homeschooled children with behavioral and emotional problems would have to submit individualized education plans to the special education director of the local school district. They could lose the right to homeschool if those plans weren’t approved or if regular progress reports were deemed unsatisfactory. The commission hasn’t said if or how homeschooled children would be assessed for behavioral and emotional problems, let alone what would qualify as a significant emotional or behavioral problem. It’s also unclear if the commission’s team of psychiatrists and professors consulted anyone in the homeschooling community.

“We believe … that the actual facts leading up to [the Sandy Hook shooting] support the notion of the risk in not addressing social and emotional learning needs of children who may have significant needs in that area who are homeschooled,” said Dr. Harold Schwartz, the psychiatrist-in-chief at Hartford Hospital.

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and its Connecticut lawyer Dewitt Black scoffed at the assertion that Lanza’s brief, supervised homeschooling years before the shooting warranted the supervision of all homeschooling parents. “To assert that there is any connection between homeschooling and violence in public schools is simply ludicrous,” Black told me. “There is no evidence to support this.”

Commission chairman and Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson noted the proposal “sounds controversial.” State Board of Education representative Patricia Keavney-Maruca acknowledged likely pushback from homeschooling families, but expressed her support anyway. “It may be hard to implement because parents may want to get their back up and say ‘You can’t make me do that if I’m homeschooling,’” she said.

The Connecticut legislature likely would have to act on any final recommendations by the commission, and Black told me HSLDA will “vigorously oppose” any such legislative action regarding homeschoolers.

State homeschoolers have had success in opposing legislation before.

A bill that died in committee last year would have required mandatory mental behavioral assessments for public and homeschooled students, but not private school students. HSLDA and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed it, according to the Hartford Courant. The bill would have allowed the state to “conduct regular social services investigations of homeschooling families without any basis to do so,” HSLDA reported.

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