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DCF Terrorizes Homeschoolers
February 25, 2008 permalink
The knock on the door evokes the same fear for Connecticut homeschoolers that it formerly did for Jews during the holocaust.
Parents Advocate Bill On Leaving Public School
By COLIN POITRAS
Courant Staff Writer, February 20, 2008
Anita Formichella is tired of hiding like a criminal.
"The sound of the doorbell literally strikes terror in my heart," said Formichella, a bespectacled, middle-aged former school volunteer from Redding in her testimony to members of the legislature's select committee on children on Tuesday.
For the past two years, Formichella said she has hidden in her house, shouting through the door when people knock because she fears the person on the other side might be a state social worker coming to take her children away.
Formichella isn't a child abuser. She has never been cited for child neglect. She is a teacher. A home-school teacher. And therein lies the rub.
Within weeks of pulling her children from the public school system in 2006, Formichella received a letter from the local school superintendent requiring her to sign a form and submit more evidence that her children were being properly schooled. If she didn't, Formichella said, she would risk a neglect investigation by the state Department of Children and Families. Formichella was frightened at first, then incensed.
"That's a heinous, heinous thing to threaten a parent," Formichella said outside the hearing room Tuesday. "And [the school superintendent] knew me!"
On Tuesday, Formichella and dozens of other home schooling supporters came to the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to convince lawmakers to clarify the rights of parents who home-school their children.
The current law is silent as to how parents can withdraw their children from public school. It only says that if they do, they must show local school officials that the child is receiving "equivalent" instruction.
In some school districts, that is as simple as filling out a form that is placed in the school record and releases the school district from liability. In other districts, officials get more involved, scheduling detailed curriculum reviews and seeking face-to-face meetings with parents.
Most of about 2,100 parents educating their children at home in Connecticut do so without any friction, according to Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. But, in some cases, families and school officials clash over just how much information needs to be shared. And when that happens, parents and advocates say, calls are made to DCF.
"We must end the use of DCF as a nuclear weapon against these parents," said attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, executive director of the National Home Education Legal Defense Fund.
"Parents should not have to fear the loss of custody of their children simply because they are exercising their right to home school," Stevenson said.
For the record, DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said Tuesday his department no longer investigates complaints of educational neglect from local school systems simply because a child is being home-schooled. The agency will, however, send an investigator if there are other issues suspected behind a child being educated at home, such as possible physical abuse or neglect, bullying or behavioral health concerns, Kleeblatt said.
A bill proposed by Rep. Arthur J. O'Neill, R-Southbury, would allow parents to simply send a certified letter to their local school system if they want to home-school their children.
State education officials said they have been trying to strike a balance between a parent's right to educate their child and the responsibility of local public school systems to make sure every child under 16 years of age receives an education. Murphy said Connecticut's requirements are much less intrusive than those in nearby states like Massachusetts and New York.
Rep. Pamela Z. Sawyer, R-Bolton, said she would support O'Neill's bill and urged the committee to keep it simple, so families don't need to hire lawyers to home-school.
"No public school is right for every child," said Sawyer, a former teacher, school board member and long-standing member on the legislature's education committee. "We do the best we can. Sometimes we do a fabulous job. Sometimes we fall down on the job."
Contact Colin Poitras at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Hartford Courant