Homeschooling families in Connecticut are in the process of forming a parental rights coalition, as they reject the use of the Newtown shootings over two years ago as a vehicle to undermine the rights of parents to choose the venue for educating their children.
Homeschooling parents and their supporters, including State Sen. Joe Markley (R), held a press conference at the Capitol in Hartford last week in which they pointed out that—even after having initially confused the terms “homeschooling” and “homebound” in describing the education plan of reported Newtown killer Adam Lanza in its draft proposal—the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission (SHAC) still persists in using the shootings to introduce oversight of homeschoolers.
SHAC—named after the Sandy Hook elementary school where the fatal shootings of 20 young children and six school staff members took place—was convened by Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-WFP). The commission recently issued a public policy proposal based on a report from a panel of experts that recommends children with disabilities who are homeschooled must have a special education plan that is overseen by the local school district.
“If a child leaves a public school with an IEP [individualized education program], that IEP should be monitored until it is no longer necessary,” SHAC chairman Scott Jackson said, according to the Hartford Courant. A disabled child who had never attended a public school, however, would not be subject to the requirement, he added.
“Parents are not going to take it anymore, we’re not going to stand by and let our parental rights go by the wayside,” said Attorney Deborah Stevenson, executive director of National Home Education Legal Defense (NHELD), at the press conference. “We are announcing the formation of a coalition of about 12 different groups” that will have members across party lines and issues.
“We’re not just talking about education… We’re talking about medical issues, mental health issues, any issue that involves the rights of parents,” she continued.
Speaking about the SHAC and its report, Stevenson said, “First they said, ‘Well, Adam Lanza was homeschooled’ – that was incorrect – and we got them to change that. No, he was not homeschooled. He was a public school student who had an IEP, and the IEP said he was going to receive services at home. That’s homebound instruction.”
Stevenson then asserted that much of the information about Lanza has never been exposed to the public.
“We don’t have the facts about what happened,” she said. “We don’t have any of the school records, we don’t have any of the mental health records. Maybe you can glean from the Child Advocate’s report that the Child Advocate saw some records, but where are they? Why aren’t they public?”
As Breitbart News reported last September, the SHAC announced in its draft that it was recommending tighter control of homeschooling families in Connecticut to prevent another Newtown shooting.
Dr. Susan Schmeiser, a member of the SHAC and a professor of mental health law at the University of Connecticut law school, said then that while a diagnosis of mental illness alone makes a “very weak predictor” of violence, nevertheless “[c]ontinuation of homeschooling should be contingent upon approval of IEPs and adequate progress as documented” in progress reports.
Similarly, CT News Junkie reported that commission member Dr. Harold I. Schwartz, psychiatrist-in-chief at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, said the following regarding the draft proposal put forward in September:
Given the individuals involved in the tragedy that formed the basis of this commission, I think we have thought this issue out at some length and we believe it is very germane and that the actual facts leading up to this incident 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 home-schooled.
“To assert that there is any connection between homeschooling and violence in public schools is simply ludicrous,” Dewitt Black, Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) senior counsel, told Breitbart News in September. “There is no evidence to support this.”
“Despite the conclusion of the Office of the Child Advocate that no links could be drawn between the failures in Adam Lanza’s education… his violence, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission determined that home-schooled students are socially isolated, that isolation leads to violence and that this requires mandatory government oversight,” summarized Donna Person, a homeschooling parent and vice president of The Education Association of Christian Home Schoolers of Connecticut (TEACH), during the press conference.
“This flies in the face of extensive, well-respected, peer-reviewed published research into the social, emotional and mental health of home-educated students,” Person said.
Stevenson told Breitbart News that the coalition hopes to put pressure on the Connecticut General Assembly, the Education Committee, and other relevant committees to vote down legislation that further intrudes upon parental rights.
“We are anxiously waiting to see what bill or bills will come out of Committee that include any of the recommendations of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission,” she said. “That Commission indicated that it wanted its recommendations to serve as a nationwide model for other states to adopt.”
Stevenson described the goal of the SHAC recommendations to serve as a national model as “disturbing.”
“It’s especially disturbing when the Commission did not appear to have any of the relevant facts about what Adam Lanza’s mental health history was, what his school records indicated, what mental health and education services the public school provided, what of those services worked or didn’t work, or why they did or didn’t work,” she continued. “I don’t even think the Commission asked the Newtown Public School to explain anything about Lanza or his records.”
Stevenson said the coalition will see if the state legislature acts on the SHAC’s recommendations.
“Meanwhile, we are coordinating our efforts to reach even more groups to join us,” she said. “We also are coordinating nationally with groups in other states who are watching what Congress is doing.”
Stevenson added there are many bills on the federal level that contain provisions that would intrude on parental rights.
“Further implementation of the Common Core, mental health screenings, compilation of student data including behavioral data, and many other provisions that effectively would end local control over education, and the evisceration of state’s rights,” she said. “But the fight will continue and parents are not likely to give up their rights easily. These children are the parents’s children. They are not the government’s children.”