Bureaucrat Subpoenas Records of Homeschoolers to Build Case for Regulation

AP Photo/Jens Meyer

The head of the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate has subpoenaed  records of homeschoolers as she intends to explore a regulatory “framework” for parents who choose the home education model.

Child Advocate Sarah Eagan is looking to regulate homeschooling in the state in the wake of the failure of a school system and the state child protection agency to prevent a young autistic teen’s death via his mother’s negligence and abuse.

“I know parents want to make sure their right to direct the education of their children is a very important right,” Eagan told local WTIC radio. “We strongly support the right of parents to do just that – to direct the education of their children in the way they think is most appropriate for them or their child.”

Parental rights to homeschool children, however, says Eagan, can be a “pretext” or “a guise” to keep children hidden from authorities.

“What our statements are about are – given our system has no framework for regulating the permanent withdrawal of children from schools for whatever reason – we want to make sure there aren’t parents who are using homeschooling as a pretext or a guise to withdraw their child from school, not to educate them, but to hide them from public view,” she said.

Eagan launched her campaign following the tragic case of Matthew Tirado, a 17-year-old autistic child who was starved to death by his mother. Katiria Tirado was ultimately sentencedto 11 years in prison.

Tirado stopped sending her son to his Hartford district school – he remained enrolled, but truant. Despite the fact that Tirado had been referred to the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) for suspected child abuse or neglect, when she later withdrew her daughter from school with the stated intention of “homeschooling” her, neither the school district nor DCF attempted to investigate the situation.

Now, however, Eagan has subpoenaed records of students whose families have withdrawn them in order to pursue homeschooling, with the ultimate intention of bolstering a case for regulating home education, ostensibly to protect children from abusive parents.

Eagan said during a hearing in April that her office conducted an investigation and found that in six school districts, 380 children were withdrawn to be homeschooled over a three-year period, and that 138 of them lived in families that had at least one prior DCF referral for abuse or neglect.

“The lack of regulation in Connecticut for homeschooling leaves an unclear framework for parents, districts, and, where there are concerns of abuse or neglect, for DCF to follow,” Eagan concluded.

A coalition of homeschooling groups in the state, however, say they are being scapegoated for the failure of school districts and state agencies charged with protecting children from abuse to do their jobs.

“It is with true disbelief and utter dismay that we announce today that the State’s Child Advocate, Sarah Eagan, appears to be attacking innocent homeschooling parents with a vengeance never before seen in this state,” the coalition said in a statement, adding:

The State’s Child Advocate has used her almost limitless powers to issue subpoenas to public schools to hand over documents about students who were withdrawn from public schools to be homeschooled “at a point during the past (3) years.” And that includes handing over to the Child Advocate the student’s name, age, grade and ethnicity and whether the student had an IEP. She also wants the public schools to hand over other information about homeschoolers, including a “copy of the Notice of Intent to Provide Home Instruction, “any documentation related to subsequent portfolio review,” and “current enrollment status of each student being homeschooled.”

Following the report of her “study” in April, Eagan has been making the rounds on local radio and talk shows to promote her idea of regulating homeschooling in the state – often reasoning that since some other states have homeschooling regulations, Connecticut should as well.

Republican state Sen. Len Suzio, who co-chairs the legislature’s Children’s Committee, spoke with Breitbart News about the so-called “study” Eagan presented at the hearing in April.

“It really wasn’t a ‘study,’” Suzio said. “It has a sense of being a statistical analysis, but it was not a random sample. Unfortunately, it was portrayed by the media as a scientific study.”

Immediately after Eagan’s information was published on her office’s website, the Hartford Courant published an article with the headline, “Hundreds Of Connecticut Children Home Schooled In Households Where Abuse, Neglect Suspected.”

“I’m somewhat dismayed that it does come across as if there’s a high incidence of abuse or negligence in the homeschooling community – which is not corroborated by the data that Eagan has revealed at this point in time,” Suzio said.

“The entire Tirado case is rife with negligence – if not gross negligence – on the part of everybody that should have been advocating for his benefit,” the state senator said, continuing:

DCF failed him, the school system failed him, the court failed him, and his own attorney failed him. It’s appalling to think that DCF – after Mrs. Tirado resisted court orders apparently five times – just basically dropped the case. Given all the facts and circumstances involved here, all the alarms and whistles should have been going off, but, instead, they fell asleep and let it go – which is shocking.

Suzio said it is hard to understand why the Child Advocate is turning her attention to the homeschooling community “when there really was no homeschooling being done here at all.”

While Suzio explained he does not believe there is ample support in the state legislature in general for Eagan’s intention to explore the possibility of regulating homeschooling, he said the enthusiasm that does exist comes from the Democratic side.

“Ultimately what will happen with this issue will depend on what happens in the election in November,” he said, adding that if Republicans are able to get control of the state legislature and even elect a Republican governor, the homeschooling issue would not be a threat.

“The homeschooling community has to get active about this coming election if they want to protect themselves from these kinds of attacks,” he said.

Wisconsin homeschooling parent Tina Hollenbeck, creator of The Homeschool Resource Roadmap, said Eagan fails to realize she is “barking up the wrong tree.”

“Bureaucrats like the Connecticut Child Advocate seek regulation of all homeschoolers under the guise of ‘protecting’ a small number of children whose parents already have a prior history with DCF, telling us we shouldn’t mind an invasion of our privacy for the sake of those children,” Hollenbeck told Breitbart News.

She explained further:

Our hearts grieve for any abused children – including those who attend school every day for 12-plus years, yet go unnoticed by teacher after teacher, and those who are actually abused by school staff. But to impose regulatory rules on all homeschoolers in an attempt to catch abusers is a gross overreach that won’t even work. That would simply hurt all the good parents (and their children) and ultimately do nothing to stop abusers from continuing to find ways to abuse. What is needed is reform of the DCF system, not regulation of homeschooling.

Homeschooling families in California recently dealt with a similar attack following the horrific case of the Turpin parents who said they were homeschooling their children when all the while they were torturing and starving them.

At least a thousand homeschooling parents traveled to attend a legislative committee hearing in Sacramento to defeat a bill that sought first to mandate fire inspections of their homes and then to demand private information about the names and addresses of homeschooling families. Only two people spoke in favor of the bill, which subsequently died.

Heartland education research fellow Joy Pullmann, author of The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids, observed the media attention given to these cases “is itself evidence of the fact that homeschooling families are far less likely than public schooling families to be abusive.”

 “Thousands of American children each year are referred to foster agencies and die from abuse or neglect,” she told Breitbart News. “Homeschoolers are disproportionately unlikely to be such children.”

Pullmann said Eagan’s plan to regulate homeschoolers to avoid future cases like that of the Tirado family lacks logic:

If one child’s abuse discovered among the thousands of homeschooling families of Connecticut, and the millions of American homeschoolers, is reason to investigate homeschoolers, then all the non-homeschooling abuse cases are reason to investigate parents of public school children. If that is obviously ridiculous to you, then so should be this so-called child-welfare expert’s abuse of her powers.

“Everybody agrees that abusive parents should be prosecuted and abused children rescued,” Pullmann added. “But we all also agree that parents deserve the presumption of innocence, regardless of their education choices for their children. It is simply unfair to behave as if the simple act of choosing a deeper relationship with one’s child through homeschooling should be regarded suspiciously by people with police power.”



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