A History of Homeschooling in Connecticut
The first Connecticut legislation to prohibit educational neglect was Ludlow’s Code of 1650, which mandated required subjects (English, citizenship, and religion) as well as prescribing a fine (twenty shillings) and a remediation process for negligent parents or guardians.
“It is therfore ordered by this Courte and Authority thereof, that the Select men of euery Towne, in the seuerall precincts and quartors where they dwell, shall haue a vigilant eye ouer theire brethren and neighbours, to see first, that none of them shall suffer so much Barbarisme in any of theire familyes as not to indeauor to teach by themselues or others theire Children and Apprentices so much Learning as may inable them perfectly to read the Inglish tounge, and knowledge of the Capitall Lawes, vppon penalty of twenty shillings for each neglect therein ; Allso, that all Masters of familyes doe once a weeke at least, catechise theire children and servants in the grounds and principles of religion …And further, that all Parents and Masters doe breed and bring vp theire Children and Apprentices in some honest lawfull calling, labour or imployment, either in husbandry, or some other trade proffitable for themselues and the Common wealth, if they will not nor cannott traine them vp in Learning to fitt them for higher imployments. And if any of the Select men, after Admonition by them giuen to such Masters of familyes, shall finde them still negligent of theire duty in the perticulars aforementioned, wherby Children and Seruants become rude, stubborne and vnruly, the said Select men with the helpe of two Magistrates shall take such Children or Apprentices from them, and place them with some masters for yeares, boyes till they come to twenty one and girles to eighteene yeares of age compleat…”
Public school attendance became compulsory for Connecticut children in 1872 in an effort to prevent child labor. At that time, the Ludlow Code was restated to read: “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.” A second stipulation was added that “all between the ages of eight and fourteen years should attend some public or private school for at least three months each year, unless instructed at home or prevented from attendance by mental or physical disability.” This section of code would later become known as Connecticut General Statute 10-184.
In 1980-1981, when the homeschooling movement was in its infancy, the few Connecticut homeschooling families operated under the (slightly modified) version of this statute with the consent of their local school boards. As one Connecticut newspaper stated, “[T]he state law, which education department spokesmen declined to comment on, is so vague it is almost impossible to prevent anyone from educating their children at home, as long as they have the time. Under Section 10-184 of the Conn. General Statutes, children between the ages of 7 and 16 must attend a public school “unless the parent…is able to show that the children are elsewhere receiving equivalent instructions in the studies taught in the public schools.”” Homeschooling parent Eileen Trombly reported that “There are many interested people preparing to “home-instruct.” The many we have spoken with all have preschool children and want to “get it all together” ahead of time. We do recommend to them that they draw up their plans before meeting with any officials, and have a plan of action ready to submit, but not to do so until the necessary time (age 6 in Conn.). We also have suggested agreeing to allow their children to be given standardized tests twice a year, and agreeing to instruct 180 days per year, minimum 4 hours per day. The testing is to satisfy local and state boards. This, along with a curriculum, seems to be all that’s necessary to turn in to the superintendent.”
After homeschooling parents Deborah and Donald Corcoran were charged with educational neglect in 1982 (the charges were dismissed), the State Education Commissioner Mark Shedd issued a series of “guidelines” for homeschooling to the school boards. The Shedd Guidelines suggested “that parents be required to have a high school diploma, that superintendents and boards of education approve a homeschooler’s curricula and materials, and that homeschooled children undergo assessments.” Homeschoolers’ response to these guidelines was generally positive. Pro-homeschooling attorney Frank Cochran wrote that “The State Department of Education, which has little or no statutory authority but has often shown good common sense, has published a new set of ‘suggested procedures’…They suggest compromises on the testing issue and make clear that parents need only cover mandatory subjects and need not provide identical or ‘social’ programs…” Cochran also wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Education, where “he pointed out that…Connecticut statutes cannot be read to require prior approval before a child is educated elsewhere than at a public school.”
During the 1980s, many homeschoolers operated under these voluntary guidelines largely without incident. By 1983-1984, the Connecticut Home Educators Association (CHEA, originally here) had been formed, and their newsletter Hearth Notes had begun publication. However, while the Shedd Guidelines were voluntary, “many public school districts required that parents abide by them as if they were law. Consequently, rather than enter into a legal argument with a public school official misinterpreting suggestions as statutory law, many parents refused to approach the public school district and instead ‘went underground,'” declining to follow the Shedd Guidelines or inform local districts that they were homeschooling “for fear that the school districts would report the children as truant or report the parents as neglectful.”
In 1990, homeschooling parents Nancy and James Hough chose to engage in a legal argument with the Clinton School District. The district “requested an opinion from the State Department of Education. Then Education Commissioner Gerald Tirozzi asked the Chief of Legal Affairs for the State Department of Education, Mark Stapleton, to conduct an investigation of the issue.” This investigation culminated in the release of “A Report Concerning the Findings of the Home Instruction Committee” dated February 6, 1990.
That report detailed several options for the State Board of Education to consider adopting including a [revision of the Shedd Guidelines] that would have specified such things as the minimum qualifications a parent must possess in order to instruct their children, whether participation in the state mastery exams would be required of children instructed at home, and steps for the public school districts to take to ensure parental [compliance.]
When homeschooling parents objected, the State Board of Education established an advisory committee of parents and public school authorities to revise the Shedd Guidelines. The advisory committee recommended abandoning the Shedd Guidelines in favor of adopting provisions developed by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), which called for requiring the approval of local school boards to homeschool.
This led to the founding of Connecticut’s CHEA-affiliated legal watchdog organization Citizens to Uphold the Right to Educate (CURE), later National Home Education Legal Defense (NHELD, est. 2003), by attorney Deborah Stevenson in June, as well as the founding of The Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers (TEACH) sometime in 1990. Homeschooling parents picketed the State Department of Education’s offices, filed a complaint with the State Freedom of Information Commission, and undertook a letter-writing campaign to request that the State Board of Education hold a public hearing. Due to this campaign, at the September Board meeting, the State Board of Education rejected the provisions suggested by its advisory committee.
On September 19, representatives of the homeschooling groups CHEA, CURE, and TEACH met with HSLDA’s Mike Farris to draft their own homeschooling policy. “Five representatives of the home-schooling community” based their recommendations on this policy document when they “met with the State Board’s committee on September 27.” These recommendations included that parents file a yearly notice of intent (NOI), which would contain a listing of subjects, days of instruction, and method of assessment; that homeschoolers undergo an annual portfolio review by school officials, where the parents’ decision to implement any recommendations would be voluntary; and that parents’ refusal to comply with the NOI requirement would cause the child to be considered truant.
Upon Commissioner Tirozzi’s recommendation “that the State Board of Education adopt [these new Guidelines],” the Board did so on November 7, 1990. These guidelines, known as the C-14 Guidelines, were still in force in 2014. They were not adopted as a regulation; “the Board specifically left them as ‘suggested procedures’ only. In fact, the Board entitled the Guidelines, ‘Suggested Procedures of Home Instruction.’”
Parents who elect not to comply with the state board’s policy and procedures must be able to show that their children are “elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction in the studies taught in the public schools,” as required by Connecticut General Statutes Annotated §10-184.”
[Such parents are not required] to take the initiative to show public school officials that the child is receiving equivalent instruction. Instead, the parent must be able to show that the child is receiving equivalent instruction in defense of any court proceeding in which the sufficiency of the instruction is being challenged. Of course, any such court proceedings should not be initiated unless there is credible evidence that the parent is failing to provide equivalent instruction.
Although the state board of education’s guidelines are not binding law, most home schooling families in Connecticut are willing to comply with them, including an annual meeting with a public school official for the purpose of a portfolio review to determine whether there has been instruction in the required subjects. … Otherwise, parents are faced with the statutory burden of having to prove that their child is receiving instruction equivalent to that offered in the public school.
Some public school superintendents who disapproved of this result convinced Representative Anne Dandrow to propose a bill the following year to give the C-14 Guidelines “the full force of statutory law”, but again homeschoolers campaigned against the bill and it was dropped. The Guidelines did not receive another serious challenge until 2002.
During the 1990s, a number of state and local homeschooling organizations were formed, including the Connecticut Homeschool Network (CHN, est. 1995). The C-14 Guidelines were reinforced by three new laws:
There is 10-198a which basically says that if you are educating your child in accordance with CGS 10-184 then [your] child cannot be considered truant. A second law 10-184a allows parents of children educated at home or in private school the right to refuse special education services offered by public school. A third law, 10-184b … states that notwithstanding any of the Commissioner’s power to waive other provisions (which he might do to improve public education), the Commissioner shall not waive the authority of parents to home educate under CGS 10-184.
In early 2002, some superintendents dissatisfied with the fact that the C-14 Guidelines were voluntary convinced Representative Cameron Staples to propose a bill, HB 5535, which would require: filing an annual notice of intent (which would include parental proof of high school diploma or GED, a description of the subjects taught and materials used, a schedule of instruction with 900 hours required, and an independent method of assessment) within 10 days of the start of instruction; a superintendent’s review of the method of assessment or a portfolio review; and that children whose parents fail to file a NOI would be considered truant. “Approximately 1,000 home schooling parents and their children attended a Joint Committee on Education hearing on March 4, 2002” to protest the bill. On March 12 and March 14, 2002, Staples met with representatives of state homeschooling groups and indicated that his main concern was that so few homeschoolers were following the C-14 Guidelines. In return for homeschooling groups’ promise that they would recommend their members follow the C-14 Guidelines, Staples “stated that the message he would bring to the Education Committee Caucus scheduled for Friday March 15th [would] be that the bill should not be brought to a vote”.
In February 2008, Representative Art O’Neill introduced SB 162, which would have required only parents withdrawing their children from public school to file a NOI. After the bill was amended to require that all homeschooling parents file a NOI, homeschoolers protested and legislators suspended a vote until the following year. The bill, now named HB 5761, died in committee in 2009.
For more state histories, see Histories of Homeschooling.
For more on homeschooling in Connecticut, see Connecticut.