Child Advocate Sarah Eagan Keith M. Phaneuf / file photo
Child Advocate Sarah Eagan Keith M. Phaneuf / file photo

Connecticut doesn’t have a safety net for children withdrawn from school for homeschooling, the state’s Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said Thursday.

In a study of six public school districts, Eagan found that over three academic years, 36 percent of students withdrawn for homeschooling lived in families that had at least one prior accepted report for suspected abuse or neglect from the Department of Children and Families. Her 28-page report, released Thursday, was a follow-up to another prompted by the February 2017, death of a Hartford youth removed from school by his mother.

The child advocate testified before the state legislature’s Committee on Children Thursday about her findings.

The State Department of Education has advised that schools monitor homeschooled students by assessing academic progress or through a portfolio review of work. But the Office of the Child Advocate report found that none of the six districts it studied had protocols to conduct follow up checks on homeschooled students or their families.

The report also found 90 children lived in families that were the subject of multiple prior accepted reports to DCF.

Eagan said the report isn’t intended to challenge the merits of homeschooling, but rather to express concern about the unintended consequences of Connecticut’s lack of regulation surrounding it.

“Connecticut is the outlier … there are serious consequences being an outlier and potentially very serious consequences,” Eagan said.

According to the report, Connecticut is among 11 states that don’t have any regulations or notice requirements regarding homeschooled children. Thirty-nine others states have various degrees of regulation of homeschooling ranging from some, to moderate, to high.

“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,” the report said.

The State Department of Education  said it will need some time to review the child advocate’s report more closely.

The OCA report advised DCF to consider establishing processes to use when it is investigating reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, and learns that the child has been withdrawn for homeschooling.

“We do not support regulation of homeschoolers,” Connecticut Homeschool Network Treasurer Coral Karrass said in an email. “Research does not support any academic, social or safety benefit.”

The Department of Children and Families declined to weigh in on whether there should be regulations and protocols in place for homeschooled students.

Eagan’s findings supplement a previous OCA report last year on Matthew Tirado, a 17-year-old Hartford teen with autism who died from starvation, dehydration and child abuse.

Matthew had been absent from the Hartford Public Schools for months and his mother, who was known to DCF for years, later withdrew his sister for homeschooling. A DCF investigation after Matthew’s death found no evidence his sister was being homeschooled and their mother couldn’t provide an explanation for withdrawing her from school.

Hartford Public Schools did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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