Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Boys and I Were (Quiet) Activists at the Capitol This Week

On February 19th, my sons and I were at the public hearing regarding Senate Bill 162. It was my third time in this building as a quiet, physical presence supporting homeschooling freedoms and/or parental rights issues in Connecticut. This was the first time that my children were with me and it was a learning experience for them.

Younger son is being a bit silly in the above photo so I'll share a better one of him below.

The evening before, and on the long ride to Hartford I discussed drafting bills and how bills become law. I explained how at certain points the public is allowed to make comments and to share their opinion with the lawmakers. My boys seemed to understand what I was saying. I tried to simplify the information without dumbing it down too much.

I explained how they were to act and look. I put them in a button-down shirt, nice pants and shoes rather than their more casual and more comfortable clothes. I explained that they were giving the lawmakers and everyone else in attendance an impression of homeschooled children with both their appearance and the way they behaved.

We then discussed the Senate Bill 162 which was raised. I explained the general idea of parental rights and the parents’ right to decide how their children should be educated, and where (home or in a school). My boys both said they feel the right of where to attend public school or whether to homeschool should lie with the family not with some school employee or government worker. I explained how in some states the school staff must approve of the homeschooling family’s learning materials or they may dictate what is studied. They seemed surprised that laws and people outside the family could dictate that a family do something that the family may not think is in their best interest such as refuse to let the child disenroll from public school or to say what could or could not be used for materials to teach a child during the home education process.

In light of these issues, I explained that I felt it was important for the three of us to go to Hartford to this hearing. I said I knew that they would rather be doing something else, such as sleeping until their normal time instead of getting up two hours earlier and rushing to get ready and out the door, and being at home doing their typical routine rather than being in a meeting room for a long meeting that day.

My children agreed to go but said they didn’t want to be bored. I told them we’d all have to just ‘deal with it’ because this is the way the government works and we were taking an active part in our state’s governmental process on this day. I told them the meeting may be long (it was nearly three hours long with no breaks). I asked them to be patient and quiet. They brought along some fun books to read and their Yu-Gi-Oh! decks and played the game and whispered, and sat with homeschooled children that they know from another town, who we met through local homeschooling activities and classes. I promised them lunch at the cafeteria afterwards, as a treat, which they were thrilled with.

When we got to the room where the public hearing was being held, my older son made a funny comment at one point, he looked at the legislators and said, “These are the people that make the laws?” as if he thought they should look different or something. They are just regular people that look like any person walking down the street. I thought his comment was kind of funny. Yes, here in America the ‘real people’ make the laws, and anyone can run for government office.

I decided to not speak to give testimony. I do support Senate Bill 162 with its original language. Although I do blog and speak out in that forum I was not ready to speak out on video and on the public government record. I have never had problems with DCF or with school system in the towns I’ve resided in, so far. I do fear that if I speak out too much especially by stating in the written and video format public record, the town I reside in and full name, or the names and ages of my children, that it would be ‘too much information’ and ‘too public’. I’m just not comfortable with that right now.

Additionally my husband stands firm on he and I not submitting letters to the editor to the local newspaper in reaction to various issues going on in our town. He doesn’t want me complaining about the skyrocketing education budget or anything like that. He feels that we could be the target of harassment by school officials if we stir the pot too much. We also don’t write letters on these subjects to our town officials nor do we attend town meetings to voice complaints or opposition to various things for this reason. I have heard stories from parents with children in the public schools here of their fear of getting on the bad side of school administrators or even the PTA officers! That is a sampling of what happens in this town. But I digress.

My summary of the public hearing on Senate Bill 162 is this. Language in the raised bill was altered over the weekend, from which it was at the time the children’s committee voted to raise the bill with a vote of 9-0. Once it was made clear by Representative O’Neill that the topic of discussion was the original wording and that he intended to use the original language, I was pleased.

The revised wording that popped up over the weekend had several loopholes that could cause problems for the parents. The largest issue was that the new/different wording left the decision of whether the school would accept a disenrollment at the discretion of the school staff NOT be solely the decision of the parent. The whole point of this bill was to reinforce that the parent can decide whether to disenroll a child from public school in order to home educate them, if the parent just did certain things to officially notify the school of the disenrollment (filling out certain forms, saying certain things and mailing it to the school via certified return receipt U.S. Postal Service mail).

Within the homeschooling community, we do not hear much protestation from parents who seek to disenroll children from public school to enter private school so I am not sure how much that is an issue in this state or not.

NHELD compiled a list of the towns which have had problems with schools ‘allowing’ students to disenroll in order to homeschool. You can view this graphic on Judy Aron’s blog here. The map shows the problem towns colored in orange. At the end of the meeting one of the legislators said that a concern is that the reps in the towns that are ‘not a problem’ may think this bill is ‘not necessary’ and they may not feel this bill needs attention and may let it die in committee (which it did in the last session). To prevent this from happening, they recommended that citizens contact their legislators to ask them to support this bill even if a problem is not known to have occurred in their district or in the citizen’s home town.

According to my notes:

There were eight legislators who took the microphone to state support of this bill plus the other members of the legislature who were sitting on the other side, listening to the testimony, who were in support of Senate Bill 162.

There were 16 members of the public who testified in support of this bill who are homeschooling parents or whose children are now grown, who were formerly homeschooled.

There was one college student, presently serving as a legislative aide at the State Capitol, who formerly was homeschooled, who spoke in support of the bill

There was one parent who has never homeschooled her children but who had problems with disenrolling her child in order to place him in a private school.

No one from the Department of Education or DCF spoke on this bill. A representative said she did see employees of these departments in the room earlier but they left before the hearing ended, listening to the testimony.

No one representing public schools in Connecticut spoke either.

Not one single person spoke in opposition to this bill.

Homeschooling friends leaving the Legislative Office Building together.

Learn more at these sites:

Watch and listen to the hearing here. It is 2.5 hours long.

Read lots more at Judy Aron's blog, Consent of the Governed, here is a listing of many blog posts on this topic.

NHELD Connecticut page with lots of information

For more of my blog posts on this subject click on my label (below) “Connecticut DCF Investigating Homeschoolers Issues”

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MamaK said...

Thanks for this recap, Christine. The pictures were great. I was there in spirit! I have two very wiggly little boys, and it was way too much to expect them to attend and be quiet at this time. I will be writing letters though!-K

Judy Aron said...

Christine - what a great report especially from the eyes of kids who attended!
It was so nice of Co-Chair McMahon to point out towrds the end of the session how well behaved and wonderful the kids had been all that time.
NHELD has put up a new page with information about what's happening in CT. It's here at

Thanks for helping to keep everyone so well informed - that is part of our strength here in CT.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I am glad that you are willing to go be a quiet presence. But I am sad that you and your husband, taxpayers and citizens, feel afraid to speak out locally on issues that concern you for fear of retaliation by your public servants. I am thinking that they have forgotten who works for whom!

Kaylynn's Mommy said...

WoW! Good for you and your family! Way to get involved in government! I am all for homeschooling!