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Panel Suggests Changes To Homeschool Oversight

by | Sep 23, 2014 1:59pm
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Hugh McQuaid Photo

Sandy Hook Advisory Commission members

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission discussed controversial changes to the oversight of troubled home-schooled children Tuesday in its draft recommendations on mental health.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created the group more than a year and a half ago in response to the murders of 20 school children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown. He charged the panel— made up of experts in education, mental health, law enforcement, and emergency response — with making recommendations to reduce the risk of future tragedies.

The commission expects to have a final report within the next few weeks. On Tuesday its members reviewed their likely recommendations on mental health during a meeting in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

The draft proposals include requirements for individual plans for students with significant emotional or behavioral problems. The group is backing extending those requirements to troubled youths, whose parents have chosen to homeschool.

“Continuation of homeschooling should be contingent upon approval of [individualized education plans] and adequate progress as documented” in progress reports, Susan Schmeiser, a professor of mental health law at the University of Connecticut Law School, said as she summarized the proposal.

The group wants to give local special education directors the authority to approve or reject the individualized homeschool plans.

During the meeting, Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, the commission’s chairman, said the proposal “sounds controversial.” It is a change from current requirements which are permissive. The parents of homeschooled children may choose to participate in school programing, but are not required to.

Dr. Harold Schwartz, head psychiatrist at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, said the commission’s mental health team considered the proposal at length before recommending it.

“We believe it is very germaine,” he said. “The facts leading up to [the Newtown shooting] support the notion of the risk in not addressing the social, emotional, learning needs of children who may have significant needs in that area when homeschooled.”

Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old perpetrator of the 2012 shooting, was homeschooled for years and suffered from social and behavioral problems.

Hugh McQuaid Photo “The purpose of this recommendation is to make sure that kids get what kids need. If they have needs that aren’t being addressed, just because the parent has chosen to remove them from the school setting… their needs are still going to be met,” Kathleen Flaherty, staff attorney for Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, said.
Although she supported the proposal, Patricia Keavney-Maruca, a member of the state Board of Education, said there could be some pushback from parents of homeschooled children.

“It may be hard to implement because parents may want to get their back up and say ‘You can’t make me do that if I’m homeschooling,” she said.

Jackson said the commission has drafted more than 100 pages on the subject of mental health alone. An endorsement of a broader understanding of mental health is a theme running throughout those pages, Schmeiser said.

“Mental health involves more than merely the absence of mental illness. Instead, it encompasses overall psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing so any effective system of care must take that broader perspective,” she said.

Schmeiser stressed that a diagnosis of mental illness alone makes a “very weak predictor” of violence. Other factors like substance abuse, histories of violence, economic disadvantage, youth, and the male gender have a greater correlation with a risk of violence.

The panel is recommending establishing risk assessment teams in schools to intervene if a student appears to be at risk. Jackson said the teams will include social workers, law enforcement officers, teachers and others.

Hugh McQuaid Photo “They can say ‘There’s something going on. This kid used to be in chorus, he used to play football, now he barely comes to school. Something is happening,’” Jackson said. “There needs to be a lot of people around who can create a structured or supportive environment for a student who may be in trouble.”

The commission found no consensus on some proposals it considered. For instance, Jackson said the panel would not be making any recommendations on involuntary outpatient commitment and changes to the confidentiality of mental health records.

“We won’t make a recommendation on involuntary outpatient commitment and one of the reasons is we don’t have the infrastructure to support it anyway. Now the judge says you’re going to do this outpatient program and there’s no place to do it. So it doesn’t even make sense here right now,” he said.

The panel is also recommending scaling back a provision within the gun control law passed last year by the legislature. The panel said the law “cast the net too wide” by including voluntary psychiatric hospitalization as grounds for deeming someone unsuitable to purchase a gun.

“The commission urges reconsideration of this provision in light of its potential to deter people from seeking needed care and to stigmatize in-patient treatment and those who seek it,” Schmeiser said.

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(8) Archived Comments

posted by: Fisherman | September 23, 2014  8:38pm

“Mental health involves more than merely the absence of mental illness”

Putting black garbage bags over your bedroom windows is a pretty good indicator.

posted by: GBear423 | September 24, 2014  6:08am

GBear423

Mayor Jackson is right, I am glad he has voiced concern over this intrusion. This intervention team although, sounds ridiculous to me, and expensive. How about Teachers and Parents talk? lil Johnny could be dropping from the football team to help care for a grandparent that is about to punch out, but we want an intervention team to intrude on this family instead of a known teacher/coach calling Johnny’s Mom/Dad? That seems more traumatizing than helpful.

I also think it’s best to leave the mental health assessments to the child’s pediatrician and parent(s), and not use the School system and their gov’t paid shrinks (who have an incentive to create patients) to add more spending and government intrusion into our lives? I can’t be the only one that sees these “Dr’s” motivation for the recommendation$$.  Teachers are already required by law to report any health issue they observe right? No need to add or change this, just keep encouraging dialogue with parents/guardians.

They are absolutely right about that Gun Law, nobody that owns a firearm will voluntarily seek help. There is a significant investment many people, if not all people, that own firearms pay. The weapons alone cost hundreds of dollars; there are the tools, ammo, and training; and now the licensing/certifying that goes into being a huntsman, sportsman, or simple tax paying citizen that is exercising her 2A rights.

They need to scale back that garbage Law a lot more than on the point of voluntary patients seeking psych treatment…

posted by: redman | September 24, 2014  6:21am

He was home schooled because he was bullied in your precious schools. Fix your own problems first before picking on home schoolers.

posted by: dano860 | September 24, 2014  7:16am

Fisherman, Gbear and Redman nailed it. It is also time for this group to disband. We don’t need to create another bureaucratic agency. They are dancing around a black art subject that will never be a text book identified illness.
So far they have given us a report of no relevance and or concrete answers to the carnage in Newtown or answers to the reasoning of the perpetrator or the events in his life that contributed to his actions. There was something that took a long time to brew in his addled mind. The unfortunate part was his choice of a popular item to create the mayhem. Had he chosen a more main stream method, ie: an automobile, to obtain the same results we would be concentrating more on the person than the tool of choice.
Redman is right on, let’s start where the problem begins.

posted by: mathlady | September 24, 2014  7:45am

Who gets to decide what constitutes “mental health?” Will these people decide that evangelical Christians, who are the largest single population of home schoolers, are mentally ill? Will we have our own home-grown case like that of the Romeike family (see http://abcnews.go.com/US/home-schooling-german-family-allowed-stay-us/story?id=22788876) who fled their home in Germany due to a threat that their children would be removed from their home because they taught from a Christian perspective and the state didn’t like that? Why is this being raised again when previous legislation was voted down in 2013? What is the real agenda behind this?

posted by: Joebigjoe | September 24, 2014  8:46am

Did I miss something here? I thought he went to Newtown High School because of the stories I heard from parents whose kids went to school with him. I specifically recall a woman in that Newtown town meeting talking about her daughter being his Chemistry lab partner and not to approach him suddenly or make loud noises because he was socially paranoid.

Now the blame is going to home schooled kids not getting access to services?

posted by: KristinC | September 25, 2014  12:02pm

GBear really said it well.  More government bureaucracy and taxes are not what we need.  Schools should be looking at how they can keep kids safe.  They are a target.  For terrorists, mentally insane, etc.  Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong won’t help protect kids at school.  As a homeschool mom who pays taxes for other kids to go to public school and gets no “relief” when I buy all of my own supplies and curriculum - I believe that means I’m not part of the government. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The government should continue to keep their opinions and regulations out of my home and their hands off of my children.

posted by: Leslie Wolfgang | September 26, 2014  7:14am

Adam Lanza participated in a program where he was able to do his school work at home, then he frequently attended classes in the afternoon.  That is not homeschooled.  And he spent far more time in full-time public schools.  As someone else mentioned, this is better kept between parents & doctors, with mandatory reporting by others.  Mrs. Lanza begged for treatment for her son.  She was not hiding her son and there is no reason to target all parents, and make it about homeschoolers who take the initiative to do the best thing for their children, want to do the best thing for their children, and are raising thousands of perfectly functional children in CT without schooling form the gov’t.  Help the people who WANT the help - you’ll make a lot more progress.