School policy bars homeschooler from music competitions

Johnny Shiller practicing cello at his home in Wilton. — Contributed photo
Johnny Shiller practicing cello at his home in Wilton. — Contributed photo

Last year, cellist Johnny Shiller was the only Wilton High School student to make the Connecticut Music Educators Association’s 2018 All-State Festival Orchestra. Now, in his junior year of high school, Johnny is being homeschooled.

Larry Shiller said his son was looking forward to participating in the association’s Western Regional High School Festival and 2019 All-State Festival, but was told he couldn’t because of the Wilton Public School District’s homeschooling policy (P-6175).

The policy “recognizes the right of parents to fulfill their obligation to ensure an education of their children by schooling them at home,” but also states that “programs of the Wilton Public Schools are reserved for enrolled students only” and homeschooled students “are not eligible for school programs,” including curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities.

Shiller said his son decided to be homeschooled this year because “he wanted more control over his time and learning.”

According to the CT Homeschool Network, Inc., the number of homeschool families across America “continues to increase steadily” at an estimated rate of 2% to 10% per year, depending on geographical location; and Connecticut is “among the top 10 states for rapidly growing numbers of families homeschooling.”

Shiller said the school district’s policy appears to violate the following sections of the Connecticut General Statutes:

  • Sec.10-221, which grants boards of education the authority to “prescribe rules for the management, studies, classification and discipline” of their public schools.” Shiller argues that this “does not include excluding students from activities.”
  • Sec. 10-15c, which prohibits discrimination in public schools and states that children “shall have, and shall be so advised by the appropriate school authorities, an equal opportunity to participate in the activities, programs and courses of study offered in … public schools …”
  • Sec. 10-4a, which identifies the “educational interests” of the state, including equal opportunities for students to “receive a suitable program of educational experiences,” reasonably financed educational programs, providing educational opportunities for students to “interact with students and teachers from other racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds;” and the implementation of educational mandates
  • Sec. 10-184b, which prohibits the education commissioner from limiting “the authority of parents or guardians to provide for equivalent instruction” — unless there are provisions of the general statutes or public or special acts granting the commissioner the authority to waive provisions of the general statutes.

Another section of the statutes, Sec. 10-220, states that one of the duties of a school board is to “provide educational activities” that will “best serve the interests of the school district” and “give all the children of the school district, including children receiving alternative education … as nearly equal advantages as may be practicable.”

Shiller said Wilton High School Associate Principal Donald Schels explained to him that “the real reason for the policy … is to discourage homeschooling.”

The Bulletin reached out to Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith who said the district stands by its policy that “draws a bright line about our programs” regarding homeschooled students. H added it was “unfortunate we weren’t able to work with the family.”

The Bulletin also reached out to the Connecticut Music Educators Association to find out about homeschooled student participation, but did not hear back in time for publication.

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