In Educational Neglect Proceeding, Court Rules that “Detrimental Effect” is not Required

In Re Amurah B., Superior Court, Judicial District of Middlesex

In the case of In Re Amurah B., Superior Court, Judicial District of Middlesex, Docket No. M08CP09010939A (March 12, 2010, Rubinow, J.), the Court addressed whether the Department of Children and Families must demonstrate a “detrimental effect” before it can enter a finding of educational neglect.  In that particular case, DCF initially filed petitions alleging that the children were being subjected to educational neglect in that they were not being forced to attend school.  A trial ensued, and after DCF concluded its case-in-chief, the parents claimed it failed to make out a prima facie case with respect to any of the children.

DCF opposed the motion, contending that the evidence was sufficient to prove the children were denied proper educational care and attention in that they did not attend school regularly, and thus were deprived of educational opportunities.  The parents countered, arguing that the children received adequate educational attention, as evidenced by their grades and consistent promotions, and that the Department’s evidence of non-attendance alone could not be sufficient.  The parents contended that in order to satisfy its burden, the state must provide evidence of a detrimental effect on a child.

Connecticut’s Statutory and Common Law Expectations

In considering the parents’ motion, the Court reviewed Connecticut’s statutory and common law expectations for the education of children, noting that education has long been recognized as being fundamental to the well-being of a child. Indeed, education is so important that the state has made it compulsory through an attendance requirement. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 10-184, “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.”

To implement this policy, C.G.S.A. § 10-184 further establishes that “each parent or other person having control of a child five years of age and over and under eighteen years of age shall cause such child to attend a public school regularly during the hours and terms the public school in the district in which such child resides is in session, unless such child is a high school graduate or the parent or person having control of such child is able to show that the child is elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction in the studies taught in the public schools.”  Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 10-185, failure to do so is punishable by a fine.

Trial Court

The trial court acknowledged that the Connecticut Appellate Court has not yet ruled as to whether a neglect finding can enter in a case where the parents fail to cause their children to attend school, but the children are nevertheless performing on an average level.  However, it did point out that the Juvenile Courts of Connecticut and other states have granted neglect petitions under similar circumstances.  Ultimately denying the parents’ motion to dismiss, the Court held that in light of the clear and explicit mandate of C.G.S.A. §§ 10-184 and 10-185, the element of “detrimental effect” is not essential to a finding of neglect at the adjudicatory stage.

Should you have any questions regarding DCF proceedings, or family matters generally, please feel free to contact Michael D. DeMeola.  He can be reached by telephone at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at mdemeola@mayalaw.com.