The Boundaries of a Child’s Constitutional Right to Education in Connecticut

Under the Constitution of Connecticut, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state.”[1] However, to satisfy free appropriate public education, or FAPE, requirements of federal law, this doesn’t mean parents may engage in a sort of free-for-all in dictating the five W’s of their child’s educational opportunities at public expense. Rather, case precedent has established limitations that take into account the interests of the child balanced against governmental concerns of the school district.

The Right to Education in Connecticut

While the Supreme Court of Connecticut has stated that “the right to education is so basic and fundamental that any infringement of that right must be strictly scrutinized,” they did not intend this to extend to any specific sort of education.[2] In other words, just because a student is eligible to participate in specific courses or extracurricular activities does not automatically grant him or her the right to do so.[3] More specifically: “Absent a legislative mandate such as that in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-76a that requires a special education curriculum for children with disabilities, a student has no constitutional right to any particular program of instruction.”[4]

By way of examples, children who are classified as “gifted and talented” are not entitled to special classes.[5] Rather, a school district has the choice to provide special services, but is not required to do so. In a fairly recent case, the Superior Court ruled against plaintiffs who asserted they were denied their constitutional right to FAPE when the Milford Board of Education elected to change their primary vocational agriculture (VOAG) program due to financial considerations. The Court explained that the school district was complying with State mandates surrounding VOAG educational opportunities for its students, and that “plaintiffs have no constitutional right to the education of their choice; they merely have a right to a ‘free public secondary’ education.”[6]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about any education law matter, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Constitution of Connecticut, Article Eighth, Section 1.

[2] Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615, 646 (1977).

[3] Wajnowski v. Connecticut Association of Schools, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, Docket No. CT 00 0432727, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3448 (December 17, 1999, Pittman, J.)

[4] Id.

[5] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-76d(c). See, e.g., Broadley v. Board of Education, 229 Conn. 1, 9 (1994).

[6] Tomasco PPA et al. v. Milford Board of Education, 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2413 at 13.