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Report: Adam Lanza's mom, schools failed

New analysis claims people who should have helped instead allowed Newtown shooter’s problems to fester

Crosses bearing the names of the Sandy Hook shooting victims are displayed in Newtown, Conn. Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig

Report: Adam Lanza's mom, schools failed

Adam Lanza’s parents and the public school system unwittingly allowed his emotional and relational challenges to fester through a pattern of appeasement rather than treatment, according to a new report studying the Sandy Hook school shooter.

The Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate last week released a 114-page analysis of Lanza from birth to the time he killed his mother and 26 others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, exploring the red flags everyone missed. Although Lanza graduated early from high school and went on to take community college classes, problems plagued his education, including the cookie-cutter special education tracks that failed him in his younger years, the report says.

Lanza’s phobias and extreme aversion to change and interpersonal contact led his mother as he got older to avoid treatment that might cause him stress. He spent eighth grade “homebound,” a public, special-education program not intended to be at all independent. After that, he used a combination of independent study, tutoring, and college classes to graduate. Friday’s report criticizes the school district for failing to question why Nancy Lanza turned down tutoring and other supports her son was entitled to, while also rejecting medication and other health treatments.

Voluntarily shut in his bedroom, computer records show that as years passed Lanza became obsessed with mass-murder, developed online friendships with other murder enthusiasts, then meticulously planned his attack, reviewing the school website and security procedures on several occasions.

Although Lanza’s “homebound” status is not the same as being homeschooled, public education advocates conflated the two and demanded more regulations for anyone not attending class in a traditional school. In September, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, formed after Lanza’s attack to recommend new gun, school, and mental health standards, proposed monitoring and approval requirements for homeschooling children with special needs, so they don’t fall through the cracks like Lanza did.

“Just because the parent has chosen to remove them from the school setting … their needs are still going to be met,” said Kathleen Flaherty, a commission member and staff attorney for Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut.

The language raised alarms among homeschoolers nationwide, especially since the commission recommended special education directors with local school districts should decide each child’s needs and judge when parents aren’t meeting them. “The response of the homeschooling community that we serve was just huge,” said Leslie Nunnery, co-founder of Teach Them Diligently. “This is not about homeschooling. [Nancy Lanza] wasn’t homeschooling.”

Scott Jackson, the commission’s chairman, immediately identified the idea as controversial. He told me Wednesday he asked the subcommittee considering mental health issues to recraft that part of its recommendation, but the group likely won’t meet again until January.

Prior to the September meeting, Newtown Middle School teacher Ron Chivinski and others on the commission weren’t aware of the mental health group’s recommendation plans, and it hasn’t been discussed since.

“I’ve been praying over this issue since it arose,” Chivinski told me in an email Tuesday. “Honestly, the rhetoric has been troubling to me and speaking for myself, many of us in our communities have friends who homeschool.”

Jackson told me to expect the commission to carefully consider “rational” homeschool oversights that are “not too far over-reaching or under-reaching.” Homeschoolers have access to and can ask for services public schools offer, but it’s a “one-way swinging door.” He said the public system stocked with professional educators and special education resources is hard for the homeschooling community to replicate. “Let’s figure out a way where we can make sure that children who are in trouble have eyes on them,” he said.

But many homeschooling families distrust policymakers, who often act as if the watchful eyes and decisions of “professionals,” because of their training, are less affected by worldview than others. Homeschoolers like Nunnery are watching to see how the commission will balance a government that increasingly believes it knows what is best for children and the possible consequences when someone like Nancy Lanza refuses or neglects available treatment options.

“And that is a great tragedy that turned into just an incomprehensible tragedy as it all played out,” Nunnery said.

As her son’s sole confidant in his later years, Nancy Lanza appeared to be “creating reality around him rather than seeking to help him adapt to reality,” resulting in extreme isolation, Jackson said. Last week’s report also suggests the two developed a codependent relationship, even though Lanza communicated almost exclusively through the internet from his bedroom with blacked-out windows.

“[Adam Lanza] was anorexic at the time of death, measuring 6 feet tall and weighing only 112 pounds,” states the report, which grapples with whether Nancy Lanza’s actions qualified as child neglect—and whether child protective services should get involved in similar circumstances to “compel a family into support services.”

The Newtown, Conn., community has decided not to commemorate the anniversary of the shooting, Jackson said, so the commission will study the revelations of the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate report until it meets again in January. Next year, the commission will tackle some of the biggest issues: Second Amendment concerns and children’s mental health regulations—including homeschooling.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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