Districts Ask More of Homeschoolers

Increasingly we hear from homeschoolers that local districts are requesting information that is not required in statute. While it is important to correctly file an initial Letter of Intent and let Participating Agencies know if the family moves or ends their home ed program, no additional communication or information is mandatory.

In summer 2017 we reported that Nashua provided a form that asked for the student’s place of birth, race, home language, and grade level; none of this is required in home ed statute. Within an hour of contacting Nashua about their unlawful form, they removed it from their website. It Is not clear if they are still sending it out to homeschoolers who choose to use them as a Participating Agency.

Turns out Nashua is not the only district that oversteps their authority.

Timberlane is a district known for being difficult with their resident homeschoolers. In mid-January, Peter Bealo made a Facebook post comparing NH homeschoolers with the California family under investigation for child abuse. At the time he was noted as the “Board Chair” for Timberlane/Plaistow with SAU 55. The nasty remark was compounded when Donna Green, another SAU 55 school board member said,

Peter Bealo is a long-serving member of the Timberlane Regional School Board representing Plaistow. He is also a member of SAU 55’s board but he is not chairman or vice chairman of either of these boards and please don’t give him a promotion. His post was ugly and was taken down by the page moderator within an hour of its posting. Mr. Bealo has not apologized. I, personally, have a lot of respect for the homeschooling movement but do feel that this article, in its horrific extreme, does bring up the question of some annual oversight, review, inspection, something that many feel is intrusive. This was supposedly registered as a private school. Schools certainly should be subject to inspection by public officials.”

The entire Facebook conversation can be viewed here.

Timberlane is also asking far more of their local homeschoolers than the law requires.

New Hampshire’s home education statute is rather straight-forward and found in RSA 193-A. Homeschoolers must also follow the rules found in Ed 315 that have the same force as law. It is important to keep these requirements in mind to appreciate how far off districts are with their requests. For a summary of these requirements read Granite State Home Educators’ Where to Begin page.

We recently learned that Timberlane sends out annual letters to resident homeschoolers with a form that asks for students’ grade levels. Homeschoolers are not required to provide grade levels and do not need to update their information annually. In 2012 the law changed to require one-time notification per child. If a family does not respond, Timberlane sends the letter out again mid-way through the year. A Timberlane district family shared their recent letter with us. They received another letter from the district recently even though they informed the SAU that the family uses a private school as their Participating Agency as allowed in law.

Timberlane’s home education policy goes way beyond the law. Refer to policy IHBG starting on page 20 of their Rights and Responsibilities handbook. Several points are grossly inaccurate. In the opening statement they inaccurately say that the Commissioner of Education is responsible for acknowledging a family’s intent to homeschool. Per statute, it is the responsibility of all Participating Agencies, including local SAU offices, to acknowledge a family’s Letter of Intent within 14 days of receipt (RSA 193-A:5).

Right off the bat, their Eligibility statement has inaccuracies in each point they list.

Timberlane #1: Standardize the enrollment and evaluation process for parents who choose the School District as the agency to participate in home education program.

SCNH response: While the district may prefer a standardized process for homeschool notifications, it is not required in statute or rules. The law does not have a particular form or process but does specify what information is required and time frames for notification and acknowledgement. Homeschoolers’ use of the local district forms is optional.

Timberlane #2: Make possible a fair and consistent relationship with all the home education programs for which the district is designated the participating agency, especially in those areas left by the state to the discretion of the local school district.

SCNH response: School districts may make uniform policies consistent with Equal Access requirements about how many classes home educated students may take. Most districts allow two per term. However, districts must apply these policies consistently and fairly to all homeschoolers. Districts may also establish processes and notification requirements if homeschoolers wish to participate in statewide assessments for their year-end evaluations; again, subject to Equal Access statute. There is little to nothing else that is at the discretion of school districts re their resident homeschoolers.

Timberlane #3: The recognition of home education programs will be limited to students aged 6-16 years.

SCNH response: The SAU does not have the authority to limit who may or may not be homeschooled. The state’s compulsory attendance goes up to age 18, so students any age between 6 years (as of September 30th of the school year) and the completion of high school may be home educated.

Timberlane’s next section on Enrollment Procedures (page 22) is very problematic. As mentioned above, the district may develop a preferred form, but homeschoolers are not required to use it and only it to satisfy their notification requirements. Additionally, the SAU’s form asks for information beyond what is included in statute by asking for the student’s grade level. Additionally, the SAU is incorrect that all notifications must be filed by August 1st otherwise filed with the Commissioner of Education. The district cannot set artificial deadlines. Homeschoolers may withdraw from public or private school at any time to home educate and the district cannot deny a resident family of their choice to notify through the district. Again, the SAU is incorrect that the Commissioner of Education supplies the acknowledgement letter; it is the responsibility of all Participating Agencies to provide acknowledgement within 14 days of receiving the homeschooler’s Letter of Intent. Further new homeschoolers have five days to file their Letter of Intent with their chosen Participating Agency; they are not required to stay in a public or private school until they receive acknowledgement.

Timberlane is also grossly incorrect regarding their Evaluation Procedures section (page 27). They state that homeschoolers must submit their year-end assessment results to the district, but that was changed in 2012. Home educators may keep the results private and have no requirement to send them to their Participating Agency. The superintendent has no authority to determine if the student “demonstrated progress.” RSA 193-A is very clear regarding what thresholds homeschools must meet via standardized testing, teacher evaluation, or another mutually agreed upon method.

SAU 55 also has the practice of sending out letters at least annually to their resident homeschoolers to update their Data Sheet. Per home ed statute, homeschoolers are required to provide their Letter of Intent only one-time per child, not annually. This was changed in 2012, and Timberlane is no doubt aware. Homeschoolers are also required to inform their Participating Agency if they move or terminate their home ed program, but again, this is not an annual notification requirement. Although the district may request updated information, local homeschoolers are not required to respond to their letter.

Timberlane is not the only district to chronically overstep their lawful authority with resident homeschoolers. In a random search of other NH districts, we found multiple problems in many districts.

Windham also has several statements and requirements in Policy IHBG that are inaccurate. They incorrectly say that homeschoolers must file annual notification to continue their home ed program by the beginning of the district’s school year. Per home ed statute, homeschoolers provide one-time only notification, not annual, and there is no specific date to file the letter They also say that families must provide notification upon the “student’s withdrawal on or before the date of the home education program shall begin” although they correctly note in the paragraph immediately proceeding this that families have five days to provide notification. Like Timberlane, Windham incorrectly says homeschoolers must share their annual year-end assessment results. Based on the date of their policy, it appears they neglected to update it when the 2012 law changes were passed.

The Hillsboro-Deering School District has similar problems with their IHBG policy. They also incorrectly say that the superintendent will review homeschoolers’ year-end assessments and determine if they make adequate yearly progress. They last revised their policy in February 2014, well after the 2012 law change so there is no excuse for this to be included in their policy.

SAU 16, which includes the communities of Brentwood, Exeter, East Kingston, Newfields, Stratham, and Exeter Region Cooperative School Districts, has a statement in Policy IHBG that says homeschooler send in their year-end assessment to the superintendent by July 1st. Homeschoolers are not required to share the assessments and certainly do not have a deadline.

The Winnisquam Regional School District, SAU 59, also says homeschoolers are required to submit their year-end assessment to the superintendent. They note at the bottom that the law changed in 2012 to change annual notification to one-time only, so why didn’t they adjust the policy when last reviewed in 2013?

These districts are in direction violation of RSA 193-A:11 that states, “No superintendent, school board, school principal, or other school district official shall propose, adopt, or enforce any policy or procedure governing home educated pupils that is inconsistent with or more restrictive than the provisions of this chapter and any rules adopted pursuant to RSA 193-A:3.” Districts cannot make up their own policies and rules for resident homeschoolers that go beyond the law. It is time to end districts’ harassment of their local homeschooling families.

Why do so many districts continue to distribute false information and make arbitrary demands on resident homeschoolers?

It appears that hostile districts deliberately prey upon unaware home-educating families, hoping to take advantage of their trust.

This also brings up a bigger issue. Generally, school boards and districts adopt policies that are drafted by the NH School Boards Association, an organization that advises school boards and acts as lobbyists in Concord. They are funded via local property taxes in school district budgets. The NHSBA is well aware of the home ed statute changes, but did they fail to inform their member districts of the changes and are complicit in allowing them to overextend their authority? The NHSBA is vehemently against all school choice programs, including home education, so this is not a wild supposition. Even though they have a seat on the Home Education Advisory Council, they routinely fail to attend and have yet to nominate a homeschool-friendly person to the council.

Homeschooling families do not need to accept these unlawful requests by districts. It is to their advantage to be aware of the home ed requirements so they do not inadvertently provide extra information to districts that chronically overstep their authority. It is time districts and school boards respect local homeschoolers and follow home ed statutes.