The Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) is an advisory council to the Commissioner of Education with specific responsibilities. Its primary function is to serve as a communication bridge between the homeschool community, various public-school groups, and the state Department of Education. The council met for its bimonthly meeting on March 28, 2019; we attended and recorded the discussion.
The council discussed several critical homeschool issues: changes to Ed 315, the long-standing guideline that 51% of a child’s education must by “directed” by the family; “push outs;” and the process by which families can access special education assessments.
Changes to Ed 315
At Commissioner Edelblut’s request, HEAC is reviewing and drafting changes to Ed 315 (scroll about halfway down). These rules pair with the home ed law, RSA 193-A, to set the legal requirements for all NH homeschoolers. The proposed changes are available here; the blue text is suggestions from the DOE attorney and the red text is the HEAC subcommittee’s suggestions. The discussion begins in video #3 beginning at mark 3:00. The council will meet again on Thursday, April 25th specifically to discuss and finalize the proposal before sending it on to the Commissioner. It will be reviewed by the department and make its way to the State Board of Education. They will hold public hearings before it finishes the review and approval process. Homeschoolers are encouraged to take a look at the proposed changes and share your thoughts with HEAC members before their next meeting.
The 51% Guideline
As part of the Ed 315 rules review, the council examined the long-standing unofficial code that homeschoolers “direct” a minimum of 51% of their child’s education in order for it to be considered homeschooling. Consensus was that there is no solid grounding in either state law or rules for the guideline. It is also outdated and does not reflect the extensive educational resources utilized by homeschoolers today, which may include an eclectic mix of online programs, co-ops, classes through the local district, and other creative learning opportunities offered beyond what a family may provide via direct instruction. The term in statute is “provide” which implies financial responsibility as well as overall authority for the child’s education.
However, the guideline is relevant in two applications. Districts are allowed to limit the number of classes homeschoolers can take, and typically set the max at two per term. (Check your own local district’s policy.) The concept is that if the child is enrolled in more than two classes, it is approaching full-time status and then the child should be fully enrolled to participate at that level. The other situation is when families seek certified or accredited diplomas available through their local public schools. Districts often have minimum graduation requirements to obtain accredited diplomas; those policies are set by the governing school board. For example, many NH public high schools require 20 credits with at least half of those credits earned at their institutions to receive an accredited diploma from them.
The council discussed another long-time issue, “push-outs.” This a term that means a child is pushed out of the local school to homeschool, even though that is not the family’s desire. For over a decade, HEAC and homeschool groups have heard anecdotal stories of children who were essentially forced out of their schools for various reasons and the parents were told they had to take responsibility for the child’s education. (See HEAC minutes for December 2011, October 2012, May 2014, October 2014, April 2015, and May 2015.) HEAC Chairman, Kitty Michelotti, is trying to find supports for these families and discovered the Dropout Prevention and Recovery Oversight Council. It appears they may be more focused on state agencies and funding, but they may be a source for helping these families. It is also not clear if this council is currently active as their last online report is from 2010.
NH DOE Report
Ellie Riel of the NH Department of Education said the department updated form A12e that schools use to report numbers of homeschooled students. This has been important to address because the DOE had a gap in requiring this information which directly contributed to districts characterizing homeschooling as “unaccountable” and “the Wild West.”
Special Education Assessments
Helen Rist of the NH School Administrators Association talked extensively about the process for homeschoolers to obtain testing if they suspect their child has learning differences. This appears in video #4 beginning at mark 8:05 and continues into video #5. Districts must provide testing upon request by a resident homeschool family. To initiate the process, the family must request a “referral;” that is the magic word. The initial contact may be made to the principal or special education coordinator of the school the child would be assigned to if he/she was enrolled in the local school. The first meeting is when the district gathers a team to evaluate whether or not testing is appropriate. The family should bring evidence that supports their request, such as a doctor’s report, homework samples, quizzes or writing work, a recording of the child’s reading fluency, observations in their home ed setting, any feedback from outside education providers, plus any information about what the family has already tried to address the concerns. The team then works with the family to determine if a formal evaluation is appropriate. They can also give helpful short-term intervention suggestions that the family can try at home. The goal is to support the child, even in the home education setting. If testing is appropriate, then the district will schedule it with the family within a short period. If the team determines an IEP is recommended, the family is given the option to receive services (which requires enrolling in the school) or declining the services. Some districts offer services to homeschoolers, and others don’t. As a follow-up, districts are required to annually contact families if they received testing and it was determined their child is eligible for services. This was an extremely helpful discussion as we have heard from many families who have experienced difficulty getting special ed evaluations from their local districts. More information about special education testing and services, as well as private service providers is available at our sister organization’s website, Granite State Home Educators.
HEAC will hold a special meeting on Thursday, April 25th starting at 3:30pm at the Department of Education offices, 101 Pleasant Street in Concord, room 12. The purpose is to discuss and finalize the Ed 315 proposed changes. The public is welcome to attend. The contact information of HEAC members can be found here.
Below is a list of recent articles relative to HEAC and homeschool issues.