The Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) met on Thursday, March 25, 2021. Present were Kitty Michelotti (Chairman, Granite State Home Educators), George D’Orazio (Vice Chairman, Catholics United for Home Education NH), Jennifer Pereira (Catholics United for Home Education NH), Stef Marsh (NH Homeschooling Coalition), Amanda Weeden (Granite State Home Educators), Fred Fraser (Secretary, NH DOE Higher Education), Michael Koski (NH Association of School Principals), Senator Ruth Ward, Representative Glenn Cordelli, and me, Michelle Levell (GSHE), as a public guest.
Kitty (GSHE) welcomed Amanda (GSHE) as a new member to the council to represent homeschooling families who have children with special needs. This is a unique role, a first for HEAC, and GSHE is grateful Amanda is willing to serve in this capacity.
At the request of homeschoolers, Kitty reached out to the NH DOE a few weeks prior to the meeting to learn if the department planned to issue a waiver for the annual assessment. The department indicated that there will not be a waiver for the current school year.
The main topic of discussion was Equal Access, the NH statute that requires districts to make curricular and co-curricular programs available to resident homeschooled students on the same terms as full-time enrolled students. However, there have been ongoing problems, exacerbated by Covid. Stef (NHHC) indicated that their reps usually satisfactorily resolve issues with simple calls to the district office or school principal. Amanda (GSHE) shared that a difficult situation with the Rochester district has been going on since early fall and she reached out several times to various members of the school, district, and school board, all without resolution. GSHE leadership elevated these concerns to the NH DOE last fall and were told that the department would consult with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Although none of the Governor’s executive orders suspend the Equal Access statute, other elements of the orders empower districts to manage their in-person and hybrid classes as they choose. There are concerns that Equal Access restrictions may continue because some districts announced initial limitations for in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year due to Covid. Jen (CUHE) mentioned that access to the statewide assessment administered by SAUs may be affected, too. Stef spoke with her husband, state representative Bill Marsh, and Rep Glenn Cordelli indicated he would be willing to see how they can help. Amanda reiterated that she spoke with the NH DOE mediation person and the Commissioner’s secretary to try to resolve these problems and they were aware that multiple districts are problematic. Mike (NHASP) said that he understood that a Covid infection could limit Equal Access, but he is unaware of anything else that would explain the reluctance of districts to make operating curricular and co-curricular programs available. Michelle suggested that HEAC follow up with the Commissioner about Equal Access for homeschoolers and VLACS students. George made the motion and Stef seconded to have HEAC contact the department about this problem.
Update: Shortly after the HEAC meeting, Amanda reached out again to the Commissioner’s office. They thought the technical advisory issued in September satisfactorily addressed Equal Access problems and were concerned that they continued. Amanda is working with people in the NH DOE to follow up regarding Rochester and we hope it will be resolved soon.
In a related issue, Barrington refused a first-year homeschooler’s re-enrollment in the district, saying that the family missed the deadline by a couple weeks to enroll in the local school. The family took it up to the district superintendent and school board, and were told that they would have to wait until April to re-enroll in the district. Mike suggested that the ability to participate in in-person learning could be limited as the social-distancing practices vary district-to-district, but that does not explain enrollment restrictions.
Update: Several days after the HEAC meeting, GSHE learned that the Barrington family was allowed to enroll in the local school and is satisfied with the arrangements.
Stef (NHHC) worked with the NH Department of Labor to have the youth employment certificate updated to reflect the 2016 law change that parents or the SAU superintendent may sign the forms. The FAQ is under review and needs new links, but should be corrected soon. GSHE has updated our Youth Employment page with the new information.
Jen and George (CUHE) said they are fielding many questions about the annual assessment and from families who plan to return to their local public schools who have concerns about graduation requirements. Public high-school principals have great discretion about awarding credit towards graduation, and Michelle shared the video GSHE produced in fall 2020 on this issue.
Amanda (GSHE) also noted that we are seeing many families concerned about re-enrollment in their local districts and anticipates there may be difficulties. GSHE wrote a new page with information about closing out home ed programs and tips to enrolling in educational alternatives.
She also announced that CHENHSME will host their annual curriculum sale on June 5th at Emmanuel Church in Rochester.
Sen Ward shared an update on SB 130, the Education Freedom Account (EFA) bill. The bill passed the senate on March 18th in a 14 to 10 vote and then was tabled; it will be added to the budget bill when it crosses over to the senate. GSHE blogged the senate vote here. SB 130 was amended to set eligible families at 300% of the federal poverty limit, add auditing of approved uses, include incremental funding declines for districts to ease the financial impact for enrollment changes, and insert the “firewall” amendment to separate home education from the EFA program. Both Sen Ward and Rep Cordelli mentioned there are bills regarding use of public-school buildings for chartered public school that are under consideration. Rep Cordelli mentioned that HB 20, their version of the EFA bill, was retained by the House Education Committee in February.
Kitty mentioned that she will prepare the annual report and distribute it to the council in April for a vote in May so it can be presented to the state Board of Education in August.
GSHE is hosting another college preparatory event, Applying for College 101, on April 20th starting at 6:30pm. Selecting colleges and applying for admission can be overwhelming. There are applications to be completed, deadlines to meet, essays to write, and policies to understand. This session is intended to educate the student and family about the college admission process and is appropriate for students in grades 9 to 11 and their families, but all are welcome to attend.
Also, high-school aged homeschoolers are eligible for a First in the Nation essay contest. Submissions are due April 23rd and cash prizes will be awarded beginning May 10th. Essays are judged for historical accuracy, adherence to the topic, organization of materials, interest, originality, spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Towards the end of the HEAC meeting, open seats on the council were discussed. Two homeschool positions – those currently held by George (CUHE) and Stef (NHHC) – expire in May. However, it was incorrectly stated that positions are specific to organizations. RSA 193-A specifies six homeschool positions on the council, not which organizations may serve, and there are currently six homeschool members.
Additionally, although the revised Ed 315 rules were approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) to clear the final stage in the approval process, the rules are not yet posted on the state’s websites. Please refer to the revised Ed 315 rules found on the GSHE website for the most current edition.
HEAC will meet again on May 27, 2021 starting at 3:30pm. The public is welcome to attend the remote meeting. Register using this Zoom link and meeting information: meeting ID 956 8193 5821 and passcode 915437.
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By Michelle Levell