The Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) had its first meeting of the academic year on September 26, 2019. The council has several important issues to tackle in the coming months. Present were Kitty Michelotti (Chairman, Granite State Home Educators), George D’Orazio (Vice Chairman, Catholics United for Home Education), Mike Koski (NH Association of School Principals), Stefanie Marsh (NH Homeschooling Coalition), Fred Fraser (NH Department of Education, higher education), Jennifer Pereira (Catholics United for Home Education), Glenn Cordelli (NH House of Representatives), Ruth Ward (NH Senate), and Michelle Levell (Seacoast Christian Home Educators Association).
The meeting was recorded and available on our YouTube channel here.
Virtual Leaning Academy Charter School (VLACS)
Historically there has been considerable confusion and challenges for families who wish to enroll in VLACS, NH’s online chartered public school, because they require an introductory period – usually two to three months — prior to enrolling full-time. This means families must file a Letter of Intent as homeschoolers to avoid truancy problems even though they may not wish to be home educators. To help address this a bit, VLACS is shortening the time interval to four weeks and will allow students to enroll directly if they were previously successful VLACS students. Other possible options were discussed and a subcommittee will meet to consider additional suggestions to present to VLACS for consideration. Jennifer Pereira also offered to reach out to current VLACS families for ideas.
Ed Rules Update
Last session HEAC drafted proposed changes to Ed 315 at the request of Commissioner Edelblut. The attorney we worked with is no longer with the Department of Education, and the new attorney has multiple questions and revisions for HEAC to consider. The subcommittee will meet again and talk with the new attorney to try to reach a better understanding and find common ground.
Read more about the proposed rules here:
Students who are enrolled in charter or private schools or are homeschooled may participate in curricular and co-curricular programs at their resident local public schools. This is in statue RSA 193-1:c and states:
193:1-c Access to Public School Programs by Nonpublic, Public Chartered Schools or Home Educated Pupils. –
I. Nonpublic, public chartered school, or home educated pupils shall have access to curricular courses and cocurricular programs offered by the school district in which the pupil resides. The local school board may adopt a policy regulating participation in curricular courses and cocurricular programs, provided that such policy shall not be more restrictive for non-public, public chartered school, or home educated pupils than the policy governing the school district’s resident pupils. In this section, “cocurricular” shall include those activities which are designed to supplement and enrich regular academic programs of study, provide opportunities for social development, and encourage participation in clubs, athletics, performing groups, and service to school and community. For purposes of allowing access as described in this section, a “home educated pupil” shall not include any pupil who has graduated from a high school level program of home education, or its equivalent, or has attained the age of 21.
II. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a parent to establish a home education program which exceeds the requirements of RSA 193:1.
In other words, the district *shall* make these programs available to resident students; they *may* have a policy, but it *shall* not be more restrictive than to enrolled students. The words “shall” and “may” make a difference in districts’ legal responsibilities. While it may be appropriate to limit access of a field trip to only those students enrolled in a particular class, it cannot be denied to the homeschooled student enrolled in that course. It may also be appropriate for schools to require advanced registration for any student wishing to participate in a dance to ensure emergency contact information is on file.
We are also collecting anonymous surveys from families about their Equal Access experiences.
This has been an ongoing difficulty for many families. We have been contacted by many whose students have been denied access to dances, field trips, and sports programs.
This is further complicated when Equal Access students with special needs ask for accommodations or modifications. It is already clear that districts do not have to provide services to children who are not enrolled full-time in public schools once they reach age six (compulsory attendance age) because they have declined a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
This past spring, I had several discussions with Bridget Pare who is an attorney for the Department of Education, governance unit. She claims that students can only receive accommodations or modifications if he/she was diagnosed through the district and has a district-created IEP; private evaluations may or may not be honored. This seems to be incorrect as Equal Access statute requires that schools allow students to participation without additional restrictions. It also seems inconsistent with the federal Individuals with disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Imagine a student at a private school received a diagnosis for a learning disability from a qualified professional paid by the parents, not the district, for the evaluation. According to Attorney Pare, the student could participate in a class at her local public school through the Equal Access law, but could be denied any/all accommodations or modifications simply because the diagnosis and IEP were not developed within the district. As an example, if a homeschooled student with dyslexia was enrolled in an English class, he could be denied the option of sitting at the front of the class, denied the ability to use a recording pen that the family provides, and denied extra time on tests. We challenge these assertions and have talked with Commissioner Edelblut about them.
The Department of Education intends to issue a technical advisory to clarify these issues.
HEAC had visitors from Enrich RI, a homeschool support organization in Rhode Island. They are interested in learning about HEAC’s origins, operations, functions, and its relationship with the legislature, the Commissioner’s office, and public school agencies.
HEAC will hold a special meeting on Thursday, October 24th starting at 3:30pm at the Department of Education offices, 101 Pleasant Street in Concord. The purpose is to discuss the changes to the Ed 315 rules from the Department of Education attorney. The public is welcome to attend.
The next regular meeting of HEAC is on Thursday, November 21st beginning at 3:30pm at the DOE offices. The meeting is open to the public. The contact information of HEAC members can be found here.
UPDATE 10/22/19: The special HEAC meeting on October 24th is cancelled and the Ed 315 rules proposal will be on the agenda for the regular meeting on November 21st.