Summary of May 19, 2023 Home Education Advisory Council Meeting
The meeting was significantly delayed as the council waited for a quorum to be present. Also, there was a technical difficulty at the beginning of the meeting so only the first 17 minutes of the discussion, when the proposed annual report is read, is on part 1. The rest of the meeting continues in the second video with the rest of the agenda.
The 2022-23 HEAC Annual Report will be presented to the state Board of Education in June; council approves the final report.
DOE Report, mark 11:25
The department is considering a technical advisory or training on the changes to the Equal Access law that were the result of HB 1663 (2022).
There are concerns regarding ongoing difficulties with the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) as reported by the Concord Monitor on April 29, 2023.
Rebekah Woodman asks about the Equal Access statute, RSA 193:1-c, as it pertains to students in the Education Freedom Account (EFA) program.
Member Reports, mark 23:40
Rep Katy Peternel gives an update on a few education bills, none regard 193-A home education.
Jen Pereira comments that CUHE received numerous emails regarding HEAC’s Best Practices and reads a statement on behalf of the organization.
Heather Barker asks for clarification from the department regarding changes to Equal Access law that resulted from HB 1663 (2022).
New Business, mark 31:14
There is discussion if there is an additional certification to be an evaluator for home education assessments. The requirement in statute, RSA 193-A, is that the individual has current teaching credentials or be a teacher at one of NH’s nonpublic schools; it is up to the parents and educator to determine if it is a good fit and appropriate for that professional to provide an assessment to a particular child/family. This is consistent with GSHE guidance.
The revision to Ed 704 rules regarding the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) continues. No update since January.
Continued Business, mark 43:42
Ed 315 revisions continue and will be considered by the state Board of Education at their July meeting and move on to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR).
Best Practices, mark 46:24
NH's constitution and Right to Know law requires public bodies to be transparent, accessible, and accountable.
“All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted. The public also has a right to an orderly, lawful, and accountable government.”
“Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people.”
As requested by the council at their January meeting, Michelle Levell and April Villani, were asked to prepare an initial draft of Best Practices policies for the council’s consideration.
After repeated attempts to contact April, I moved forward with preparing an initial proposal in advance of the March meeting. Because the council did not meet that month, it was advanced to the April meeting.
At the April 21, 2023 meeting, the council did a preliminary review of Best Practices policies. There was particular concern about making video or audio recordings available, providing meeting materials and the agenda to the public, and what the council was willing to commit to with these policies.
In preparation for the May meeting, I discovered that drafts were altered by one individual and not the same as what was submitted to the council. It is standard and good practice for a public body to make changes that reflect the group’s discussion and decisions. At the meeting I said, “Good governance is the hallmark of an effective board, private and public. Good governance means being open, accountable, and accessible to our constituents. The purpose of HEAC is to be a communication bridge of the homeschool community with the DOE and public-education organizations. If we are going to fulfill our purpose, we must have good governance.”
At the May meeting, some council members expressed concern about providing a time for public comments and publishing an agenda and materials prior to a meeting because they are not expressly required under NH’s Right to Know law, RSA 91-A. There was also significant resistance by some members about providing recordings, citing concern about children who might be on screen. One person also said she was uncomfortable having her remarks recorded.
GSHE advocated for providing a guarantee for public remarks and publishing the agenda and available meeting materials in advance so the public can be aware of intended discussions that impact the community and be better informed. Many public boards including local school boards, the executive council, state Board of Education, and legislature make recordings available and publish agendas and meeting materials. Also, the NH DOE has a Zoom account that easily allows for publishing video recordings; it requires a click of a button and the department has cloud storage as part of their account.
It is GSHE’s position that in the interest of facilitating access, accountability, and transparency, that it is not a burden for HEAC to go a little beyond the minimum required by NH’s Right to Know law, RSA 91-A with their Best Practice policies.
The final vote of the council, by a majority vote, allows for publishing an agenda in advance, an opportunity for the public to speak at meetings, and sharing meeting materials to the DOE website following meetings.
The council did not have time to consider all of the proposed Best Practices policies and will continue discussion at the first meeting of the 2023-24 term. The council may vote and change policies at any time.
“Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power, … its enabling force. Transparency is the only real antidote." -- Glenn Greenwald
In the past, HEAC struggled with meeting 91-A requirements and fulfilling its purpose of being a communication bridge between the homeschool community, the department, and various public and nonpublic education entities. This is why GSHE has followed HEAC for several years, provided recordings, published articles, and urged openness and accessibility from the council.
Read more about these situations at the links below.
HEAC meets at the NH Department of Education’s office at 25 Hall Street in Concord. They meet on the third Friday of alternating months starting at 2:30pm, unless announced otherwise. The public may attend in-person or via Zoom. Zoom meeting information is available here. The remaining 2023 meeting dates are as follows.
Friday, September 15, 2023
Friday, October 20, 2023 (if needed)
Friday, November 17, 2023
Friday, December 15, 2023 (if needed)
Links to meeting minutes and members’ contact information are available on the NH DOE’s HEAC page.
Read More About HEAC
By Michelle Levell