The Home Education Advisory Council met on April 21, 2022 to discuss several pressing issues. Most of the council members were present to have a quorum; the legislative members were unable to attend due to sessions at the State House.
Jennifer Pereira (Co-Chairman, Catholics United for Home Education) announced they are looking to change the HEAC meeting dates for the 2022-23 year to better accommodate the legislative members who routinely have conflicts due to their sessions on Thursdays.
She also shared that they are working on the annual report that goes to the state Board of Education and urged every effort for a full quorum at the next meeting.
Sarah Cheek (Acton Academy Seacoast) shared that the co-op is seeing massive expansion and looking for a new location in the greater Dover area.
Catie McLaughlin (Seacoast Christian Home Educators Association) said they are seeing major growth of homeschooling in their area and many are using a “mom schooling” approach for group learning. She also asked about the YES grant program; interested homeschoolers are having difficulty navigating the application.
Althea Barton (Secretary, NH Homeschooling Coalition) asked if there’s been any response from the DOE about HEAC’s previous questions regarding Prenda and the EFA program, to which Jen shared they have not had a reply and this will be discussed further in Old Business. Althea also mentioned some districts do not share information about programs available at their schools and this makes it difficult for families to consider participation through Equal Access.
Jen (CUHE) shared that their members are finishing their school year and looking to graduations. Many of the families that are looking into home education have younger children. Confusion about the EFA program persists.
Amanda Weeden (Co-Chairman, GSHE) shared that we added roughly 250 new members to our main group in the last 60 days alone. We're definitely seeing strong growth continue, even this late in the school year, and notably lots at the high school level. We hear from an alarming number of families about teens who are struggling with anxieties at their local public schools. (Yes, this is not a unique condition to public schools. Private school student may struggle, too, but the ones reaching out to GSHE are from public.)
She echoed Althea’s observations re Equal Access and noted that the statute does not specify communication between the schools and families or access to resources such as textbooks or Chromebooks.
Alison O’Neil (Hampton Area Homeschool Group) said that families in her area are denied access to an online scholarship portal and asked if it falls under Equal Access. The law allows districts to create their own policies about access to curricular and co-curricular programs to resident homeschoolers as long as they are on the same basis as full-time students. Scholarships, Chromebooks, and other resources are not specified in the law and leave it to districts’ discretion.
She also reported that there is considerable expansion of informal learning groups, more dual-enrollment engagement, and more families are seeing how flexible and customized high-school learning can be achieved by homeschooling.
Alison also noted that an early education teacher is seeing significant reading delays and language development problems in grades K to 3 and new homeschool families are trying to cope and overcome these obstacles. Amanda offered her knowledge and resources as an expert in special education issues.
She has a daughter at UNH and noted that former homeschooled college students are set apart – more engaged in classes, speak up with professors, and take on leadership roles. This is very encouraging to parents who worry about their teen’s opportunities in college.
Mike Koski (NH School Principals Association) commented that public schools are still trying to return to “regular” business, catching up on learning loss, and dealing with poor social skills. They are trying to retrain students to get back into a learning mindset.
Tim Carney (DOE) replaces Shireen Meskoob, is new to HEAC, and learning more about home education. He is the point person for new homeschool inquiries and also handles the Learn Everywhere program, non-private school approvals, and the Innovative School program (for public schools).
Jen circled back to the confusion regarding new educational pathways, particularly Prenda and the EFA program as previously shared at the February meeting. There are questions about Prenda community pods (homeschooling), whether they need to maintain a portfolio and do some kind of annual assessment or if participation in Prenda is sufficient. HEAC believes that RSA 193-A has requirements that are universal for all home-educated students, that it is the responsibility of families, not Prenda.
HEAC has been discussing the various educational pathways. Late last year, HEAC asked the DOE for clarification about Prenda, if they fall under home education or something else. HEAC recommends that Prenda community pods be considered its own pathway under compulsory attendance and not home education because they have state standards, curriculum, testing, and have public funding. GSHE interviewed Commissioner Edelblut in April 2021 about the new Prenda opportunities.
Traditional home education is very individualized. Prenda boxes “homeschoolers” into a curriculum and other aspects of public education.
MOTION: The council recommends a clarification that all homeschoolers follow RSA 193-A and that extends to Prenda community pod families and recommends that Prenda be an alternative to compulsory attendance.
Heather remarks that Prenda is also not public education as it is very different and there may be other educational models that this should extend to, not only Prenda.
Amanda sees the motion as “staying in your lane” clarification.
MOTION CHANGED: All families who file notification per RSA 193-A must fulfill all aspects of the statute, specifically maintaining a portfolio and annual assessment. This motion passes.
Legislative Update on HB 1663
Representative Erica Layon joined the meeting to speak on the latest re HB 1663. The bill passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate Education Committee. They plan to introduce an amendment in committee to remove the state BOE’s rule-making authority and hold Ed 315 rules in place until they sunset in 2031, giving time to solidify important elements of rules into the home ed statute. Read more about HB 1663 on the GSHE website.
Members’ Reports (continued)
Heather Barker (NH School Administrators Association) shared that at the last association meeting, districts expressed concern that they aren’t necessarily informed if a resident family is homeschooling or potentially truant. The council shared that families have three notification choices – their local SAU, a private school, or the NH DOE – so the district is not the only notification option and may not be aware of all homeschooled students in their area. Families may be homeschooling, the children may be enrolled in another school that follows a different academic calendar, or some other valid reason for not being at the local school on a typical day. The presumption that the children are truant is erroneous as there are many other reasons a child may be outside on a “school day.”
HiSET is the High School Equivalency Test available through the NH Department of Education. Michelle Levell (member of the public from GSHE) shared that she contacted the NH DOE’s Bureau of Adult Education and learned that the requirement to have 16 and 17 year old homeschoolers receive permission from a parent and Participating Agency to take the HiSET exam is based on Ed 704.02 which was last updated in 2013 and references RSA 193:1, I(f)(2), NH's compulsory attendance statute. She asked HEAC to request Ed 704 be revised to remove the requirement for a PA to sign off on the form. Read more about it with links on the GSHE website.
MOTION: HEAC will research the HiSET exam regarding home educated students and report back at an upcoming meeting.
Michelle established contacts with two senior members of the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) in order to resolve some long-standing concerns regarding enrollment as it pertains to home education. GSHE members informed us that they were (incorrectly) informed at VLACS Open House events that they needed to file homeschool plans with their local SAUs in order to begin a home education program while their applications for VLACS are considered. The full-time vs part time [ie full course load] standing is a point of confusion for several years. VLACS was unaware that families who temporarily homeschool during their VLACS trial time need to officially terminate their home ed program. Read more about this on the GSHE website on Clarifying VLACS Enrollment Options.
Jen and Amanda will work with Tim to try to help the DOE website make the various educational pathways clearer.
GSHE is hosting two free events in the coming weeks. They are open to all families.
Sarah extended an invitation to Acton Academy Seacoast’s Children’s Business Fair on May 21 in Dover.
Former Representative JR Hoell supports HB 1663 and the intended amendment.
HSLDA attorney, Mike Donnelly, shared that other states have similar challenges with expanded educational options and has concerns regarding Prenda pods in NH. He agrees with GSHE’s work to remove the Participating Agency permission for 16 and 17 year old homeschoolers seeking to take the HiSET, that the current rule is an unnecessary hurdle.
Amanda asked Mike about a recent HSLDA news alert regarding Maryland legislation that seeks to install a body similar to HEAC that she thought was unduly negative.
The council will meet on Thursday, May 19 starting at 3:30pm. They will be in-person, and the public is welcome to attend, or participate via Zoom.
Due to construction at the DOE main office in Londergan Hall, the council meets at Granite State College at 25 Hall Street room 101 in Concord. HEAC’s meetings are from 3:30pm to 5:00pm as scheduled below. The general public is welcome to attend; the NH DOE's HEAC webpage includes the link, meeting ID, and passcode information.
May 19, 2022
June 16, 2022 (placeholder)
Links to meeting minutes and members’ contact information are available on the NH DOE’s HEAC page.
Read More About HEAC
By Michelle Levell