Several critical issues face New Hampshire’s homeschool community and the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) is finally taking steps to address them. HEAC met on Thursday, April 19th, in a special meeting after another Nor’Easter storm cancelled their March meeting.
The agenda included several problems we highlighted this year: the NH School Board Association’s unlawful model policy that is used in multiple districts across the state; the NH Department of Education’s failure to collect required homeschool data from Participating Agencies; the misunderstanding of educational neglect as it applies to home education by the Department of Children, Youth, and Family Services (DCYF) and Child Protective Services (CPS); and approving their year-end report for the state Board of Education in a public meeting.
We attended the April 19th meeting and video recorded; it is published on our YouTube channel.
The council did not have a quorum for nearly an hour, but they covered several of their agenda items in discussion before calling the meeting to order.
The initial discussion covered the Education Savings Account bill, SB 193, with an update on its status by Rep. Glenn Cordelli. We did not capture his synopsis on video because we expected it would be covered later when the council was called to order. It was not discussed again, but a more recent update is available here.
Several council members expressed concern about how many school boards and superintendents are unfamiliar with home education requirements, and then make disparaging comments about homeschoolers and a perceived lack of accountability. Some district officials have made grossly slanderous comments conflating homeschooling with child abuse, comparing NH homeschoolers with the California family investigated for child abuse. This is exacerbated by the NH DOE’s lack of collecting required homeschool numbers from Participating Agencies, as brought up at the October 2017 meeting. Kitty Michelotti (Granite State Home Educators) said homeschoolers are on defense and these misunderstandings are already out there.
Amy Gall (Vice Chair, NH Homeschooling Coalition) said that HEAC used to attend the NH School Administrator Association meetings periodically to help address these concerns before they snowball, but it has been several years since their last visit. It was mentioned that the reason HB 1263, this year’s bill to reinstate reporting requirements, was because of one superintendent’s perceived problems with homeschool accountability. The council is interested in resuming their periodic attendance at NHSAA meetings in hopes of clarifying homeschool requirements and reestablishing a dialog with this public school community.
Next, the council brought up the wide-spread use of inaccurate homeschool model policies provided by the NH School Board Association. Note the NHSBA has a seat on the council, but rarely attends. Their most recent model policy was created in 2015 (see page 1, page 2, and page 3 of their policy), but is inconsistent with current homeschool law that changed in 2012. Rep. Glenn Cordelli offered to bring this to the attention of the NH School District Governance Association (NHSDGA), another policy advisory organization, in an effort to reach districts that may not be members of the NHSBA. Barrett Christina, the NHSBA executive director, already indicated a willingness to revise the model policy and have HEAC review it.
Once Michael Koski (NH Association of School Principals) arrived, the meeting was called to order.
Although HEAC Chairman, George D’Orazio (Catholics United for Home Education), has researched the NH DOE’s reporting issue a bit, the department representative was absent. The council will address this again at a future meeting.
The next topic concerned DCYF and educational neglect and its potential impact on NH homeschoolers. HB 1650, a bill about educational neglect and which state agency is responsible for investigations, was sent to Interim Study earlier this year. Although DCYF is overwhelmed with higher priority investigations and poorly prepared to handle home ed issues, they refuse to allow districts and truancy officers to handle education-only investigations. We also know from the Home Education Advisory Council’s reports that homeschoolers are very concerned about DCYF knocking on their doors. In a HEAC meeting, Amy Gall mentioned that DCYF has falsely reported a home ed family when they didn’t understand the homeschool year-end assessment requirements. We also know that special ed homeschoolers and unschoolers could be particularly vulnerable to DCYF misunderstandings. Further, the last two HEAC annual reports to the state BOE were very focused on concerns re to home educational neglect although the “contacts” may not even be appropriately counted as educational neglect. We made recommendations to HEAC to consider giving a presentation to DCYF staff and administration to explain the practices, laws, and rules for home education and to appoint an ombudsman to DCYF to provide guidance on home education neglect cases as needed. The council authorized the Chairman to establish communications with DCYF “with the purpose of better understanding between DCYF and homeschoolers.”
The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) was once again a topic on HEAC’s agenda. Their enrollment process requires new students to take a single class before enrolling either full or part-time, thus requiring families to become homeschoolers [to satisfy compulsory attendance requirements] although home education is not their intention. This creates a great deal of confusion for families and the charter school. This has been a problem for several years that has not been resolved. One suggestion put forward is for the NH DOE to allow a grace period for families transitioning to VLACS. Because the NH DOE representative was not in attendance, there is no immediate feedback. The council members agreed that fundamentally this is not a homeschool issue and the NH DOE needs to resolve this confusion.
Finally, the council addressed proposed bylaw changes that were initially brought up at their October meeting because of several compliance problems with standard public meeting protocols. The council approved meeting procedures re their annual report to the state Board of Education. The new language is as follows:
- A draft of the annual report prepared by the chair shall be sent to members of the council by April 21 to be approved by a 2/3 majority at the following meeting.
- The chair shall give due consideration to the comments and concerns of all council members in the preparation of the report.
- The report will focus on the major issues that have come before the council.
- The report will not recommend action to the State Board of Education unless approved by a 2/3 vote of council members present.
That concluded HEAC’s special meeting. They will next convene on Thursday, May 10th at 3:30pm at the Department of Education offices. The address is 101 Pleasant Street in Concord. The room location changes so inquire at the front desk. This is their last scheduled meeting of the school year as they do not ordinarily meet from June to August.
Read more about HEAC here: