HEAC Opportunity

School Choice for NH regularly reports on the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) and provides editorials on their activity. This is shared with permission. The original article is available here.

Opportunity for HEAC to Prove Its Value

The Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) held their bi-monthly meeting on January 11, 2018. Their draft minutes are available here. We were again present and recorded their discussion; it is in four segments and published on our YouTube Channel.

2018 January HEAC meeting part 1
2018 January HEAC meeting part 2
2018 January HEAC meeting part 3
2018 January HEAC meeting part 4

Two new members were appointed by Commissioner Edelblut: Kathryn “Kitty” Michelotti with Granite State Home Educators and Michael Koski with the NH Association of School Principals. Two seats remain unfilled for the NH School Boards Association and the state Department of Education although Ellie Riel continues to give DOE reports and act in that capacity.

The meeting was largely uneventful. The anticipated presentation by a DOE attorney on Right to Know statutes is postponed to the March meeting.

The council is still considering procedures to process their annual report to the state Board of Education. (See video #2 starting at 8:52.) Their intent is to follow Right to Know requirements for public discussion and review at a meeting prior to submission. Revised procedures will address one of the major concerns with the 2017 annual report. It is important for this to resolve soon as they have only two meetings remaining in the regular schedule before summer break.

The state DOE has not yet addressed concerns regarding why the homeschool notification form changed in 2016 to stop collecting totals from public and private schools which serve as Participating Agencies. This was initially brought up at the October meeting (video #4 at 15:50 continuing through video #5). At that time Heather Gage, then-HEAC liaison from the state DOE, said that Participating Agencies are only to report the number of homeschoolers that provide notification that individual year. In the DOE’s reading, “shall maintain a list of all home education programs” does not mean a running total. This has caused significant confusion at the district and state level about the number of homeschoolers and general accountability. This needs to be resolved as it misleads districts and the public to think that New Hampshire is the Wild West for homeschoolers. We believe HEAC is exactly the place for these discussions to occur, and precisely why the council exists – to resolve points of confusion between the homeschool community and public-school districts and agencies. It is surprising that something of this significance remains unaddressed for so long.

The council discussed two pieces of legislation that impact homeschoolers: HB 1263 regarding year-end assessment reporting and HB 1650 regarding educational neglect. We covered these bills extensively over the last several months. Since HEAC’s January meeting, both bills received negative recommendations in committee. HB 1263 has a 20 to 0 Inexpedient to Legislate recommendation which kills the bill. HB 1650 has a 12 to 2 recommendation for Interim Study; in the second year of the biennium, it is also a kill recommendation. The entire NH House of Representatives is expected to vote on these bills the week of March 5th. Full updates of both bills and others are available in Accountability to Families or the State.

Towards the end of the meeting, Helen Rist (NH School Administrators Association) inquired to what extent homeschoolers may participate in district schools and still be considered homeschooling (video #3 beginning at 9:00). It prompted a dynamic discussion about the changing focus of education from seat time to mastery. Although it appears nowhere in home ed statute or rules, NH’s tradition is to require families to direct at least 51% of the child’s education to be considered homeschooling; the origin seems to be HEAC discussion in the early 2000s. This shift to mastery from seat time challenges that unwritten policy when homeschoolers want to utilize classes on a flexible schedule.

This is a good example of how HEAC can function as a communication bridge between the homeschool community and the public and nonpublic school groups. Unfortunately, there are obvious breakdowns, too.

Throughout the House Education Committee’s executive session on HB 1263 representatives mentioned that there are poor relationships between some districts and their local homeschool families. Chairman Rick Ladd said that a communication breakdown in Berlin is the likely cause of this unnecessary bill being introduced. The committee intends to write a letter to the state Board of Education asking them to encourage better communication between districts and resident homeschoolers; HEAC will likely be asked to be part of this engagement.

This is one of the core purposes of the Home Education Advisory Council – to be a bridge between the public and private school and home education communities. In home ed rules, Ed 315.08, HEAC is assigned particular responsibilities including “developing and maintaining effective communications between home educators and the public, and nonpublic schools and state and local agencies involved in home education.”

We have seen home education representatives faithfully attend meetings and bring concerns to the council. At the January meeting Chairman George D’Orazio explicitly encouraged a new council member to bring issues to the group before they become major problems (see video #3 at 8:10 mark). It is an underutilized resource that education entities could access before concerns escalate.

Poor communication is also a fundamental issue regarding HB 1650, the educational neglect bill recently before the House Children and Family Law Committee. As previously mentioned, the committee voted to send the bill to Interim Study, a way to kill the bill in the second year of the biennium. This bill brought several glaring problems to light.

During testimony it was stated that although DCYF is investigating more cases regarding educational neglect, the percentage with finding is stable at approximately 5%. They confirmed that the percentage involving home education is very small although they do not formally track the education environment in their reports. As we have noted in previous articles, HEAC has repeatedly claimed that educational neglect charges against homeschooling is a great concern, in part because DCYF seems to have a poor understanding of homeschooling practices and lacks familiarity with home ed statutes and rules. Although HEAC invited DCYF to their meetings multiple times, DCYF never attended. Alternatively, we urge HEAC to offer to provide a presentation to DCYF about NH homeschool requirements and practices, and to be a communication bridge to another state agency involved in overseeing education of NH homeschoolers. This can be done at no cost, other than volunteer time, and is in keeping with HEAC’s main purposes as stated in Ed 315.08.

If we read these rules correctly, HEAC could also request the state Department of Education and Board of Education to consider rules allowing them to be an ombudsman to DCYF in cases of home education neglect. Again, the purpose of HEAC is to be a communication bridge for “those public, and nonpublic schools and state and local agencies involved in home education.”

HEAC is empowered to initiate the request per Ed 315.08. In section (b) 2 it says the council’s responsibilities include “recommending to the commissioner and state board of education desired changes in rules pertaining to home education.” It does not specify that HEAC may only review proposed rules when initiated by statute changes which is the traditional approach HEAC takes to rule revisions.

Similarly, HEAC could ask the state DOE to issue a technical advisory to clarify the reporting requirements of Participating Agencies re homeschoolers. It is well within the scope of their responsibility to work with representatives of state agencies as well as public and nonpublic school officials to address this misunderstanding and work towards a solution.

This is an opportunity for HEAC to fulfill its core responsibility to the homeschool community and prove its value.

The Home Education Advisory Council’s next meeting is scheduled for March 8th 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. **UPDATE: Due to the expected storm, the next meeting is reschedule to Thursday, April 12th.**

Read more about HEAC at Slow Progress for HEAC and Educational Neglect BillWhat is HEAC’s Purpose, and Is HEAC Ignoring Rules.