A family in the Timberlane Regional School District, SAU 106, researched their Equal Access policy because they were hoping their student could participate in a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. Instead, they discovered the SAU’s policy dates back to 2005, is horribly inconsistent with home education law, and received hostile letters inquiring about their homeschool program after inquiring about the SAU’s policy.
In order to protect the family’s identity, we are calling them the Smith family and referring to the mom as Darla. The documents are redacted and shared with permission.
Following the passage of HB 1663 on June 2 that requires all NH districts to have an Equal Access policy, giving resident 193-A homeschoolers the option to participate in curricular and co-curricular programs at their local public schools, Darla hoped to enroll her child in a CTE class through their district. She discovered that Timberlane’s policy was last revised in 2005, years before the 2012 changes that limit homeschool notification to one-time only per child and no longer mandates families submit their children’s annual assessment results to their Participating Agency, and long before the recent changes by HB 1663. Their policy is inaccurate in several critical areas.
- Compulsory education attendance per RSA 193:1 is through age 18, not 16. The district cannot limit it to a younger age.
- Use of the district’s home ed notification form is optional, not mandatory.
- Notification is one-time only per child when initiating a home education program, not annual. This requirement changed in 2012.
- There is no specific date by which homeschoolers must file notification as long as it is within five days of withdrawing from school to avoid truancy. It also only needs to be filed with one of three choices for the Participating Agency: the local SAU office, a private school that offers this service, or the NH Department of Education and that entity is responsible for sending the family an acknowledgement letter within 14 days of receipt.
- The annual assessment standard is to demonstrate progress commensurate with the child’s age, ability, and/or disability.
- Families do not submit their annual assessment results to their Participating Agencies and there is no due date; that was removed from home ed law in 2012.
- All SAUs must have a policy consistent with RSA 193:1-c (changed by HB 1663) to allow participation in curricular and co-curricular programs for eligible resident students.
- When terminating a home education program, per HB 1663, families only notify their selected Participating Agency within 15 days.
Darla posted in a local Facebook group about what she found, and a former Timberlane school board member challenged her assertion that the policy is inconsistent with NH laws. With GSHE’s assistance, she shared the long list of inconsistencies. She also sent an email to the current school board asking for the policy to be reviewed and updated so it is inline with current NH statutes and cc’d the email to Commissioner Edelblut and GSHE.
A few days later, she received a hostile letter from Kelley Brooks, the director of special education at Timberlane. The letter asked for information that homeschoolers are not required to provide per RSA 193-A. In the letter, Ms. Brooks insisted upon receiving answers to the following questions:
- Have you filed a notice of intent to provide home education? If so, when and with whom? Where’s a copy of that notice?
- If [daughter’s name] is being educated at home, who is providing the home education? Are you providing the instruction or is a vendor?
- If you are using a vendor, who is the vendor? Did the public official or private school who received notice under #1 approve the use of that vendor for this student?
Out of concern that the SAU would send a truancy or DCYF officer to their home, GSHE counseled Darla to share a copy of their homeschool acknowledgement letter from the NH Department of Education, the Participating Agency they selected when they filed their notification letter in spring 2022. We also recommended she reach out to the NH Department of Education informing them of the intrusive and aggressive demands from Timberlane’s administration. We also told Darla about the legal services available to HSLDA members, should Timberlane escalate further.
The Smith family’s children were previously enrolled in the Timberlane Regional School District, but their daughter struggled with an IEP that was not well served during the Covid pandemic. She struggled with remote learning and the lack of services provided by the school. The family filed an Office of Civil Rights complaint (OCR special investigation), but ultimately withdrew their daughter in spring 2022 to home educate her.
That wasn’t good enough for Timberlane. The following day, Ms. Brooks sent an email to Darla demanding the additional extra-legal information be provided to the district.
GSHE counseled Darla to reply to Ms. Brooks that the information they want is beyond the requirements set in home ed law and any further demands will be considered harassment.
In follow-up with the NH DOE, we were informed that a department attorney is in communication with Timberlane to ensure they are aware of their proper legal scope of authority and the DOE is creating a Technical Advisory that will be sent to all SAUs to inform them of their responsibilities regarding home education and changes to law by HB 1663’s passage.
To date, the Smith family has not received additional communication from Ms. Brooks or any other official with the Timberlane district.
GSHE applauds Darla for speaking up to her local district in the face of such difficult circumstances. She hopes that her efforts help other families in the Timberlane community.
UPDATE: SAU 106 updated their Policy IHBG regarding Home Education Instruction and adopted Policy JJJ regarding Access to Public School Programs by Nonpublic, Charter School, and Home Educated Pupils in compliance with NH statutes RSA 193-A and RSA 193:1-c at their board meeting on October 6, 2022.
Although GSHE is not a legal firm and does not offer legal advice, we advocate on behalf of NH 193-A homeschoolers and do our best to support and counsel them when difficulties or misunderstanding arise with their districts.
By Michelle Levell