The Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) held their bi-monthly meeting on Thursday, November 9th and made progress on several operational issues. We were again present and recorded their discussion; it is in six segments and published on our YouTube channel.
2017 November HEAC meeting part 1
2017 November HEAC meeting part 2
2017 November HEAC meeting part 3
2017 November HEAC meeting part 4
2017 November HEAC meeting part 5
2017 November HEAC meeting part 6
Chairman George D’Orazio informed the council that the website is updated to reflect current members and anticipated meeting dates. There are open seats for the NH School Board Association, the NH School Principals Association, and a new vacancy for a homeschool group. David Menard from Christian Home Educators of NH (CHENH), resigned from HEAC. Commissioner Frank Edelblut appoints members and interested people can send their resumes and contact information to him at Frank.Edelblut@doe.nh.gov.
For several months, HEAC has considered meeting procedures and recently several inconsistencies with NH’s governance statutes came to light. Sen. Ruth Ward confirmed from senate legal counsel that a meeting may take place without a quorum and minutes are required for every meeting. Mr. D’Orazio also announced Department of Education legal counsel will give a briefing on RSA 91-A procedures at their January meeting. He also said there is a lack of familiarity of HEAC with the public-school associations and the homeschool community that he hopes the council can improve. He suspects that lack of awareness and poor communication may be contributing factors in the upcoming hostile homeschool bill. Ms. Ellie Riel of the state Department of Education suggested adding a note to a department technical advisory to help keep SAU superintendents better informed re homeschool law and HEAC. Intermittently throughout the meeting, Mr. D’Orazio reviewed proposed meeting procedures with the most salient regarding a quorum and the state BOE annual report taking place in video #4 starting at 2:30. The council adopted the meeting procedures as amended (section 1 to 7) with the Annual Report to the state BOE procedures postponed until their January meeting. Note that the draft November 2017 meeting minutes do not include the original nor amended versions of the adopted meeting procedures. At the end of the meeting (video #5 starting at 13:13), the attending homeschooling parent said that only the two most recent annual reports are available and HEAC minutes prior to September 2013 have been removed from the website without any indication where the records are available. For full disclosure, we filed a Right to Know letter with the DOE requesting this information, but have not received it yet. Complying with RSA 91-A, determining a quorum, and transparency have been significant challenges for the council for many years, so this is slow, but notable progress.
Rep. William Marsh, also a homeschool parent, attended to speak about a meeting he and Mr. D’Orazio had with Commissioner Frank Edelblut in June regarding how educational neglect referrals are investigated (see video #2 starting at 11:42). Currently the Division of Children, Youth, and Family Services (DCYF) handles educational neglect cases as it is a category of child neglect and therefore under their jurisdiction. Rep. Marsh and Mr. D’Orazio talked with the Commissioner about changing state DOE policy so the department, not DCYF, would review cases that exclusively involve education issues as truancy concerns. Later, when Commissioner Edelblut visited the council (see video #3 at 7:57), he did not recall the conversation and said the DOE cannot change policy without legislative authority. Commissioner Edelblut indicated he is not aware of persistent problems that warrant additional intervention and under current law SAU superintendents can investigate truancy concerns that may involve home educated students. It would seem that a simple, non-legislative solution was not successful as hoped.
As written, educational neglect can unfairly target home-educating families. Under existing law, RSA 169-C, who else in addition to homeschoolers could be charged with educational neglect? Would a family with a child enrolled in a public school be charged with educational neglect? Would a private school family be investigated? Likely not. If the child was not in school, it is considered truancy which is handled by the state DOE and local SAU offices and the presumption is that public and private schools provide a satisfactory education. Primarily homeschooling families would need to prove the quality of their educational program.
Although not discussed at the HEAC meeting, there is a bill filed for 2018, House Bill 1650, that would remove educational neglect as a type of child neglect. It strikes the phrase “education as required by law” from RSA169-C:3. Concerns about homeschool education would then default to truancy investigations under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Education and individual families would have the opportunity to provide evidence that they satisfy NH’s compulsory attendance laws per RSA 193-A. It take away a big fear home-educating families face – that their children could be removed from their home by DCYF. It allows DCYF to focus on higher priority investigations. The bill also removes education-only investigations from DCYF which is poorly equipped or trained to evaluate education concerns, ansd places it in the hands of the state DOE. Further, it places homeschoolers on a level playing field with families who choose public or private schools. Finally, if a home-educating family is investigated for educational neglect beyond truancy concerns, current statute requires them to maintain the Letter of Intent acknowledgement letter from their Participating Agency, reading log, work samples, and year-end assessment which provides evidence against such charges.
We will continue to follow HB 1650 and other legislation impacting homeschoolers and report on it as needed.
The Home Education Advisory Council will hold their next meeting on January 11th 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.