When the homeschool movement was new, and homeschooling was legalized in New Hampshire in 1990, the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) served a useful purpose. They were the homeschool liaison to education policy makers. They explained homeschooling when legislators sought to change home education laws and when administrative rules were updated. They also served as an intermediary when there were difficulties with local school districts.
In 1990, the home education law required curriculum approval and included provisions for probation and termination if programs did not meet local school superintendents’ inspection. HEAC members served in the grievance proceedings. However, the current law has not had these elements for many years, greatly reducing the utility of HEAC.
The benefits of HEAC are much reduced now that homeschooling has been legally recognized as an educational option in the Granite State for over 25 years. Administrators, superintendents, and parents are much more comfortable with homeschooling and there are thousands of resources available thanks to the internet. That includes access to and communication with other homeschooling parents, support groups, superintendents and legislative officials when questions and difficulties arise. Now that homeschoolers do not have to provide annual evaluations to their Participating Agencies (local SAUs or private schools), the need for an intermediary for dispute resolutions is greatly reduced.
One of the biggest issues with the current HEAC is that it is not transparent or accountable to the broader NH homeschool community. The limited groups that comprise HEAC do not reflect the growing and dynamic changes that have developed since the council was created in 1990.
The members of HEAC are nominated from the three large statewide homeschool organizations: the NH Homeschool Coalition (NHHC), Catholics United for Home Education (CUHE), and Christian Home Educators of NH (CHENH). These are the only organizations that have represented homeschoolers on HEAC since its inception. Although they are not specifically named in the statute, there is no process for any additional organizations to be represented. The process may be different for each organization, but for example, the NHHC representatives nominate someone to represent them on HEAC; it is not a direct election from their membership. It is a particular concern because NHHC reps are rarely contested positions and are elected with only a handful of members casting votes. Additionally, although HEAC meetings are open, the public is not allowed to speak unless specifically given permission to do so. These are not hallmarks of a representative body.
HEAC is also not transparent to the homeschool community. Their minutes are rarely posted to the DOE website, or not posted in a timely manner (as of August 2015, only three sets of minutes were posted for the 2014-2015 year), and only have the barest of information. Although HEAC holds monthly meetings September through June, nothing has been posted since the June 2015 minutes as of this writing. This creates something of a black hole that does not serve the homeschool community.
Additionally, HEAC does not consistently represent homeschoolers’ interests. In August 2015, HEAC submitted an annual report to the state Board of Education suggesting that the current home education law is deficient. Their report claims there is significant confusion over meeting compulsory school attendance due to the 2012 changes to home ed law. They quibble over the meaning of “attend” and “provide” as it regards homeschooling attendance. Yet only a handful of documentation difficulties are elevated to a significant issue each year. “Push out” practices, or school administrators effectively forcing students out of the district into homeschooling, continues in some districts. Many of these difficulties could be handled with a well-written FAQ, the functions already provided by these statewide support groups or other well-established homeschool advocates.
Probably the most shocking note in the annual report is a brief reference to a possible child abuse situation. Other than the category labeled as “deliberate misuse of the law,” there is nothing to indicate that the homeschool representatives said anything to dismiss the conflation of child abuse with homeschooling. There is a little more information in the June 2015 minutes.
“The school district contacted Heather [Gage of the state DOE] to find out if there was anything more that can be done to follow up on the child, and thought perhaps there need to be rules to prohibit the initiation of a home education program during the course of ongoing abuse/neglect investigations.”
If abuse or neglect is suspected, there are laws and processes already well established in law to handle them. Leave homeschooling out of it. Unfortunately there is nothing to indicate the HEAC members said anything to defend homeschoolers or that changes to home education laws are unnecessary.
New Hampshire homeschoolers have benefited from several significant changes to deregulate home education laws. However, one of the organizations represented on HEAC and several individuals in leadership worked against those efforts. Home education laws improved in 2006 when HB 406 was passed. A NHHC representative, Dawn Lincoln, independently worked to bring HB 406 to the legislature. It removed the scope and sequence annual notification requirement; removed language that empowered the DOE commissioner to “permit” a parent to homeschool; and removed text that gave the DOE commissioner the power to require a family to attend a hearing to determine if they were in compliance with the law. Unfortunately, several people in NHHC leadership opposed this bill out of concerns that the changes would leave homeschoolers vulnerable to educational neglect charges. Others were very helpful working through the amendment language as the bill worked through the committees.
“As the author of HB 406, I worked independently of NHHC to have this homeschool freedom bill introduced to the NH legislature. I was shocked and appalled that the majority of the NHHC board were very unsupportive of this effort to reduce the red tape and arbitrary requirements on homeschooling families. Their reluctance to support additional homeschooling freedom, a measure which had widespread support in the community at large, proves without a doubt that there is a major disconnect between NHHC’s board and the majority of homeschoolers in NH.” – Dawn Lincoln, former NHHC representative and homeschooling parent
While individuals may hold any opinion on legislation, it is important to know where they stand on these issues if they are supposed to represent the larger homeschool community. Additionally, in 2011 Rep James Parison, who still serves as the President of Christian Home Educators of NH, sponsored a bill that would have criminalized homeschoolers for annual reporting failures. Rep. Parison sponsored HB 301 that effectively declared homeschoolers guilty until proven innocent to refute educational neglect charges. This would have been particularly harmful to unschoolers and students with special needs. More recently, HEAC chairman and long-time representative on the NHHC board, Amy Gall, said in a January 2014 Nashua Telegraph article that the 2012 change to one-time-only notification created an “information vacuum.” She went on further to say, “Short of sending truant officers to knock on every door in town, it’s hard to see how they [superintendents] can be certain [who is participating in a homeschool program].” The article failed to explain the purpose and background of removing the year-end reporting requirement or changing to one-time notification. Are these opinions counter to less restrictive laws? Do they reflect the broader homeschool community in New Hampshire?
In 2009 there was an effort to pass two draconian bills, HB 367 and HB 368, that would have made New Hampshire among the heaviest regulated in the country. Homeschoolers turned out by the hundreds to oppose the bills at their public hearings. There were so many families in attendance that Representatives’ Hall and the upper gallery were filled to capacity. There was massive push-back against both bills by homeschoolers across the state, even by organizations that do not usually cover home education issues. HB 367 was defeated in a voice vote, but unfortunately HB 368 was retained for additional study that continued to the next session. When the NH House of Representatives took up the bill again in January 2010 homeschoolers returned to Concord in a massive rally. Representatives said they felt like they had to “walk a gauntlet” just to enter the State House. The bill was overwhelmingly defeated in a roll call vote of 324 against it to 34 in support. The Concord Monitor published an article about the bill just before the House vote.
However, that was not satisfactory to the few who supported the additional regulation. Some members of the House Education Committee, including then Chairman, the Honorable Emma Rous who now serves on the state Board of Education, wrote a letter to the BOE urging them to implement the changes of HB 367 and HB 368 without the legislative authority to do so. (It is very interesting to note which House Education Committee members signed the letter in support of this effort.) Friendly members of the House Ed Committee tipped off homeschoolers about this backdoor effort and the community, including HEAC, the major statewide homeschool support groups, NH House leadership, friendly legislators, and many other organizations sounded the alarm. The pressure had to be maintained well into spring. This massive outcry made it impossible for the BOE to implement those changes to Ed 315, the administrative rules that govern home education. While HEAC was an important part in the resistance and was the official “last defense”, it was the community’s united and sustained effort that defeated this unprecedented attack on homeschooling.
It is important to know that HB 1414 – the current bill to disband HEAC, has three sponsors that are current or former homeschooling parents who are also long-time advocates for home education and parents’ rights. Additionally, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), supports this legislation. They state,
“Over the years the New Hampshire homeschool law has evolved and has improved and simplified…Since 2011, the HEAC has become unnecessary since rules are no longer required to interpret the law which is why Rep Hoell is proposing to get rid of the HEAC which require numerous appointed individuals (from both state government, public education associations and state wide homeschool groups) to meet regularly.”
Because CHENH is the New Hampshire chapter of HSLDA, we anticipate that they will support or at least not oppose this bill. We also expect a friendly amendment will be introduced to completely remove the Board of Education’s rule-making authority from the statute. New Hampshire’s home education statutes are clear and do not need this additional bureaucratic layer to interpret their meaning. The amendment would remove the primary need for HEAC.
Although HEAC served an important role when homeschooling was new, its value to the community has greatly diminished. It has very poor transparency and accountability to the broad and diverse home education people it is supposed to represent. The statewide support organizations have served, and continue to serve the homeschool community well and there are many additional support groups available across the state. Homeschoolers are some of the friendliest and most helpful people around and are usually eager to assist when challenges arise. However, HB 1414 with the anticipated amendment should pass. The bill will not change the current home education notification or reporting statutes. NH’s homeschoolers do not need an obsolete level of centralized authority that poorly represents their interests.
HB 1414 will have a public hearing before the House Education Committee on Thursday, January 28th at 11:20am in the Legislative Office Building (LOB) room 207. The LOB is located immediately behind the State House at 33 N. State Street in Concord. Here are driving directions to the State House and a map of area parking. The public is welcome to provide written or oral testimony, and may sign the “blue sheet” to indicate support or opposition to any bill. Alternatively, brief and polite phone calls are most effective, but emails are fine. The General Court website is experiencing several technical difficulties (the committee’s email is not always working), so contact the Representatives directly. Particularly mention if you are a constituent.
Emails for each member of the House Education Committee: