Level the Playing Field for Homeschoolers
The House Children and Family Law Committee recently held a public hearing on HB 1650, a bill that removes education-only investigations from the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to the responsibility of the state Department of Education and local SAUs like other concerns regarding compulsory attendance.
We testified in support of the bill and share our testimony below. All members of the general public had an opportunity to speak at the original time, but the hearing was recessed to allow DCYF and CPS to testify. The hearing will continue on Tuesday, February 13th at approximately 3:45pm and we plan to attend. The committee will vote on the bill Tuesday, February 20th at 11:00am when they will decide to support (Ought to Pass) or oppose (Inexpedient to Legislate) the bill, amend it, or send it to study. The committee can be reached at CFL@leg.state.nh.us. Read more about HB 1650 at Homeschooling Is Not Neglect.
January 30, 2018
To: House Children & Family Law Committee
From: Michelle Levell, Director, School Choice for NH
Re: HB 1650, removing education as required by law as a criterion for determining child neglect
My name is Michelle Levell and I am the Director of School Choice for NH, an all-volunteer coalition of concerned citizens, families, and leaders that advocates for educational options in the Granite State. I submit this testimony in support of HB 1650, removing education as a criteria of child neglect.
Homeschooling is neither abuse nor neglect and should not be investigated as such. DCYF has more critical cases that need their resources.
HB 1650 is a simple bill that removes education as a component of neglect and responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Under current rules, educational neglect essentially targets home-educating families. Under RSA 169-C, who else could be charged with educational neglect? Would a family with a child enrolled in a public or private school be investigated? Likely not. Right now, homeschooling families need to prove the quality of their educational program to a state agency that is not equipped or trained for this purpose. More disturbing, homeschooling families can be targeted by antagonists and busybodies through anonymous DCYF allegations.
There is confusion about whether or not DCYF investigates education-only cases.
In the October 2015 Home Education Advisory Council minutes, there is a note that says “The [SAU] administrator was told that DCYF won’t investigate families for educational neglect issues.”
In the January 2017 HEAC minutes, then Chairman Amy Gall gave the following report:
Amy reported that she has pulled together a list of all of the contacts reported by HEAC members regarding DCYF and home education since the law changed in 2012 to remove the DOE hearing for allegations of educational neglect:
Number of HEAC Contacts Re DCYF & Home Ed
2017 1 as of 1/12/17
In this same report, the following is noted:
A North Carolina high school administrator called for information on a family that had withdrawn their teen child to homeschool and moved to New Hampshire. The administrator intended to report the family to NH DCYF for educational neglect unless she received proof that the family was in compliance with NH homeschooling law.
We don’t know if this family had previous problems in NC that justify the notification; however, if we take it at face value as the type of education issues reported to DCYF to merit notation in the HEAC Chairman’s report, it is difficult to understand why this should divert DCYF’s limited time from critical cases of child abuse or neglect.
This is fairly typical for the kind of “contact” HEAC has re DCYF. As we revealed in our October 2016 article, these “contacts” to HEAC are largely not homeschooling issues.
“Going through the last three years of meeting minutes, it appears that there were concerns that one public-school family was suspected of child abuse who then filed to homeschool their child (June 2015). They shortly returned to the public school per the September 2015 minutes. There is one other vague reference in the January 2013 minutes pertaining to concerns with one family. Other than to indicate the family consulted with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), there is no mention how it was resolved. There was also a brief note in the October 2015 minutes that a district superintendent suspected that a student was withdrawn from public school to babysit a younger sibling. Per the minutes the family was reported to DCYF and they responded that they do not investigate families for educational neglect. While child abuse is abhorrent and not to be taken lightly, how are these homeschooling issues, particularly the spring 2015 case involving a child who was and is again enrolled in the local public school? “
Also in the May 2017 HEAC minutes:
Of the 34 cases, was education the only issue being investigated? Of the 34 children with a substantiation of educational neglect, 16 had no other allegation of concern during the assessment that led to the finding of educational neglect.
Can DCYF determine how many of those 34 children were from a homeschool environment as opposed to a public or private school environment? There is currently no way to pull data to differentiate home educational neglect from other educational neglect.
What is the procedural process when a report of home-educational neglect is made? The procedural processes are the same as investigating any other allegation of abuse or neglect as listed on the DCYF website.
If HB 1650 becomes law, concerns about homeschool education clearly become the responsibility of the state Department of Education and local SAUs as truancy and compulsory attendance issues they are already empowered to address. These laws apply to all children age 6 to 18, including home-educated students. HB 1650 allows DCYF to focus on higher priority investigations. The bill removes education-only investigations from DCYF which is poorly equipped and trained to evaluate education concerns, and places it in the hands of the state and local education professionals that already have this responsibility.
If investigations are needed, families have the opportunity to provide evidence that they satisfy NH’s compulsory attendance laws per RSA 193-A. It takes away a big fear home-educating families face – that their children could be removed from their home by DCYF simply for failing to file paperwork or a misunderstanding of home education statutes.
In the May 2017 HEAC minutes, Chairman Amy Gall remarked,
“A family with a Down syndrome child withdrew their child to homeschool because they were concerned with behaviors the child was learning at school. They were worried that they would be reported to DCYF because they are homeschooling their special needs child.”
The January 2017 HEAC minutes reports:
A family with multiple special-needs children lost their housing, began homeschooling because one child was medically fragile, and then were reported to DCYF for educational neglect.
Further, HB 1650 places homeschoolers on a level playing field with families who choose public or private schools. Current statutes for home education requires families to maintain the Letter of Intent and acknowledgement letter from their Participating Agency, reading logs, work samples, and year-end assessments which may serve as evidence against educational neglect charges. Investigations can be handled on a case-by-case basis and are fully in line with existing truancy and compulsory education statutes.
In fall 2016 we were contacted by a family that moved from one NH town to one in the Timberlane school district. The family was already homeschooling in compliance with applicable statutes, and filed their Letter of Intent (LOI) with a private school as allowed in law when they began their home ed program a few years earlier. The district wanted to confirm their compliance and sent the family letters asking for evidence and a truancy officer visited their home. It was resolved when the family showed the district a copy of their LOI and acknowledgement letter from the private school. This shows that local districts can and already do exercise their authority to check on homeschool compliance as needed. There is no need for DCYF to investigate education-only issues.
This bill does not alter investigations that go beyond educational concerns. Child abuse and neglect is abhorrent and should not be tolerated, and would continue to be under the jurisdiction of DHHS and DCYF.
Please support HB 1650. Let DCYF concentrate their efforts where they’re needed most. Please give this bill an Ought to Pass recommendation.
The following references are supplemental to our testimony.
In the January 2012 HEAC minutes, Lorraine Bartlett of DCYF spoke to the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) about the process they used to investigate neglect cases, prior to a home ed law change in spring 2012. This is what the process would revert back to with HB 1650.
“Ms. Bartlett explained the process by which DCYF investigates complaints of abuse or neglect. Of the approximately 24,000 calls DCYF receives each year, only about 8,000 calls warrant department action. Ms. Bartlett stressed that the primary mandate for DCYF is child safety and that DCYF does not get involved if a complaint is simply about the education of a child. Any claim DCYF staff receives must be sufficiently documented before the department will begin an investigation. The department does not investigate undocumented complaints, but considers them opportunities to provide information and referral. The number of cases dealing with homeschoolers is extremely small. For example, Ms. Bartlett could recall only one case in the last six months that involved a homeschooling family, but the charges did not pertain to homeschooling. Although a record of truancy would be included in the information DCYF reviews, it is the responsibility of resident school districts to deal with lack of documentation for homeschooling programs. Ms. Bartlett said that DCYF would contact the resident school district if complaints of educational neglect were made purely because of homeschooling.”
The legislative findings for HB 1650 are important to put this bill into context. NH does not have evidence of widespread educational neglect of all educational setting, not only home education.
1 Statement of Findings.
- The general court hereby finds that:
(a) The annual home education advisory council (HEAC) report indicates that in 2016 the division for children, youth and families investigated almost 600 allegations of educational neglect involving children in all types of educational settings, but substantiated only 34, a 95 percent rate of chasing false leads.
Given the recent news story of a horrible abuse situation in CA, it is appropriate to address that concern. Below are brief excerpts from relevant articles.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (Administration for Children & Families) released a report on known factors related to abuse and child neglect. According to this government report, there are a few demographic groups who are known to be at a higher risk for abuse than the rest of the populace. Home educators were not included in this list. There is no known predisposition for abuse among those who choose to home educate their children. To suggest that parents who are investing their own time and resources to teach their own children at home is a “red flag” for potential abuse, is to suggest that what we need in our culture is less parental involvement in education, when all research available to us resoundingly reinforces the fact that we need far more.
Many advocates would suggest placing that child into a public-school system as the solution to protect them from potential abuse from their parents. But now the child simply faces a new predator danger: teachers who prey sexually on their students. The U.S. Department of Education has published a report on “Educator Sexual Misconduct.” It reveals that over 10% of students experienced some kind of sexual misconduct in their high school years in public school. “This analysis (Shakeshaft, 2003) indicates that 9.6 percent of all students in grades 8 to 11 report contact and/or noncontact educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted. 8.7 percent report only noncontact sexual misconduct and 6.7 percent experienced only contact misconduct. (These total to more than 9.6 percent because some students reported both types of misconduct.) Of students who experienced any kind of sexual misconduct in schools, 21 percent were targets of educators, while the remaining 79 percent were targets of other students.” (Educator Sexual Misconduct)
One of the justifications for increasing regulation mentioned in the article and by history professor Jeremy C. Young, is that since 2000, 123 non-accidental fatalities have occurred in homeschooling homes. That’s about 7.25 per year! This is true, so far as we can tell, but to suppose that each of these deaths was correlative with the families’ decision to homeschool is tenuous at best, a logical fallacy at worse. Besides, this number pales to the total number of child deaths due to abuse and neglect, which in 2015 alone reached 1,670. That’s a 22,000% greater incident rate among non-homeschooling families than it is among homeschooling families. If I were to continue this line of argumentation, I could make the case that it’s more dangerous for children to NOT be homeschooled.
Based on empirical evidence to date, there is an unacceptably high rate of abuse of US schoolchildren by school personnel (eg teachers, coaches, bus drivers, administrators, custodians). The multiple laws, regulations, and policies related to public and private schools result in a very small fraction of abuse incidents by school personnel ever being reported to law enforcement or child welfare personnel.
There is an unacceptably high rate of abuse of children by parents in general in the United States. Multiple laws and regulations have not stopped it.
The limited empirical evidence available to date shows that abuse of children in homeschool families is lower than in the general public. There is no evidence that it is higher in homeschool families. Williams (2017) appropriately asked the following: “Why impose regulations on families who already are prone to a lower fatality rate than the rest of the nation? There appears to be no good reason.”
There is no empirical evidence that increasing government control or regulation over homeschooling will significantly reduce the abuse of home educated children. There is evidence that certain proposals for increasing government control over homeschooling would infringe on the basic historical and classical liberal freedoms and US constitutional rights of homeschooling families.
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