We spent the last several months hosting Intro to Homeschooling sessions across the state at which we talked with approximately 150 prospective and new homeschooling families. It was wonderful to personally connect with so many devoted families.
We learned several things talking with all these parents.
Although some families know from the start that they intend to home educate their children, many come to that decision after difficult circumstances, often regarding academic fit or safety concerns. It is a decision they do not take lightly and they are fully committed to making their home education experience as successful as possible.
Additionally, families are often a bit trepidatious and need support from veteran homeschoolers. Many local support groups are welcoming to new members, but it can be difficult to plug in when families are new to the homeschool community. While Granite State Home Educators is successful at bringing the larger community together, it cannot replace the frequent in-person opportunities that local groups provide. Both statewide and local groups play critical roles in encouraging and mentoring homeschooling families.
We did a random review of roughly 90 school districts’ home education policies and discovered that nearly all are inconsistent with state law. The problems vary, but seem to trace back to the NH School Board Association’s sample policy written in 2015 that we reported in March and brought to the Home Education Advisory Council’s attention. The NHSBA gave a revised version to HEAC for comment. It is unclear if any district has received the updated policy and made changes to align with state law. We hope HEAC will follow-up with the NHSBA and encourage them to work with their member districts to adopt these important changes.
Nashua continues to be one of the more problematic districts for resident homeschooling families. They insist on annual notification and harass families who sent in their Letter of Intent in previous years. They are also sending out acknowledgement letters only for the current academic year even though the notification portion of state statute changed in 2012 to require one-time only notification, not annual. They are also insisting that families notify the SAU, not private schools, as allowed in home ed statute. At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, we hopefully fixed the Nashua SAU’s homeschool form that erroneously asked for information beyond state law such as the child’s race, place of birth, home language, and assigned district school. It is not clear if the SAU is using the revised form or continuing to send out the one demanding extraneous information.
Districts are either misinformed or deliberately failing to provide special ed testing to resident homeschoolers. Per the federal Child Find law, families can request special ed testing of their children and districts must make it available. We met several families across the state who said their local SAUs refused to do testing for their homeschooled children. This underscores how important it is for families to understand what is available to them through their local districts, whether it is special ed testing or equal access to curricular and extra-curricular activities.
This summer we did a thorough review and update of the private schools serving as Participating Agencies for the homeschool community. Participating Agencies are those schools that homeschooling families send their Letter of Intent to when they begin their home ed program. Families can report to their local SAU, private schools that offer this service, or the NH Department of Education. We discovered widespread misunderstandings including schools that think they must forward families’ Letters of Intent, not just report the number on the form from the NH DOE. This is exacerbated by the department’s failure to collect the data from schools the last couple years, as we reported last fall. Many others mistakenly think they must receive and review students’ year-end assessments; they think they are responsible for confirming that home-educated students are making satisfactory academic progress. In 2012 the home ed statute changed to allow families to keep year-end assessments private and not share results with their Participating Agencies. We asked the NH DOE to issue a technical advisory to address these misunderstandings. We shared this information with HEAC and asked that they also follow up with the NH DOE to ensure this is addressed.
In general, all these issues point to areas where the Home Education Advisory Council should more effectively serve the homeschool community. HEAC consists of six homeschool organizations, representatives from public-school lobbying organizations, the NH DOE, and legislative members. They need to ensure information is shared to their constituents and that home ed policies and practices are consistent with state law. When inconsistent policies and practices are discovered, they are responsible for rectifying these problems. Homeschool families should be informed when widespread problems are brought forward so they know what to be mindful of when working with districts. HEAC’s homeschool members also need to follow-up with their public-school peers, particularly the NHSBA, to make sure these issues are addressed. HEAC’s mission is to be a communication bridge between the homeschool and public-school communities. HEAC has the ability to empower families to be advocates for their homeschool rights and that begins with informing them and holding the public-school entities accountable. Hopefully they are on a better track to implement their mission. The coming year will be very critical for HEAC to prove their value.
The next Home Education Advisory Council’s meeting is Thursday, September 13th 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.
Read more about HEAC here:
UPDATE: HEAC is rescheduling their next meeting to Thursday, September 27th. Their schedule for the 2018-2019 year is as follows: September 27, November 29, January 24, March 28, and May 23.