This summer several efforts brought Participating Agency irregularities to our attention.
Granite State Home Educators 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 private schools that think they must forward families’ Letters of Intent, not just report the number on the form from the NH Department of Education each October. This is exacerbated by the department’s failure to collect data from schools the last couple years, as we reported in fall 2017. Many schools mistakenly think they must receive and review students’ year-end assessments; one requires reporting students participate in their annual testing. Many public and private schools think they are responsible for confirming that home-educated students are making satisfactory academic progress. However, in 2012 the home ed statute changed to allow families to keep year-end assessments private and not share results with their Participating Agencies.
Deviations were noted among public schools regarding how they handle homeschooling families that use them for Participating Agency services. Many local districts have policies that are not consistent with state law and rules. 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 encourage all home educating families to double-check their local district’s policies to make sure they are consistent with state statute and rules.
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 acknowledgment 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.
Timberlane is another district that goes beyond requirements regarding their resident homeschoolers. They routinely contact families for their children’s grade levels, want notification by August 1st of each year, and limit the student’s age for beginning a home ed program. Like so many other districts, Timberlane also incorrectly demands the year-end assessment results of reporting families.
Additionally, 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.
We brought these concerns to the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) as well as the NH Department of Education.
In mid-October, the NH DOE issued a technical advisory clarifying the requirements for Participating Agencies and home educating families. It clearly states that Participating Agencies – both public and private schools – cannot require more of homeschoolers than specified in statute and rules. It also underscores the 2012 law changes that require notification only once per child, not annually. The advisory also emphasizes that annual assessments may be kept private by the family and not submitted to the Participating Agency.
The NH DOE also created a form that families may use as their Letter of Intent to submit to their local SAU, a private school providing Participating Agency services, or the department. This makes it clear what information is required.
Home educating families are encouraged to share the new technical advisory with their SAUs and Participating Agencies if they find requirements that go beyond what is required in law, RSA 193-A, and home-education rules, Ed 315. All families should be familiar with their rights and responsibilities as homeschoolers. Open lines of communication and patience can go a long way to foster good relationships with SAUs and other education providers. You are your own best advocates!