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January 24, 2017

Granite State Homeschoolers Unite for Freedom

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New Hampshire homeschooling families treasure their freedom. A recent trip to my home state reinforced this fact in my mind.

Mike Donnelly MIKE DONNELLY Contact attorney for New Hampshire

I was in Concord to speak to the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) regarding concerns some members had about increased interaction between the homeschool community and the state Division for Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). I also met with some state legislators who are backing a bill to reduce the rule-making bureaucracy that regulates homeschooling.

The highlight of my trip was getting to know a couple of amazing homeschooling families, whose fascinating background and passion for education showed me again why our movement is so vibrant.

Positive Meeting

My meeting with HEAC was brief but important.

I spoke with HEAC members about reports I’d heard that some state education officials had suggested adding a DCYF worker as a voting member of the council. As I understood it, the suggestion had to do with concerns about a “rising trend” of educational neglect investigations involving homeschool families.

Although this is interesting, the statistics simply do not warrant giving the DCYF a vote on the HEAC board. Dialogue with the agency is certainly a good idea, but only if knowing more about how social workers conduct investigations can help protect homeschooling families from misguided government intervention.

Strong Families

HSLDA’s concerns about how government investigations can disrupt families was echoed by parents I spoke with at the HEAC meeting.

James and Misty Batchelder have only just begun homeschooling their own kids, but James remembers his own homeschool education, which took place at a time when the practice could be risky.

“At the time [my parents] began homeschooling … we lived in Massachusetts, and it was illegal,” James said. “There’s a certain element of fear there, and legal representation is something that’s important to us.”

Erica Layon, another mom I talked to, said she recognizes the harm that can be done by intrusive investigators.

“It’s scary how often it goes wrong,” she said, referring specifically to interaction with social workers. “While most of the caseworkers are good people, there are some that are there for the power and some that are there for an agenda.”

Erica has a very interesting story: she’s ending her career as a stock analyst to become a full-time homeschooling mom. As she puts it, “I’m leaving Wall Street to go to my street.”

When I asked her why she made this decision, she didn’t hesitate. “How could I not?” she said. “My kids are amazing. I want to spend time with them. I want to make sure they love learning.”

Freedom Bill

While in the capital I also conferred with a couple of state legislators who are homeschooling dads, J.R. Hoell and Bill Marsh. Representative Hoell is introducing legislation that would take the authority to make rules about home education from the state board of education and put it entirely in the hands of the legislature.

HSLDA supports this bill because New Hampshire’s law, after years of work, is now so straightforward and sufficient that extra rules are no longer needed. As a matter of simplicity, parents should not have to consult both a statute and rules in order to homeschool.

While there may be technical areas where a legislative body might need to delegate some rule-making authority to regulators, home education should not be one of them. We see the state department of education’s rule-making authority as overly broad and unnecessary.

Some have argued that the rules contain helpful clarifications. To the extent that this is true, I recommend that these be identified and possibly incorporated into the law. Representative Hoell says that he is willing to work with the homeschool community to identify what provisions should be included.

Since my return to Virginia we have learned that another homeschooling father, Frank Edelblut, has been nominated for state commissioner of education. Mr. Edelblut and I have already spoken and he has assured me that he intends to protect homeschooling freedom in New Hampshire.

Although homeschooling families in New Hampshire should be pleased to have so many advocates in the government, vigilance is no less important. We are grateful for the support and energy of our many member families in the Granite State.