To: Senator Edward M. Gordon
chairman of the study committee to review field activities conducted by the
department of health and human services relative to children, youth and families
The concerns which I would like to address today are not motivated by a specific case, but rather by the framework for investigating educational neglect which exists under current procedures and practices of the Division of Children, Youth and Families.
In the DCYF Manual, educational neglect is defined as "any minor age 6 to 16, who is not meeting mandated educational requirements as a result of the behavior of the caregiver and not the truant behavior of the child. Educational neglect exists only after remediation attempts have been undertaken by school personnel, including truant officers, court, and school social workers, and they have provided written documentation as to these attempts, and they have excluded other causes for non-attendance other than abuse or neglect. Refusal to consent to educational testing or to sign an individual education plan (IEP) does not constitute educational neglect."
Since 1991, home educators in NH have operated under RSA 193-A, the home education law. This law specifies certain procedures which home educators must follow to comply with RSA 193:1, the compulsory attendance law. Should disagreements arise between school officials and a home educator about compliance with the home education law, there is a grievance procedure specified in RSA 193-A:7 which involves the Commissioner of Education and the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) (see attached).
In order to make it clear to DCYF employees that home educators are entitled to this due process, I would like to see the definition of educational neglect include specific mention of this, by inserting the words, "and in the case of home educators, commissioner of education and Home Education Advisory Council". As you can see in an attached memo from Elaine Rapp, HEAC chairperson, to the New Hampshire Home Education Community, similar changes were once agreed to by Ms. Lorrie Lutz, a former Director of DCYF (then DCYS), but never implemented.
In 1993, when those changes were agreed upon, it was hoped that this would be sufficient to prevent unnecessary intrusion into the lives of home educating families by DCYF. As practitioners of an alternative lifestyle, home educating families are often overly scrutinized by a well-meaning but misinformed public. I am sure that the DCYF intake unit receives calls reporting children who "should be in school", but who turn out to be home educated. If the procedures outlined in Ms. Lutz’ letter to Judy Fillion were ever put into effect, the intrusion into a family’s life by such misguided reports would have been minimal.
In 1999, however, there is a new element, the existence of BRIDGES, the computerized statewide system to track reports of suspected child abuse. I am sure the committee is aware of the potential prejudicial effect of an entry into BRIDGES, even for a report of truancy that is unfounded. And even before BRIDGES, there is the issue of fairness of having the government keep records on the activities of individuals who are not involved in any wrongdoing.
I would like the committee to take action to ensure that citizens who are exercising their legal rights are not subjected to the equivalent of surveillance by the DCYF. Specifically, I am requesting that the committee pursue remedies to ensure that reports of truancy that are reported by the general public are not treated as unfounded reports, but rather as referrals. Callers reporting suspected truancy should be referred to the superintendent of the child’s district, and if that cannot be ascertained, to the department of education. There is no need for DCYF to contact superintendents directly. There should be no mention of the names of child(ren) or parents (or guardians) in any records that DCYF keeps to track incoming calls.
I thank the committee for its time spent in consideration of this matter.
Christina Hamilton, home educator
84 Mason Road
Brookline, NH 03033