In New Hampshire, A Battle Over Homeschooling Rights

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Homeschooling has been legally recognized in all 50 states as a viable education choice for families since 1993, but the battle to protect homeschooling rights is far from over. All too frequently, state legislators, local policymakers, and school district officials create new roadblocks for homeschooling parents, challenging their right to educate their children as they choose.

In some cases, these roadblocks include urging homeschooling parents to comply with school district policies or demanding reports and assessments that go beyond what state homeschooling laws dictate. In other cases, these barriers include curriculum stipulations, grade-level assumptions, and even standardized testing that force homeschooling families to mirror a public schooling curriculum with which they may disagree. In many instances, the requirements for homeschooling families are much more restrictive than the requirements for private and parochial schools.

The latest conflict simmering over homeschooling rights is in New Hampshire, where some state lawmakers recently proposed a bill to tighten oversight of homeschooling parents. Since 2012, when a new state homeschooling law was passed, homeschooling parents in New Hampshire are required to complete annual assessments or standardized tests and must keep these results on file, but they are no longer forced to submit these results to a third party. The proposed bill seeks to change this reporting policy and mandate third-party evaluation and reporting, as was the case prior to 2012. 

The primary sponsors of the bill include state Representative Robert Theberge of the northern city of Berlin, who switched his party affiliation late last year from Democrat to Republican. Three Democrats are also sponsoring the bill. When Mike Donnelly, an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, a national organization aiming to preserve homeschooling rights, contacted Representative Theberge, he received this reply

“Mike, I find you [sic] email extremely unprofessional and any further correspondence will be deleted. RLT”

Donnelly includes a copy of his email message to Representative Theberge, along with his analysis of the New Hampshire homeschooling situation, on the Home School League Defense Association website. Donnelly’s email should strike anyone as a model of professional communication. Theberge did not respond to requests for comment for this column.

The Union Leader newspaper reports that the alleged catalyst for the proposed bill is concern among some school officials in the city of Berlin that half of their homeschooled children are not being properly educated. Michelle Levell, director of the non-profit School Choice for New Hampshire, said in an interview for this column that this is “a ludicrous assumption and a reckless statement.” She continued: “If they have local concerns they should investigate them, but DCYF [the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families] has shown no evidence of widespread educational neglect among homeschooling families. It is obvious that this is a solution in search of a problem.”

The idea that homeschooling families must be closely monitored and held to a higher standard than regular private schools, who have immense freedom in terms of curriculum and assessment, is concerning to many in New Hampshire and elsewhere. Jenn Hewson, a New Hampshire homeschooling mother, calls the proposed bill “a ridiculous overreach.” She continues:  “We already are required to do more than private schools. If the reason behind this is ‘educational neglect,’ that is covered under ‘neglect’ and [New Hampshire] already has laws to protect kids. And I really hate that this proposed law assumes all homeschoolers are failing and should have to prove that they are not.”

Hewson echoes the feelings of many homeschooling families and education choice advocates throughout the state. Levell’s organization has been fielding reactions to this bill. She says:  “People are extremely upset, they’re outraged. They are already reaching out to the bill sponsors asking them to withdraw the bill, which seems unlikely given the reaction that HSLDA received. Homeschoolers are prepared to show up en masse at the public hearing and share their concern about this being a misplaced bill.”

What the ongoing efforts to preserve homeschooling rights reveal is a continued conflict over education freedom and government control. Wary of parental autonomy, state and local lawmakers frequently attempt to curtail homeschoolers’ actions and impose unnecessary regulations. Fortunately, homeschooling families and education choice advocates remain vigilant and outspoken, ready to push back against the inappropriate use of government power. 


Kerry McDonald is an education policy writer and homeschooling parent in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Follow her on Twitter at kerry_edu.