The families of New Hampshire K‑12 students face a school-reopening predicament. For many, the plans of the local public school will not fit well with their needs and preferences for education and health. Parents need to know that there are multiple alternatives: an online tuition-free NH public school; home education with optional support from the local public school; public charter schools; attending neighboring public schools; private schools; and scholarships funding school options for low-income families. And perhaps there is a silver lining to our predicament. It causes us to contemplate that which is most important to us in education, and to examine our education models and institutions.
The School District Governance Association of New Hampshire (sdganh.org) is happy to supply this overview of options with links to further reliable information. We suggest that parents attend the next meeting of their local school board and ask questions about district plans and options for their children.
The state’s School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce (STRRT) survey found widespread support for reopening school buildings in the fall. Nonetheless, the STRRT’s survey data indicate also that tens of thousands of NH families are ambivalent about it or prefer other options.
There are valid reasons for these varied opinions. Some households have members at high risk of Covid‑19 mortality. Others prefer to minimize their risk of Covid‑19 disease. For some, the thought of a highly regimented socially distanced school environment is developmentally unappealing. Some students and families find that they prefer remote education for its flexibility and other virtues. Likewise, it has always been true that the educational needs of students and the preferences of parents vary broadly. A single solution cannot accommodate all of these safety needs, comfort levels, and educational needs and preferences.
Public school districts in New Hampshire are exploring reopening options, including on-site in the school building, remote instruction, and a hybrid model of remote and on-site instruction. But an underlying assumption of this exploration is that each school will need to settle on a choice attempting to accommodate as many families as possible. That, unfortunately, will leave many families’ needs and preferences unmet. For these families, here are multiple alternatives.
Switching our schools to remote instruction from one day to the next was extremely difficult. Understandably, the results were variable. But for some families, remote education is a desirable alternative, if done well. New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) has been educating NH students online and tuition-free since 2007 when it was founded by the Exeter Region Cooperative School District and approved by the state Board of Education. In the 2018-2019 school year, there were 13,000 students enrolled. There is a high school, middle school, and 4th and 5th grades. VLACS instructors are in constant one-to-one communication with each student, and students collaborate with their peers. VLACS offers more than 200 courses ranging from core elementary-school curricula up to Advanced Placement courses and dual-credit courses awarding high-school and college credit simultaneously.
Home Education with Optional Support from your Public School
Many parents are aware that any parent can educate at home in New Hampshire. Some parents know that it’s simple to get started, and that there are thriving homeschool communities and organizations ready to help and collaborate. But few are aware that New Hampshire allows the possibility of enjoying substantial interactions with the local public school. State law (RSA 193:1‑c) gives home-educated pupils “access to curricular courses and cocurricular programs offered by the school district in which the pupil resides”, and specifies that “cocurricular” means “those activities which are designed to supplement and enrich regular academic programs of study, provide opportunities for social development, and encourage participation in clubs, athletics, performing groups, and service to school and community.” Of course, it’s also possible to educate at home independent of the public school system. The state Department of Education is an authoritative source of information [https://www.education.nh.gov/pathways-education/home-education] on home education, including links to vibrant networks of home schoolers sharing information and group educational experiences.
Legal Requirements: http://nhhomeschooling.org/legal-requirements/
Where to begin: https://granitestatehomeeducators.org/where-to-begin/
Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are public tuition-free schools authorized by the New Hampshire State Board of Education. They operate independently from many of the rules and regulations that apply to local school districts. The focus of each public charter school is unique and based on the educational needs and interests of a particular community. Charter schools have the flexibility to choose innovative, educational strategies that will best help students meet their academic potential. Charter schools tend to offer a small class size. It may be that a charter school and its reopening plans better fit the needs of your family. At present, there are 31 approved public charter schools in New Hampshire. The Department of Education maintains a list of these, with links to further information.
Neighboring Public Schools
It might be that reopening plans, educational priorities, academic offerings, or enrollment numbers differ between neighboring schools. Some parents might find themselves wishing they could send their child to a neighboring school with different plans or school conditions. Parents can ask their Superintendent for permission to attend a neighboring school. District-to-district tuition payment is involved, so be sure to prepare a well-supported case for your child and family. Connecting with other parents with similar desires, or perhaps proposing district-to-district student swaps, might help. For cases of unusual hardship, state law (RSA 193:3) provides an option called “Manifest Educational Hardship”. We need to be candid here. Success switching public schools by declaring a manifest educational hardship has been exceedingly rare. However, our public-health predicament is creating a lot of educational hardship. Now is a good time to make broader use of this alternative. Here are some perspectives from the pre-pandemic recent past:
New Hampshire Private Schools
There are numerous excellent private schools in New Hampshire. According to privateschoolreview.com, the average elementary private-school tuition in NH is $8711; for high schools, it is $27,855. The Department of Education maintains a list of private schools approved by the Board of Education to operate in New Hampshire:
Children’s Scholarship Fund of New Hampshire
This organization, supported by the 2012 New Hampshire Opportunity Scholarship Act, provides scholarships for New Hampshire students who are struggling in their current public school to allow them to attend a school that is a better fit for them and their learning needs. These new schools include out-of-district public schools, private schools, online school, and homeschool expenses. During the 2019-20 school year, 523 children statewide used CSF New Hampshire Education Tax Credit scholarships at schools that are providing them with the tools and opportunities they need to succeed and reach their full potential.