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Letter to HEA members from Beverley Paine, May 4th 2018

I wish members to know that I am not, nor have I been, misled in my understanding of the issues concerning other members of the Home Education Association Inc as has been suggested by some members. My actions are the result of deep consideration of incidents I personally witnessed, as well as from information derived from the official records of the Association. I am fully capable of coming to my own conclusions, and I acted with integrity on those conclusions.

As a past committee member I was aware of the provision in the constitution for the committee to elect members to fill casual vacancies. In early March I asked to be considered to fill a casual vacancy on the management committee until the AGM as I was concerned that the resignation of committee members had left it with low numbers. I know how hard it is to manage an association as large as the HEA, with the level of services and support it offers, with only a few committee members.

At any stage any member of the association could have chosen to support the HEA by asking to fill a casual vacancy - it would have offered them access to committee business in hand; the opportunity to present their arguments and opinions; the ability to suggest, move and vote on motions. Getting involved in a direct way, as I did, is invaluable to an association such as ours.

Early in 2017, as a founding member of the South Australian Chapter of the HEA, I asked the administrative staff of the association for contact details of members living in South Australia so that our HEA SA committee would be able to invite them to participate in our activities: I was very firmly informed that, to protect members' privacy, HEA members' details, including email addresses, are not accessible by anyone other than admin, that the only way I could make contact with members in SA is to either include a notice in the monthly newsletter, request admin to send a members' only email to South Australian members, or to request admin to forward emails to individual members as required. Thus it has been my understanding since early last year that the members' database is only accessed by admin. Committee members, subcommittee members and volunteers do not have any kind of direct access to the database. This has been a practice and policy followed by the HEA at least since the beginning of 2017.

In February 2018, in my role as HEA SA Secretary and State Delegate, in the HEA general business discussion forum I mentioned my concern regarding the declining South Australian membership statistics s tabled each month in the management committee minutes. A volunteer replied saying that the statistics published were inaccurate and didn't reflect the actual number of SA members. Upon being asked how she knew this by one of our admin team, one of the committee members said that she and the volunteer accessed the database on a regular basis. Given that I had been informed months earlier that only admin had permission to access the database, and that other committee members had personally confirmed to me, it was a surprise to discover that this committee member and a volunteer were regularly accessing it.

As HEA SA's State Delegate I liaise between our committee and the management committee. Reviewing management committee meeting minutes in October to prepare a report for our next HEA SA meeting, I noticed an invalid vote had been allowed to take place. Through the volunteers general discussion forum on GSuite I asked the management committee to clarify the voting, asking in particular which members are eligible to vote on motions at management committee meetings, as my understanding of paragraph 44 of our constitution allows only committee members to vote at committee meetings.

Not following appropriate voting processes has been common practice at management committee meetings in the past, confirmed by my subsequent review of past minutes (access to view requested by me to admin). There is a pattern of not recording motions and voting patterns as legally required, demonstrating a lack of understanding and knowledge of how to manage and run meetings properly by the leadership within the management committee.

It needs to be stated here that in in the 2017 AGM Minutes the outgoing President, Secretary and Treasurer in their Annual Reports contained adverse comments regarding management, mentioning that from early in 2016 it became apparent that the governance and financial aspects of the association had not been 'well-managed' for a considerable period of time, and that much work had taken place during 2016 to ensure that the association did not lose its incorporation status (it came close to being wound up), and that the focus in 2017 would be on ensuring that responsible and good governance would be a priority.

Accurate records are essential to the sustainability of an organisation that seeks to be recognised as operating professionally within its field. Minutes and reports need to include accounts of the business of the association. Taking notes and writing brief reports to be included in the minutes of the association concerning any business or communication conducted by HEA volunteers is not an onerous and difficult task. This knowledge accumulates over time and informs the membership of the work that is done and the direction that the association takes on their behalf. It also informs future volunteers so that duplication of tasks and past mistakes can be avoided.

I remember helping to create and edit the committee and volunteer handbooks when on committee during 2007-2010, as well as contributing to the Codes of Ethics and Conduct, Event Organizer's Guide, etc. Newer policies were being written, edited and reviewed by management committee members throughout 2016 and 2017. Through access to discussions on the committee only forum after I joined the committee in March this year, I learned that this work was not fully appreciated or supported, and was frequently frustrated, by a minority within the committee.

At the same time work was progressing on the development of a new website. The HEA website operates (unseen by members) as the association's virtual office. Effective practical management of day-to-day business of the association was being seriously hampered by deficiencies in the current website. The new system would ensure greater accountability and transparency and would enable the association to operate on a more professional level. Progress on work on the website was blocked by a minority of the management committee by obfuscating discussions and derailing motions.

Criticism has been made of my motion while on the management committee to cease audio and video recording of committee meetings. My rationale for doing so is that the written minutes are a sufficient and legal record of the business of the association. They include the monthly Treasurer's report and financial statements and a record of motions and voting. I was also concerned while it is possible to ensure that the privacy of members could be protected in the written record, ensuring this is also the case with video and audio records is an additional and potentially onerous task for the secretary, and as the only legally required record are the written minutes, it would be an unnecessary task. Furthermore the recent sharing of screenshots of the business of the association publicly on social media led to the real possibility that the video and audio recordings could be similarly shared, putting at risk the ability of the association to meet its legal requirement to protect the privacy of its members.

For the same reason - protection of members' privacy - the ability to hold information confidentially within the association has been recently established after some members requested that information and communications that they consider to be of a confidential nature and to be shared only with named members be stored in secure confidential manner by the association.

The need to appropriately manage risk with relation to privacy concerns also led to the decision to stop using Facebook groups and chats. Facebook has proven itself to be an insecure platform with respect to privacy. Just because a communication tool is incredibly convenient doesn't mean it is an appropriate one to use. The website redevelopment is providing a secure platform for members to communicate, one that meets the standards required by our Association, and will be made available to all members once the new site is established.

I will not answer questions or address the matter of the expulsion of two members from the association. HEA members have been advised that the management committee was requested by NSW Fair Trading to provide information relating to this matter, and that the association has received notice of legal action taken against it.

Please take the opportunity to vote - all members should have by now received an email with information on how to vote for the members nominated to fill committee positions. If you are a current member and have not received the voting information, please check your junk mail, and the settings on your HEA account, and if you still can't find it, send an email to contact@hea.edu.au.

I will continue to support the association in the way that I have always done, deeply considering the issues and responsibly with integrity in line with my values. I remain the Chair of the association's Constitution Subcommittee and the Secretary of its South Australian Chapter. I offer my support as a mentor to any of the incoming management committee members.

Update

On the 5th May the management committee, threatened with legal action and questions regarding the validity of the AGM to be held that night, informed the membership that it could not proceed until legal advice was received and cancelled the meeting. A group of members held their own AGM without giving notice to all members that night and elected their own committee. The remaining management committee members reported the action of this group of members to the NSW Office of Fair Trading requesting that the Office urgently consider an administrator to help the association sort out its difficulties. I am very disappointed by the behaviour of many members, ex-members and non-members whose actions on social media brought the association into disrepute and destabilised the management committee to the point that all resigned, some leaving the association completely, no longer having confidence in it.

I have requested that my life membership be cancelled.

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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