Families are the ones best positioned to know if a situation presents a hardship for their children. Often times, families seek options when they have concerns regarding academic fit and safety. Unfortunately, most cases of Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH) brought before local school boards are denied. Of all the cases appealed to the state Board of Education in the past 12 years, only one was reversed for the family.
The Manifest Educational Hardship (MEH) statute is in RSA 193:3. As currently written, school boards are required to adopt policies consistent with the state BOE rules (Ed 320) which require families to demonstrate that a hardship exists at the assigned school, but hardship is not defined and is a subjective decision. The state BOE recently amended the rules to allow districts to reassign students to public academies (ex: Coe-Brown Northwood Academy and Pinkerton Academy), a positive change. However, the new rules also require families to “demonstrate that another public school or public academy, either within the district or in another district, may reasonably meet the child’s educational needs.” This puts further burdens on families to demonstrate need and alternatives to a subjective standard.
Manifest Educational Hardship is often used by school boards to reassign children with severe special needs to private schools. In circumstances of MEH, the funding follows the child to the new school which is likely why districts are so reluctant to grant MEH in favor of families.
House Bill 1492 specifies Manifest Educational Hardship must consider “the best interest of the child” and take families’ as well as medical professionals’ recommendations into account. It also expands options school districts may utilize including “another action that may offer relief.” This bill empowers families to seek relief for their child and allows local school boards a broader consideration of MEH and ways to address those circumstances.
There are chronic bullying issues in our schools that go unresolved. The state BOE heard two appeals regarding unresolved bullying situations at their November meeting, cases that dragged out for years at the local level. Because the current statute leaves it solely to district discretion to determine MEH, children are left in vulnerable and potentially dangerous situations.
At the December state BOE meeting, they held a public hearing on Ed 320, the rules that pertain to Manifest Educational Hardship. We testified as did a Keene-area parent about her family’s experience with the MEH process. The state BOE’s discussion on MEH can be found on the state BOE video site, under the NH SB Video tab. Select the December 2017 meeting, beginning at 2:48:00.
At the December meeting we testified about a desperate family that contacted us in early August. Their son, age 11, had been involved in a severe bullying incident that the school did not resolve. They requested a reassignment to a nearby school in-district, one that is five miles from their home. Instead, they were offered a transfer to a school nearly an hour away; not a realistic option for the parents’ work situations. In the email to us, the mom said that when she asked the superintendent about their transfer preference, he said “that it would be too much of a hassle for them [the district].” They did not indicate that enrollment was a consideration, only their convenience.
Also at the December state BOE meeting a Keene-area mom spoke about their recent difficulties seeking Manifest Educational Hardship for their oldest son. They requested he be reassigned to a neighboring public high school that offered advanced French classes and a competitive swim team; neither of which is available at their assigned district school. Their school board denied the request and the family appealed it to the state BOE in August. Like the other cases, the state BOE upheld the local board’s decision to require the student remain in his local district school. The mom testified that all the promised access to classes and athletic opportunities were not available once the school year began; the district could not make good on their promises. It impedes this student’s ability to take advanced classes and compete in a school sport. It hampers his opportunities for scholarships and college credit; this is a hardship to the child and family.
Both families wanted to stay in the public-school system; they were not asking their districts to pay for expensive private-school alternatives. Because the boards took a stance without consideration of the students’ best interests, these families are effectively being forced out of the public-school system to seek private options.
If public schools are concerned about educational alternatives and losing families to private schools, why are they not allowing MEH requests that would keep students in the public-school system? If families cannot find relief in the public schools, they will seek alternatives outside the system.
Who decides what is a hardship? This bill considers the family’s perspectives on decisions regarding their children’s education when they are most in need. True accountability is to families.
HB 1492 allows for more educational options within the public-school system.
The House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on HB 1492 on Tuesday, January 30th at 1:00pm in room 207 of the Legislative Office Building (LOB), the building, the building immediately behind the State House. The address is 33 N State Street in Concord. There is on-street parking and a nearby parking garage; refer to this Concord map. The entire committee be emailed at HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. Personal, stories are most effective.
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