The House recently passed HB 721, a bill that would require all private schools participating in town tuitioning to provide the same special education services as public schools without the funding — another way to shut down this small and successful program.
HB 721 requires all private schools participating in a town-tuitioning (aka Croydon) program to be “an approved program as defined in RSA 186-C:2, II.” That would require every participating private school to offer the same special education programs as public schools; there is no mention if funding from the federal government or state would flow to the private schools, in which case it would be an unfunded mandate.
Federal and NH law as well as state rules have local public districts in charge of special education services to students, determining what and how those services are provided when appropriate. Currently, private schools that participate in a town-tuitioning program work with the home district to provide special education services to those children that qualify.
Also, there are existing federal protections for private-school students with special needs. Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, nonpublic schools must provide “auxiliary aids and services” to children with special needs if they are otherwise qualified for admission. This bill as amended poses significant changes to private schools’ responsibilities if they participate in town-tuitioning programs.
Below is a letter from Christy Whipple, Head of School, at the Newport Montessori School. NMS is participating in the town tuitioning program with Croydon and is responsible for coordinating services between the district and NMS.
Recently, the House passed HB 721 as amended and soon it will move to the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee. Our school has deep concerns about the provisions in the amended language, the effect of which would require independent schools such as ours who accept public tuitioned students to maintain an approved special education program.
In speaking with Representative Linda Tanner regarding her group’s motivation behind the amendment, it became clear that they are unaware of how special education in approved non-public schools currently operates. For district placed students, like those using school choice from Croydon, NH, the district manages special education needs for qualifying students. Our school staff would fill out a referral form to begin the steps to identify a student; we would then coordinate with the Director of Special Education in Croydon, the parents of the student, and all involved therapists (occupational therapists, reading intervention therapists, speech and language therapists, physical therapists) which would become the student’s special education team. Testing of the student would occur and then a determination of findings would take place involving all those afore mentioned. If the team found need for special education services, then an Individual Education Plan (IEP) would be written by the sending school district and followed by school staff. The therapists would work with the student in their school setting (which would mean in our school building). The sending district hires their special educators and manages the IEP with our independent school being one part of the special education team.
If HB 721 were to become law, it would mean that our independent school would have to complete the Department of Education’s extensive Special Education Program Approval component thereby having to hire a licensed Director of Special Education, all of the therapist positions outlined above, at costs that far exceed the annual per pupil tuition costs of our school. This new requirement in HB 721 amended, if made law, would make it financially impossible for our independent school to maintain state approval and therefore we could no longer offer services to town tuitioning children.
As explained to us, the intention of this bill is to keep schools from discriminating against students with special education needs by denying them enrollment in independent schools. This problem does not exist. Our independent school as approved by the NH DOE is required to have and follow a non discrimination policy. Our school, as do all independent schools, adheres to laws against discrimination as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, our school is a licensed, non profit 501-c-3 which has rigid non discrimination requirements.
It is our belief that HB 721 should be defeated in the Senate, but if passed, vetoed by the Governor. Instead of bills addressing nonexistent problems, let’s work together with public/charter and independent schools to offer the best educational opportunity for every school aged student in NH.
Christy M. Whipple, M. Ed, Head of School
HB 721 will have a public hearing in the Senate Education and Workforce Committee soon; consider sending them an email now. Stay tuned!