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Disability Advocates: Sununu Mischaracterized Special Education Rights in Private Schools – New Hampshire Bulletin

At a recent campaign event, Gov. Chris Sununu said students with disabilities won’t lose their right to special education services if their parents use the state’s school voucher-type program to place them in a school. private.

This is not true, according to disability rights advocates and parenting manual issued by the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which administers the Education Freedom Account program. When a parent chooses to enroll their children in a private school, they lose their right to special education services because, unlike public schools, private schools are not required to provide “appropriate and free public education”.

“…[C]Children with disabilities are not entitled to FAPE (free appropriate public education) as part of their parents enrolling them in a private school…while participating in the publicly funded EFA program,” the manual states.

There is an exception when a public school district places a student in a private school because it cannot provide adequate services to meet the federal requirement that the child receive a “free appropriate public education.”

Sununu made his remarks at a Sept. 20 town hall before an audience of nearly 200 people after being asked about the implications for special education under the state’s educational freedom accounts. The program allows students from families up to 300% of the federal poverty level to receive one-third of the state funding that would have gone to their public school for private school and homeschooling expenses .

Host Scott Spradling posed the question, which was drafted by several disability rights groups that sponsored the event, to Sununu.

“Through Education Freedom Accounts, millions of dollars are transferred from local public schools to private schools, which are not legally required to follow IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Some are also allowed to deny enrollment to students with disabilities,” Spradling read. “This type of financial loss puts pressure on local districts to provide special education services. How are you going to ensure that special education students receive an equitable and inclusive education…”

Before Spradling could finish the question, Sununu interrupted him, asking for the paper with the question.

Sununu disputed two points: He dismissed the characterization that “millions of dollars” are coming out of public schools, calling the claim a “Democratic lie.” This year, 3,025 students participated in the program will receive $14.7 million in state money, according to the Ministry of Education. Twenty-seven percent of these students came from public schools; the rest were already attending private school or were home-schooled, depending on the department. Sununu noted that public schools retain some state funding after students leave for private school.

Sununu also rejected the premise of the question that students who choose private school will lose their rights to special education services deemed necessary to access appropriate and free public education.

“So everyone has IDEA. You cannot lose your rights,” Sununu told the audience. “You cannot lose your rights as an individual with IDEA.”

He repeated it in a follow-up comment.

“This person (who is using the EPT program to leave public school) can go and seek services as they wish,” he told the public. “They can go to private school, they can get tutoring at home, they can get additional special education services. But let’s be very clear, nobody loses their rights for IDEA.

A video of the event is on the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability websiteand below are links to an overview of special education rights in public versus private schools and a guide to Parent Information Center. Executive Director Michelle Lewis said the latter helps all families and students with special education questions for private and public schools.

Karen Rosenberg, policy director at the Disabilities Rights Center-NH, a co-sponsor of the event, said Sununu’s comments left her worried that parents who opt for private school don’t understand the implications for a child. disabled.

“Once they have taken their children out of public school, the public school no longer has an obligation to ensure that their child receives all the special education and related services they need” , Rosenberg said. “And neither does the private school.”

Lisa Beaudoin, executive director of ABLE NH, shared Rosenberg’s concern.

Some families of students with disabilities know their rights to special education services end when they enroll the child in a private school, she said. She worries about families who don’t.

“I think the governor was missing important nuanced information about federal regulations and New Hampshire rules,” she said.

Students placed in private school by their parents only regain their right to special education services if they return to public school.

When asked the same question at the Town Hall event, Sununu’s Democratic challenger, Senator Tom Sherman of Rye, said he would first try to persuade the Legislature to vote. abolish the Education Freedom Account program. If that fails, Sherman said he would work to ensure that students in private and public schools receive the same services.

That’s an unattainable goal under existing laws and regulations, special education advocates said.

The intersection of special education law and public and private school it is complicated.

Public school districts must identify all children in their district who are eligible for special education, including those whose parents have chosen private school or home schooling for their children. And they must set aside a small percentage of the federal special education money they receive to provide so-called “equitable” services to these students.

But school districts are not required to spend this money to meet the specific special education needs of these students. Instead, they have broad discretion to decide what equitable services to provide and which students qualify.

“If 10 kids go to private school, the (public) school district needs to have a conversation with the school about how they’re going to allocate that money,” Beaudoin said. “If nine need reading help and one doesn’t, (the district) can say, ‘We’re hiring a part-time reading specialist and they’ve spent their IDEA funds.’

Rosenberg said the public school can target money toward transportation costs for special education students, hire a tutor, or special education in a single subject.

“Maybe they’ve decided to focus on math, and your kid is a math whiz and doesn’t need it,” Rosenberg said. “So your child may get something, he may get nothing.”

The Bulletin on Monday asked the governor to clarify his understanding of special education rights under the EFA program. His office’s response continued to confuse the issue.

He said, “Regardless of whether a child is enrolled in a non-public school or another public school in the state, children with disabilities are entitled to equitable services under the EPT program.”

Equitable services and special education services are not the same. Only students enrolled in public schools or placed in a private school by the district are entitled to comprehensive special education services. Students placed in private schools by their parents may receive equitable services, but they do not have to meet the specific needs of the student.

The statement continued: “Children in a private school may receive (Individual Service Plans) which help guide special education services for the child – often within their public school districts, but may also be provided outside the district. if necessary.”

This statement is consistent with guidance provided by special education advocates. The key word, they say, is “may,” because services may also not be provided.

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