MERSD has not initiated a new Special Education program aimed at servicing students from other districts. Historically, MERSD has taken advantage of the collaborative relationship that exists among schools on the North Shore, and MERSD students have attended programs in neighboring public schools as an alternative to private school placements. It is common practice for districts in the area to work together to accommodate students whose home district does not have a program that is tailored specifically to a student’s special education need. In such situations, the district often looks to neighboring districts and the programs they offer as means of providing services that help students access the curriculum.
When it has been possible, MERSD has invested in high quality in-house programing to provide specialized instructions in a cohort model. There are often times, however, when students need to access programs in alternative settings. This school year, we have students who attend specialized programs in others districts and we currently have one student enrolled from another district, with tuition set at the cost of service. This agreement falls outside of School Choice.
Last week’s letter to the editor provided inaccuracies regarding out-of-district costs for MERSD. The District’s out-of-district budget has declined over the past several years due to the success of specialized in-district programs. In addition, the MERSD out-of-district budget is substantially lower than other Cape Ann area districts.
The bullet points below serve to summarize the key points related to the MERSD special education program:
- MERSD does not have a new program or new policy for tuitioning in special education students from other districts. This is a misinterpretation of information previously posted on the Student Services website.
- As a matter of longstanding practice, school districts in Massachusetts have the latitude to accept special education students into specialized programs on a tuition basis. The majority of Cape Ann area school districts routinely enroll students from other districts in their specialized programs and/or send children with special needs to other public school districts rather than more costly private special education schools. Over the past five years, Manchester-Essex students requiring specialized programs have been admitted into Gloucester Public Schools, Marblehead Public Schools, Ipswich Public Schools, and the Tri-Town and Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Districts. Tuition is paid to these districts for the direct cost of student programs and services. These costs are typically much lower than private special education school tuition while yielding an excellent educational experience. As a result, these exchanges reduce special education out-of-district costs and promote collaboration between districts in meeting the needs of students.
- Not all districts offer specialized programs, nor do all districts offer programs of sufficient quality to draw inquiries from other school districts and families. As MERSD has created high quality specialized programs over the past four years, inquiries from parents, advocates, and parent special education attorneys have increased regarding admission to our specialized programs. The MERSD does not recruit students from other districts. In order to address these inquiries from outside parties, the District posted the procedures routinely followed in considering an out-of-district child’s admission to a specialized program.
- The enrollment of students from other districts is contingent on (1) a direct request from the other district, not another individual such as a parent or advocate; (2) an ideal match between the child, MERSD peers in the program, and strict admission criteria; and (3) ample spaces remaining in the specialized program for MERSD students. Only children requiring specialized, self-contained classes are admitted in order to avoid any impact on general education class sizes. The number of children admitted in these special cases will not exceed the number enrolled in other district’s special education programs.
- The District anticipates that between one and three students in grades PreK-12 will be enrolled in total under these specialized enrollment circumstances. Tuition will be determined based on the cost of the teacher, paraprofessionals, and any ancillary services or materials required. Tuition students pay a prorated portion of teacher and staff salaries, reducing cost per pupil and defraying the overall cost of the program for the district and taxpayers.
Pamela Beaudoin, Superintendent & Allison Collins, Director of Student Services