Local school districts are asking Gov. Cuomo to veto a bill proposing changes in the way special education placements are made because they say it will place financial and administrative burdens on schools.
Under the bill, passed by state lawmakers last month, schools would need to take a student's home life and cultural environment into account when making placement decisions. The measure would also speed up the process and require districts to reimburse parents for tuition payments made by parents to private schools not approved by the state within 30 days.
"It's essentially a voucher system we have no control over," said Jere Hochman, superintendent of Bedford Central Schools, at a recent school board meeting.
A group of 16 Westchester-Putnam school boards have approved resolutions formally opposing the bill, which Gov. Cuomo has not signed into law.
Hochman said the change could cause public funds to be channeled to private schools because parents of students who are now fully included in public schools parents might opt for the private special education program that complies with the interpretation of considering 'home environment and family background.' The language could encourage more placements of students with low-incidence disabilities whose education can be in six figures, he added.
Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) said he opposed the bill. "I think some of the ideas were right, but the way it's written is all wrong," he said.
"I think the concept of the public paying for segregated schools is contrary to the principles of American public education," he said.
Abinanti objects to the second part of the bill as well because he said it allows parents to negotiate with school boards about where students will be placed, "bypassing the CSE [Committee on Special Education] guidelines," he said.
"Basically it cuts the professionals out of the placement process, putting the agreements in the hands of the parents and board members who may not know what's best for the child."
The bill passed 47-13 in the Republican-controlled Senate and 93-50 in the Democratic-controlled Assembly on June 21, the last day of the Legislature's session this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the costs were not a factor in developing the legislation. "We thought it was [about] fairness," he told the WSJ. "We honestly don't believe that it's going to cost school districts any more than is appropriate, than what's intended."
Some supporters say the bill could actually save on local costs, with fewer placement hearings and drawn-out lawsuits when parents aren't satisfied with the services provided by districts.
Katonah attorney Peter Hoffman said he believed the bill, if passed, would cut down on the number of lawsuits brought by families given the new consideration for family life and cultural circumstances.
"I support the change because the current system leads to litigation that is
typically not completed until years after the actual school year in question
occurred," said Hoffman, whose practice focuses on children with disabilities.
Abinanti argued the cost-saving measures for parents may be deceptive.
"The third part of the law is meant to speed up the placement process for children with special needs, which I think is a good thing," he said.
Current state law says that if a parent is dissatisfied with a child's public school or placement outside the district, the parent is responsible for paying for the student's new school until they receive a letter stating that the change has been approved.
"While that sounds good for lower and middle-class parents, what the law does not make clear is that if a parent's appeal is rejected, he or she is responsible for paying in full for the time the child spent in the other school," Abinanti said.
A copy of the resolution is posted with this story.
List of School Districts that Have Approved a Resolution, according to the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association
Calling Upon Governor Cuomo to Veto Legislation A10722a - S7722a
- Bedford Central Schools
- Blind Brook-Rye UFSD
- Brewster CSD
- Chappaqua CSD
- Croton-Harmon UFSD
- Eastchester UFSD
- Haldane CSD
- Harrison CSD
- Katonah-Lewisboro UFSD
- Lakeland CSD
- Ossining UFSD
- Pelham UFSD
- Pleasantville UFSD
- Pocantico Hills CSD
- Putnam/N. Westchester BOCES
- S. Westchester BOCES