Private Schools Offer New Plan For Accepting More Special Education Students

Oct 16, 2017

Vermont's independent schools say there might be a way to have more students with disabilities enrolled in their programs.

When a school district does not have a school for a certain grade, Vermont's school choice law lets parents take their public money and use it at private schools — but some of those schools don't have to admit students with disabilities.

Last year the State Board of Education said it was going to rewrite the rules governing independent schools that accept public money and require them to accept all special education students.

The State Board proposal caused a loud and organized outcry among Vermont's independent schools, and a contentious debate played out over the past year.

Parents, students and staff from the private schools argued that the change would force some of the smaller schools to stop taking public money. And they said the State Board of Education was overstepping its authority.

Earlier this year, the Legislature put a stop to the debate and set up the Approved Independent Schools Study Committee.

Committee member Seth Bongartz says if the independent schools can access the same special education services and funding as public schools, then the students would be welcomed at the private institutions.

"It is a breakthrough because we've gone from having to say all the reasons we can't do it, to a path forward," Bongartz says.

"It is a breakthrough because we've gone from having to say all the reasons we can't do it, to a path forward." — Seth Bongartz, Approved Independent Schools Study Committee

The independent schools want the student's home school district to pay for "necessary teachers, administrative support and all other resources needed to provide special education services," according to the draft plan by the Vermont Independent Schools Association that was released last week.

Under that plan, independent schools would take part in the special education meetings among the families and home school districts. The plan also calls for a panel to be created at the local level for when there is a dispute regarding placement.

"What this means is that independent schools would agree to enroll more special education students if they can draw on the resources available at the supervisory unions just as public schools do now," said Mill Moore, executive director of the Vermont Independent Schools Association.

Approved Independent Schools Study Committee Chairman Sen. Phil Baruth and Vermont School Boards Association Director Nicole Mace both declined to comment on the plan until the Vermont Independent Schools Association formally presents it at the next meeting on Nov. 17.