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INFORMATIONAL LETTER #99
TO: Superintendents of Schools, Directors of Special Education
FROM: Commissioner Susan A. Gendron, Department of Education
DATE: April 19, 2007
RE: Parentally-placed Private School Children and Children with Disabilities Placed in Private Schools by School Administrative Units Using Tuition Payments
The federal regulations define parentally-placed private school children with disabilities as “children with disabilities enrolled by their parents in private, including religious, schools or facilities that meet the definition of elementary school  or secondary school , other than children with disabilities covered under [the sections of the regulations relating to students placed in or referred to a private schools by public agencies].” 34 C.F.R. § 300.130. Given Maine’s unique public school system, which permits SAUs to elect to: (1) operate public schools, or (2) contract for school privileges with one or more nearby public or approved private schools for some or all of their students, or (3) allow students to attend any public or approved private school with the unit in which the parents reside paying tuition at a statutorily-determined rate, the Department’s position is that any student who is receiving their education entirely at public expense is NOT a parentally-placed private school child for purposes of the IDEA, even if, in scenarios 2 or 3 above, the parent ultimately chooses the school the student will attend.
In addition, certain SAUs which either operate schools or enter into contracts for schooling privileges for their students allow students to attend a different school than the one that the student would otherwise attend and apply the amount the unit would have paid to the designated school toward the cost of attendance at another public or approved private school, with the family paying the remaining costs (if any). The policies surrounding these situations appear to vary widely among SAUs, with all of them requiring the approval of either the Superintendent, the school committee or district board, or both, and many, if not most, of them requiring the student/family to demonstrate that the school designated by the unit does not offer something that the student wants or needs. Additional considerations include the terms of the contractual agreements the units have made with their contract schools, space availability, and the student’s geographic proximity to the designated school. Although this is a more complicated situation than those described above, and arguments can certainly made on both sides of the issue, the Department’s position is that students who are allowed to attend a different school than the one that they would otherwise attend by the governing officials of their school unit and apply public “tuition” dollars toward an alternate school are also NOT parentally-placed private school children for purposes of the IDEA.
The Department is in the process of revising Maine’s Special Education Regulations (Chapter 101) and has included these clarifications in the definition of “parentally-placed private school child.” In addition, the Department’s Question and Answer document on the education of parentally-placed special education students can be found on the Maine Department of Education website at www.maine.gov/education/speced/mater02.htm.
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20-A M.R.S.A. § 1001(8); 20-A M.R.S.A. §§ 2701-2704; 20-A M.R.S.A. §§ 5201-5204.
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