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Support House Bill 481

In Support of House Bill 481

Below is the written portion of my testimony before the Joint Commission on Education on Oct. 20, 2009:

Dear Legislators:

Despite the fiscal crisis facing school districts across the Commonwealth, I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t believe House Bill 481 is in the best interest of our most vulnerable children regardless of the potential savings to school budgets. Urban districts, in particular, have paid dearly for the DESE 2004 Advisory that stated public and private day-school placements are the same. The advisory, with its current interpretation, has stripped school districts of their right to decide where their children should be educated once the Department of Children and Family takes custody. The advisory has been expensive and inefficient, and more importantly, it has been a grave disservice to these at-risk children. DCF children who were placed in private schools when they were making progress in their home schools have been the ones to pay most dearly for this misguided policy.

The McKinney-Vento Bill clearly places great value on educating vulnerable children in their home schools, and urban districts have invested considerable resources to develop alternative programs that meet their children’s educational needs. That investment, coupled with interventions as required by law to provide students with the least restrictive programs necessary, makes school districts most knowledgeable and motivated to return children to mainstream environments whenever possible. Under current interpretation and practice, the district’s expertise is invalidated and of little import, and its investment in alternative programs increasingly less cost-effective. The true victims, however, are the DCF-involved children who must leave friends and teachers behind.

House Bill 481 will provide a safety net regarding the education of our most vulnerable children because it puts the education experts back at the decision-making table. It does not give them sole authority in determining the education of children in DCF care, but it gives them a voice and due process in the decision. It will help ensure educational placement is truly in the student’s best interest. House Bill 481 gives districts the opportunity to advocate for keeping a child in his home school when that is appropriate, as well as reducing out-of-district costs significantly.

I respectfully ask that you please support speedy passage of House Bill 481. Thank you.

Jackie Doherty

Vice Chair, Lowell School Committee

Chair, Urban Division IX, Massachusetts Association of School Committees

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