Superintendent Urges Governor
to Veto Bill
As school officials across New York State mobilize against a bill that would require school districts to consider a child's home environment, culture and family background when determining special education placements, Huntington School District Superintendent James W. Polansky is urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the legislation.
Sponsored by Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein and Senator John J. Flanagan, the bill is opposed by the New York State School Boards Assn., Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Assn. and the New York State Council of School Superintendents, among others. Individual school boards across the state are being encouraged to pass resolutions indicating their opposition to the legislation.
"This bill is inconsistent with both federal statute and case law concerning special education placement decisions and will subject school districts to serious legal challenges and excessive costs," Mr. Polansky wrote in his letter to Mr. Cuomo.
The legislation was sent to Mr. Cuomo on July 20. The governor has not indicated if or when he will either sign the bill or veto it. Mr. Polansky said the bill is at odds with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
"The bill would require school districts to grant or deny a parent's request for tuition reimbursement within 90 days and require the continuation of tuition reimbursement for placements made unilaterally by parents until a district committee on special education amends the child's individualized education program (IEP)," Mr. Polansky wrote. "This timetable is unmanageable for many reasons. Also, by exempting parents of children with disabilities from the IDEA's carefully imposed conditions on tuition reimbursement, the bill contravenes the collaborative intent and framework of the IDEA, and again conflicts with federal law."
Mr. Polansky told Governor Cuomo that the bill sitting on his desk in Albany "allows parents to improperly seek to challenge a student's recommend educational placement by using home environment and family and cultural background as factors in determining placement, rather than the best educational and least restrictive environments for the child. These are vague terms which will invite litigation, bringing new costs upon school districts. This provision is also inconsistent with federal IDEA law."
Huntington's superintendent pointed out that "a district has no authority to enter into an agreement with a parent for tuition reimbursement in the absence of a due process complaint. Other provisions in current law prohibit this. Whether or not a parent's unilateral placement is entitled to reimbursement, is an issue which can only be addressed by a hearing officer, state review officer or court under both current and federal law. This legislation would mandate districts to enter into agreements with parents to reimburse their child's tuition and creates a clear conflict in law."
Mr. Polansky found other faults with the legislation. "This bill would also require districts to maintain a student in their previous placement, instead of leaving that determination to the findings of due process proceedings or reevaluation of the student's IEP," the superintendent told Governor Cuomo. "This violates federal case law that requires a district to continue to provide tuition reimbursement following a final decision by the independent hearing officer, State Review Office or court ordering tuition reimbursement."
School officials are worried that if the legislation becomes law it will invite a new era of legal challenges to special education placements. "This bill threatens to impose significant new costs upon my district," Mr. Polansky said.