Parents in Nashua are voicing concerns over a decision by the school district to bus students offsite for special education services.
Districts in New Hampshire are required to oversee and pay for services for students with special education plans, known as IEP's, even when that student starts going to a public charter school.
This month, the Nashua School District started transporting IEP students from Gate City Charter School and the Microsociety Academy Charter School to their local public school for a portion of the day, rather than help pay for a special ed staff member to be housed at the charter schools.
Cheryl McNamara, a parent of a Microsociety student with an IEP, is refusing to let her child get bussed for services until the district meets with her. She says the district wants to bus her child during math class to a reading specialist at Main Dunstable Elementary School.
“It’s an hour to an hour and a half of his day, and it’s during his math instruction,” she says.
“They could send the adult [reading specialist] to the school, and have the adult be a little inconvenienced instead.”
McNamara and other Microsociety parents say their kids aren’t getting a fair and equitable education, which is required by federal and state laws governing special education.
Some believe the district’s decision to start busing students to schools with more robust IEP services was precipitated by funding shortages; under the state’s current funding formula, state aid for students with IEP’s often covers just a fraction of the cost of services, and taxpayers make up most of the difference. IEP aid for charter school students goes to the district rather than the charter schools, setting the stage for tense negotiations between the two.
But Marcia Bagley, director of special education for the Nashua School District, says the main decision to bus students wasn’t financial.
“It's not a huge amount of savings,” she says, after factoring in the cost of bus drivers and gas. “But it’s also about ensuring the services written into their IEP's are actually being delivered.”
Bagley says because of the unusual status of charter schools in New Hampshire - they receive approval and oversight from the State Board of Education, but the district is liable for IEP services - Nashua needs to maintain strict oversight over IEP services.
The tension over special education in charter schools is simmering across the state, and some expect it to mount as the Department of Education expands charter schools in the next five years. State Board of Education Chairman Andrew Cline says it’s one of the most common complaints about district administrators from people in the charter school movement.
“You would think that the sending district administrators, if they had the best district of these kids at heart, would do everything in their power not to take them out of the educational day and put them on the bus, sometimes for an hour, to get these services back at the home district.”
Cline says the issue needs a permanent fix through new legislation and anticipates some charter school advocates to propose this in 2020.