NYSUT, the state’s largest teachers union, has joined the growing call for Gov. Cuomo to veto a bill that would amend the criteria for the placement of special-education students.
The much-discussed bill would require that school districts consider a disabled student’s home and family environment when deciding where that student could be best educated. It would be easier for families to request that their child be placed in a private school—at public expense—rather than a public school.
In a letter to Cuomo’s counsel, NYSUT’s director of legislation, Stephen Allinger, fleshes out one of the most common reasons given by those opposing the bill: that it would contradict federal law. He writes:
“By introducing contradictory non-educational criteria in special education placement decisions by school districts, this legislation violates federal policy governing Free and Appropriate Public Education entitlement under P.L. 94-142, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. That policy requires school districts to place children with special needs in a “Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE) appropriate for a child’s educational needs. Under federal law, LRE requires mainstreaming children with a disability with their non-disabled peers in a public setting to the maximum extent possible, which applies to both non-academic and academic programs.”
He later writes:
“Clearly, federal laws and regulations do not include “home environment” as a permissible category for consideration of special education placement.
The legislation would create another obligation for school districts to consider when providing for a free appropriate public education for eligible students, potentially increasing expensive due process hearings. Furthermore, school districts are under considerable financial stress due to years of budget austerity and cannot afford the considerable expense of increased private placements when placements exist in a public setting appropriate to a child’s educational needs.”
For Orthodox Jewish groups that promoted the bill (and to Catholic groups that support it) the term “least restrictive environment” means something very different: a more comfortable environment with people of similar beliefs and/or lifestyles. But it’s up to Cuomo to determine whether this definition can jibe with federal law.
Cuomo got the bill on Friday and has 10 days, not counting Sundays, to veto or sign it. Sounds like a Wednesday deadline.