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ACLU questions Barrington tuition program

May 11, 2012

The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says Barrington may risk discriminating against special education students with a new program for out-of district students.

Barrington has announced plans open 10 seats to a competitive application process. Tuition for the coming school year is currently set at $12,800 for students who gain admission to the highly-ranked Barrington Public Schools.

In describing the pilot program, Barrington school officials told RIPR that students needing special services would not be eligible because of the extra cost associated with their education.

The ACLU has sent a letter to Barrington School officials warning that this could violate numerous laws designed to protect students with disabilities.

“While in some circumstances schools may have some leeway in dealing with special-needs students, such as when significant problems might arise in providing them necessary accommodations, we are not aware of any basis whatsoever for a school to have a policy of automatically and categorically excluding special education students from an enrollment policy,” wrote RI ACLU Executive Director Steve Brown, in the letter addressed to Barrington Superintendent Robert McIntyre.

Barrington school officials emphasize that the program is still in a pilot phase, and they have not worked out the details of the admissions criteria. They say special education students might be eligible, but their families could be asked to pay additional fees for the services they receive.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2012 1:28 am

    Barington want’s the financial benefit of opening it’s doors to paying customers, but doesn’t want the financial hassle of including in the talent pool special needs students. Well, well, well. Does anyone else sense the exclusivity at play here?

  2. A Special Needs Mom permalink
    May 17, 2012 12:24 pm

    Barrington provides services to special education students who live in-district. There is nothing exclusive about it. The out of district plan was an idea to improve the education of kids who live in Barrington, provide an excellent education to children from other districts, and prevent the loss of jobs in a state that really needs work.

    Barrington does an excellent job with its special education programs. I am certain that if my daughter attended any other school system in the state, she would be facing permanent intellectual disability. Because of Barrington’s support and cooperation with our family, it’s possible we may avoid that outcome. And I know my daughter is not the only child in the district with an IEP (individual Education Plan) who is exceeding expectations.

    While I agree that schools should not restrict services to in-district students, I wonder if this suit by the ACLU is in everyone’s best interest. The outcome will be an excellent district has fewer resources to devote to its students. I don’t understand why the ACLU doesn’t put a similar (or greater) effort in protecting the rights of students in school districts notorious for limiting resources to kids with IEPs? You can look on the RIDE website to see the data for schools with poor outcomes and no improvement for kids with IEPs. These kids are supposed to be protected by the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, but very often school districts can talk their way around these laws.

    I feel this is a misuse of legal resources which in the end will benefit no one. Describing it as an issue of “exclusion” is trivializing a serious problem and limiting solutions to it.

    • May 17, 2012 1:32 pm

      Thanks for your comment!

      I just want to clarify that the ACLU has taken no legal action against the Barrington Schools at this point. The group has written a letter to school officials notifying them of potential concerns about any public school program that would treat one group of students differently from another. They have also asked for updates once the school district finalizes admissions criteria for the tuition program.

      I’m glad your daughter is having a good experience in the Barrington Schools. Kudos to the teachers who are helping students exceed expectations!

  3. May 17, 2012 5:34 pm

    Gee…..the ACLU comes in Why? Is the special needs kid an illegal alien?


  4. Joseph Ferreira permalink
    May 21, 2012 1:24 pm

    I am not questioning Barrington’s quality of special needs education provision. I am sure it is excellent. But if they are planning on setting up a tuition system for students from outside the district to attend, then district officials ought to guarantee that students with special needs are also guaranteed access to that same excellent special education program, especially if they are from a disadvantaged school district such as Central Falls or Pawtucket or wherever.

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