State Board re-refers Grantham parent’s manifest education hardship case

Education advocates say they aren’t alarmed by the Board of Education’s actions, but do caution against changing or reinterpreting the hardship rules.

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Grantham resident Tanya McIntire is appealing a decision by her local school district to the State Board of Education, arguing that the district should pay the cost of tuition to a private boarding school under the manifest education hardship law. The State Board referred the case back to an arbitrator, but the district’s lawyer said that the district cannot pay the private tuition regardless of the outcome.

From the Valley News:

Shortly after her son interviewed at the Holderness School, McIntire approached the Grantham School District and asked it to cover his tuition, which next school year will range from $41,600 for day students to $63,000 for boarding students…

…She argued that Noah’s placement at Lebanon High School qualified as a “manifest educational hardship” and requested a hearing before the School Board…

Under the law, student placement is limited to “another school within the same school district; or … another school within the same school administrative unit; or … a school district in another school administrative unit.”

Grantham school officials said that Noah’s school performance [at Lebanon High School] was acceptable, and argued that even if a hardship were present, they couldn’t spend public money sending him to a private school…

In 2017, both the Grantham School Board and state arbitrator again denied McIntire’s request, leaving her to appeal the decision to the New Hampshire Board of Education in March…

McIntire was supported at the hearing by Margaret Drye, a school choice advocate from Plainfield who ran as a Republican for the New Hampshire House in 2017. (She lost to a Democrat from Grantham.)

Instead of making a ruling, the board instead referred McIntire’s case again to arbitration. To make a decision, they said, the board needs a recommendation from an arbitrator as to whether a hardship has occurred.

The move appeared to anger Grantham School District attorney Jim O’Shaughnessy, who had argued that the district couldn’t, by law, pay for private tuition, and the case should be thrown out.

“I think the state board is not following the law. You’re not abiding by your own precedent,” he told the board during its March meeting.

“I think you are using this as an opportunity to push back on the school districts and make them have to go back and re-litigate something where the law is absolutely clear,” O’Shaughnessy continued. “The only role you have is to decide whether there is a manifest educational hardship or not, and whether the parent is entitled to reassignment to a public school.”

He also noted that the Holderness School is not an approved special education school.

O’Shaughnessy, who declined to comment on the case this month, isn’t the only one concerned by the board’s decision…

[Education advocate Bill] Duncan said that Edelblut, the education commissioner, attempted to change the rules governing manifest educational hardships last year. Edelblut’s proposed rules would have reduced the role of local superintendents in decision making and provided parents with an lower threshold to prove their case.

Another proposed rule change also sought to add private schools as a possible option for school reassignment, Duncan said.

Edelblut, who advocated for the Croydon Bill and school choice as a Republican state legislator, said that officials should stick to the “fidelity of the underlying” hardship law.

”One parent might think this is a hardship, another parent might think it’s a good thing,” he said in a phone interview. “So, the parents have a wide berth to make their (case) as to whether that hardship exists and the school boards are afforded a wide berth in terms of trying to figure out what kind of remedy might respond to that, including not doing anything.”

During an October Board of Education meeting, Edelblut expanded on that view, saying the current hardship regulation lacks “fidelity to the law” by placing burdens on parents and confusing the role of school boards and superintendents, according to meeting minutes.

His proposed rule changes were ultimately rejected by the state board in March. A legislative effort to enact similar proposals was rejected this year by lawmakers, as was a bill that would have allowed low-income parents to use the state’s basic per-pupil grant of about $3,000 for private or home schooling.

Other education advocates say they aren’t alarmed by the Board of Education’s actions, but do caution against changing or reinterpreting the hardship rules.

“On the whole, the current statute and current Department of Education rules work fine,” said Barrett Christina, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association.

School boards across the Granite State take parents’ requests seriously, and work hard to resolve any concerns that come forward, he said.

However, Christina also acknowledged that the decisions of local boards are being more frequently appealed.

That uptick could be related to public discussions over school choice, and passage of the Croydon bill, said Dan Vallone, policy director for the group Reaching Higher NH.

It’s also possible that parents are placing a greater priority on student wellness and health, he said. Some parents want to see their child moved to a school they perceive as more nurturing, Vallone said.

“It’s a very complex topic, in part because it deals with what’s in the best interest of a child and how do we act as good stewards of public funds?” Vallone said. “Trying to navigate those dynamics is difficult.”

Source: A Search for the Right Choice: Parents, Public Schools Battle Over Private Education | Valley News