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Court: Public has right to know financial details of special-ed placements

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that school districts cannot withhold the financial details of individualized education programs for special-education students placed in specialized private schools - but that they can strike any information in those records that might identify specific students and their learning disabilities, such as their names, ages and the schools they attend.

The ruling comes in the case of a Weston resident who wanted to know how much the town was spending on such education and requested details of all the individualized education plans for local students placed in private schools.

The state's highest court ruled that once a school system redacts information from files that might identify the student and his disabilities in violation of state privacy laws, the remaining information is subject to the state's open-records law.

[O]nce personally identifiable information is redacted, the financial terms of such agreements, which necessarily reflect the use of public monies, partially or fully, to pay for out-of-district placements, do not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; indeed, the public has a right to know the financial terms of these agreements.

The court rejected an argument from Weston that its special-ed files also included a confidentiality agreement with parents to not release any information. The court said that a school system cannot simply wave off the public-records law like that.

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Sunlight is about to shine on a ton of hidden graft in school districts across the commonwealth.

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More like "excuses to screw over students and keep things in house" will be demolished.

I'm betting that it costs less to send kids to specialized programs that absolutely meet their needs than it does to pull them from each and every damn class for "tutoring" and then blame the parents for their dyslexic student's lack of mastery of classwork in classes they never see.

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The graft is school systems pocketing large sums of money for poor in-house treatment of students when those students could be better treated for less money at outside specialized programs. There is also a pattern declaring students special ed for more money and not really putting those students in a special ed program.

School districts will no longer be able to game the system to their benefit and often the detriment of the most needy students. Accountability will exist where there has been none.

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we're spending on these students, but we can't tell you the nature of the students' learning disabilities or even the names of the schools we're paying this money to.

Yep, that's real accountability - not! But I guess anything goes in the name of "transparency".

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You thinks these disabled children are entitled to a little bit of privacy??

This case likely involves a single-number amount of settlement agreements. Even leaving the school name in (which the judge allows) will easily identify the student.

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I'd question that - having worked in one of those private schools, kids had to be SEVERELY messed up before a school system would pay their tuition somewhere else. We're talking the frustration handling of a 3 year old with the physical size and strength of a 19 year old -- biting, kicking, attacking teachers and other students.... it's a huge spend of money, yeah, but still way cheaper than the inevitable lawsuits

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"a 3 year old with the physical size and strength of a 19 year old"?

Is there actually a disorder that causes that? (I'm really asking.)

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They meant a 19 year old with the mental capacity of a 3 year old. When someone that age throws a tantrum like a little kid it is very dangerous.

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I also worked in a school like that. The tuition was well in excess of $70,000 per student, paid by the districts. Our population was the kind that would act out physically to the point of self-harm and/or the harm of others, sometimes to the point of police involvement in the building (and the building itself regularly got trashed). They were also older, so a lot harder to work with than middle schoolers and younger in that same population. Unfortunately with these students a $70k education looks less like Harvard and more like a kindergarten, with more time spent putting out psychiatric fires and learning how to play well with others than on passing the MCAS.

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There was the obscene CEO perks and salaries at that Merrimack Valley provider, and I bet senior administrator compensation is too high at the growing number and size of special ed and human services vendors that have been shielded from public scrutiny with the claim of privacy.

However, more information can make taxpayers more understanding of the depth of the problems and need for these services.

Weston is served by Minuteman Vo-Tech, which has the highest percentage of students getting some sort of special educational assistance (IEP). Maybe some of those kids aren't destined for white collar or other jobs per the regular high school track, but I fear some towns dump their special ed kids on the regional school to lower their costs.

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Adam, a correction - the court did NOT say that this guy could have the financial details behind Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). This ruling deals with settlement agreements, which are a very different thing.

And that's what's curious. There's only 350-ish students with IEPs in Weston, and only ~30 that could *possibly* be in a private special education school at district expense. How many of these could even involve settlement agreements?? Probably in the single digits.

If this guy wanted to know how much money the district is spending on such schools, there are other more effective ways to get it. The cost of such placements for individual students is already public info (http://www.mass.gov/anf/budget-taxes-and-procurement/oversight-agencies/...).

He's definitely after other info.

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There's also information about Special education funding on the Elementary and Seconday Education website http://www.doe.mass.edu/finance/circuitbreaker/fy16reimburse.xlsx

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School districts get money back from the state essentially for high cost special education students.

It's a good thing to note, though - this can be both "in district" students attending a public school and "out of district" students in collaboratives and private schools. Sometimes school district programs do cost more than private ones.

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