School transfer decisions refocused on best interest of students

If superintendents reject a parent's request to send their child to school in another district, they must now explain why that denial is in the child's best interest
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Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - 4:15pm
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AUGUSTA — Starting today, superintendents who reject a parent's request to send their child to school in another district will have to explain why that transfer would not be in the best interest of the student.

Under Maine law, a parent who believes it is in the best interest of their child to attend school in a different district than where the student lives can request the two superintendents agree to a transfer.

In the 2012-13 school year, more than 1,500 transfers were approved by both sending and receiving superintendents.

If a transfer is denied, under updates to the transfer law that go into effect today, superintendents must provide parents a written description of why they determined the transfer was not in the student's best interest.

It is unknown how many transfer requests have been turned down, as districts aren't required to report that information to the State. However, parents may appeal denials to the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education and those appeals have been steadily increasing in recent years.

The Maine Department of Education is committed to upholding the best interest provision of the law and has most regularly ruled in favor of families. Already, 143 appeals have come in for the 2013-14 school year and only four have been denied.

Also under the law changes effective today, families or superintendents can appeal the Commissioner's decisions within 10 days to the State Board of Education.

"We respect superintendents have many difficult decisions before them, but if the focus is kept on what is in the best interest of the student, these transfers requests should be straightforward," said Maine DOE Acting Commissioner Jim Rier in a news release. "We all should want every student, no matter their unique circumstances, to be successful in school and if a transfer is going to increase that likelihood, then that transfer is in the student's best interest, period. While for the majority of Maine's 185,000 students, the best choice for them is to attend school where they live, that is not the case for every student and these transfers allow families and not administrators to decide what is best for their children."

Best interest takes many forms, with concerns about bullying being one of the most common reasons parents request transfers for their children. Others include: families wanting their children to attend a school where one parent teaches, or a school that is closer to where they work or where a child with a chronic medical condition sees their doctor, even if it is not their local school; an out-of-district school offering a specific academic program, instructional model or special education services; or maintaining consistency by keeping the child in their school, even after a mid-academic year move.

In addition to school transfers, other options available to Maine students include charter schools and home schooling. For more information about school choice options in Maine, visit maine.gov/doe/students and select "School Choice," or contact Maine DOE School Enrollment Coordinator Randy Kassa at 624-6776.