Administrative Letter: 2018-2019 Clarifications Regarding Private School Approval and Publicly Funded Private School Students

Administrative Letter: #19
Policy Code: LBC
TO: Private School Administrators; Public School Administrators
FROM: Robert G. Hasson, Jr., Ed. D. Commissioner
DATE: October 2, 2018
SUBJECT: 2018-2019 Clarifications Regarding Private School Approval and Publicly Funded Private School Students

In accordance with 20-A M.R.S. Chapter 117, the Maine Department of Education (MDOE) requires private schools seeking approval status to be approved annually.
In early July of this year, guidance was provided to all private schools with Department updates regarding the 2018-2019 school approval process.

Since then, in a collaborative effort to align current statutory requirements with the needs of private schools and execute an appropriate and consistent business process, the Department has made several decisions which revise or clarify the previous guidance. These decisions are outlined in the paragraphs below.

  1. The current private school annual report, pursuant to 20-A M.R.S. § 4801(2-A), requires affirmation that a private school approved for the receipt of public funds participates in the development and approval of a regional school calendar. However, some private schools receive students residing in different career and technical education (CTE) centers or regions, so it is unclear how a private school’s calendar could be aligned with more than one different regional calendar. While the Department strongly believes in the value of expanding student access to CTE and removing barriers that prevent otherwise-interested students from exploring or accessing CTE, the current statutory language is not entirely clear, and thus private schools will not be required to respond to that item on the form for the 2018-19 school year. The Department will be engaging in significant policy discussions surrounding access to CTE in the coming year in order to gain more clarity in this area.
  2. Private schools seeking approval for the receipt of public funds were asked to affirm, on the annual school approval report, that they would work with the school administrative unit of residence to ensure that all publicly-funded students take the State assessments. While the Department does not see this requirement as being anything more than 1) an acknowledgment of the importance of ensuring that all students who are educated at public expense are assessed and 2) a commitment to cooperate with efforts in this area, private schools will not be required to respond to that item on the form for the 2018-19 school year.
  3. As a reminder, the public school administrative units have an obligation to ensure that all students who are educated at public expense by private schools take the state assessments, are screened for English learner status and provided, when eligible, with appropriate English language acquisition support services, and are included in truancy data. The Department plans to provide details and technical assistance about these obligations over the coming year.
  4. School approval includes the requirement that all private schools provide attendance data on their publicly funded students in the NEO information system, and this will not change. Private school attendance reporting is linked to the ESSA requirement to report chronic absenteeism for all publicly funded students and must be submitted. While attendance data is not overtly listed on the private school annual report and checklist, the statutory language requiring private schools seeking approval for the receipt of public funds to “in accordance with time schedules established by the commissioner, report[] to the commissioner the information the commissioner may require” is. This language comes from 20-A M.R.S. § 2952, and is directly linked to school approval by Section 2951, which states that “a private school may be approved for the receipt of public funds for tuition purposes only if it:  . . . [c]omplies with the reporting . . . requirement[] in section[] 2952.”

Attendance Data and School Approval Deadline
Currently, every private school that seeks tuition from an SAU is already entering information into the student information system for each student for whom they seek public funds. The attendance data entry is comprised of the number of days in the reporting period that the student is enrolled, the number of days they were present, and the number of days of excused absences. This data needs to be certified quarterly, with an initial 2018-19 submission due date of October 15.  More details about attendance data submission, and a helpful training manual document, can be found in NEO Student Attendance Reporting and Attendance Manual Entry Guide.

In order to align calendars, the Department will allow a new overall 2018 deadline of October 15 for the annual report and documentation, NEO staff entry, and first reporting of attendance data to be submitted by private schools. As stated in previous guidance, the 2018-19 private school approval year as printed on approval certificates will mirror the public school approval year – July 1 through June 30. Please note that this will move the FY 2020 private school approval annual report submission deadline to an earlier date than what has previously been identified, to be announced in future guidance.

Finally, as a reminder, notification was given in the Spring of 2017 that out-of-state private schools seeking approval for the receipt of public funds for FY 19 (2018-19) would be required to complete basic school approval, which includes, at a minimum, Maine Department of Education criminal history background checks for all employees. There are, as of this date, no out of state schools that have notified the Department of their intention to seek this approval.

Please contact Pamela Ford-Taylor, Maine DOE School Enrollment Specialist at 207-624-6617 or Pamela.Ford-Taylor@maine.gov with questions or comments about school approval.

Administrative Letter: Annual Notification of Eligibility for Schoolwide Programs that Include Students with Disabilities

Administrative Letter: #18
Policy Code:  BGE
To: District and School Administrators, Special Education Directors
From: Robert G. Hasson, Jr., Ed. D., Commissioner
Date: September 5, 2018
Subject: Annual Notification of Eligibility for Schoolwide Programs that Include Students with Disabilities

Schools that receive federal Title I funds, have poverty rates of at least 40 percent and have approved Title IA Schoolwide Plans are eligible to use their Title I funds – and funds from other sources – to develop “schoolwide programs.”

Schoolwide programs are comprehensive reform strategies aimed at raising the achievement levels of all students.

To facilitate the inclusion of students with disabilities in schoolwide programs, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the federal regulations at 34 CFR §300.206(a) allow school administrative units (SAU) to use a portion of the funds they receive under Part B of IDEA for any fiscal year to fund such schoolwide programs.

SAUs can use those funds as long as students with disabilities receive the services to which they are entitled under their Individualized Education Programs and that are guaranteed under IDEA.

The amount of Part B funds a school expends for schoolwide programs cannot exceed the amount the SAU has received for that fiscal year, divided by the number of children with disabilities in that unit, multiplied by the number of children with disabilities participating in the schoolwide program.

For more information visit Maine DOE’s ESSA Webpages or contact Maine DOE’s Title IA Data Specialist Daniel Weeks at daniel.r.weeks@maine.gov, or Director of Special Services Jan Breton at janice.breton@maine.gov.

Administrative Letter (Updated): New Requirements for Individualized Education Programs (IEP)

Administrative Letter: #17
Policy Code:
 BGE
To: District and School Administrators, Special Education Directors
From: Robert G. Hasson, Jr., Ed. D., Commissioner
Date: August 27, 2018
Subject: New Requirements for Individualized Education Programs (IEP)

The following Administrative Letter has been updated with the correct revised IEP form.

On April 14, 2018 in Administrative Letter #13, the Maine Department of Education announced new requirements for Individualized Education Programs (IEP) beginning on May 1, 2018. The purpose of the new requirements was to appropriately document certain services that are both educationally and medically necessary in accordance with both IDEA and Section 65 and Section 28 of the MaineCare Benefits Manual.  Subsequently in a communication dated May 16, 2018, the Department delayed the start date pending consideration of some questions raised by the field through counsel for the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities (MADSEC).

After careful consideration and assistance from the Department’s counsel, we are now ready to move ahead with implementation of a revised IEP that addresses educationally necessary, MaineCare billable services. The new implementation date is October 1, 2018.

The Department recognizes that what we initially viewed as a change in documentation has caused confusion and concern in the field, and wants to address several important points about what this change means and does not mean for IEP Teams and school administrative units:

  • First, nothing has changed about the IEP Team’s responsibility for determining if a child who needs special education also needs related services, such as behavioral health services, in order to benefit from their special education.
  • Second, nothing has changed about the requirement that an IEP address the behavioral health needs of a student with a disability whose behavior is impacting their education. MUSER has contained a category of related services called “school health services” for several years, and the scope of what is contained within that category has been limited only by the Supreme Court’s rulings in Garret F. and Tatro¹ that these services are services that do not need to be provided by a doctor. A social worker, or an educational technician certified as a behavior health professional could be a potential provider.
  • Third, nothing has changed with respect to the IEP Team’s responsibility for determining the least restrictive environment (LRE) in which a child with a disability will receive special education and related services. Not every student with a disability who requires behavioral health services needs to be served in a day treatment program. The IEP Team must consider the unique needs of the student in determining placement, just as they must consider the unique needs of the student in developing the rest of the IEP.
  • Finally, the only thing that has changed is that if the IEP Team determines that a child with a disability is going to receive a service or be served by a professional covered by MaineCare and the child’s parent has consented to the use of MaineCare as a payment source, the service must be documented in Section 8, on the applicable section of the service grid on the IEP.

The Department understands that there will be additional questions from the field and we intend to provide support and guidance. For questions, please contact Roberta Lucas (Roberta.lucas@maine.gov) or Mary Adley (Mary.adley@maine.gov).

¹ Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Garret F., 526 U.S. 66 (1999); Irving Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Tatro, 468 U.S. 883 (1984).

Administrative Letter: 2018-2019 Maine Schools/Public School Approval Now Open

Administrative Letter: 16
Policy Code: KLL
TO: Public School Administrators
FROM: Robert G. Hasson, Jr., Ed. D. Commissioner
DATE: July 12, 2018
SUBJECT: 2018-2019 Maine Schools/Public School Approval Now Open

In accordance with 20-A M.R.S. Chapter 206 and Maine Department of Education (DOE) Rule Chapter 125, to maintain continued approval status for the school administrative unit and all schools within it, the superintendent shall submit timely completed annual school reports to the Commissioner, including the annual approval report for the unit and for each school in the unit certifying progress on the Comprehensive Education Plan.
Public schools complete the annual school approval process in the NEO information system, verifying required organization and school administrative unit and school approval information in the NEO Maine Schools module.

This year the two separate processes – Maine Schools Update, and School Approval – were integrated into a one-step process, thereby allowing submission of both organizational information and school approval checklist items in one sitting. In addition, the information may be saved when partially finished to complete at a later time. While completing the approval process, the page should be saved often, as there is a time-out period.

Public School and NEO

Maine Schools/School Approval NEO Module
The Maine Schools module in the Maine DOE’s NEO information system is now open for the 2018-2019 school year. The NEO Maine Schools form is required by all public schools to inform the Maine Department of Education of school and district contact information, changes in grade spans, and other school-related information. This module new includes the school approval component for public schools. As a preliminary step, in order for an organization to be updated in Maine Schools, the superintendent or chief administrator of the school must first be entered into the NEO Staff Module. Access to NEO staff can be obtained by submitting a NEO Access Request Form (Excel) form to the MDOE Data Helpdesk.

Filling out the Maine Schools/School Approval Module: All fields with the exception of Administrative Office Fax are required. PO Boxes will not be accepted in the “Physical Address” box. Mailing address is needed only if different from Physical address. The Cost Center information references the three-digit code that the business office uses in the public financial system to assign building level costs (may require two codes).
At the bottom, check the box to confirm that all information has been reviewed before signing and submitting the form.

Log in to the NEO information system. Click on Maine Schools. If you do not see this option on your menu, and are a superintendent, technical coordinator, or administrative assistant, please contact the MEDMS Helpdesk at MEDMS.Helpdesk@maine.gov or 207-624-6896.

Please contact Pamela Ford-Taylor, Maine DOE School Enrollment Specialist at 207-624-6617 or Pamela.Ford-Taylor@maine.gov with questions or comments about the school approval.

Administrative Letter: 2018-2019 Private School Approval, NEO Maine Schools, and Staff Now Open

Administrative Letter: 15
Policy Code: KLL
TO: Private School Administrators
FROM: Robert G. Hasson, Jr., Ed. D. Commissioner
DATE: July 12, 2018
SUBJECT: 2018-2019 Private School Approval, NEO Maine Schools, and Staff Now Open

In accordance with 20-A M.R.S. Chapter 117, the Maine Department of Education (DOE) requires private schools seeking approval status to be approved annually.

Private schools seeking approval status must enter required organization and staff information into the NEO information system and submit their annual school approval report. Related documentation should be submitted to Maine DOE’s School Enrollment/Approval Specialist, either electronically or by mail. The NEO requirements need not be completed prior to the submission of the annual report; however, school approval will not be issued until the NEO information is complete and verified.

Private School and NEO

Maine Schools NEO Module
The Maine Schools module in the Maine DOE’s NEO information system is now open for the 2018-2019 school year. The NEO Maine Schools form is required by all public and private schools to inform the Maine Department of Education of school and district contact information, changes in grade spans, and other school-related information. As a preliminary step, in order for an organization to be updated in Maine Schools, the superintendent or chief administrator of the school must first be entered into the NEO Staff Module. Access to NEO staff can be obtained by submitting a NEO Access Request Form (Excel) form to the MDOE Data Helpdesk.

Filling out the Maine Schools Module: All fields with the exception of Administrative Office Fax are required. PO Boxes will not be accepted in the “Physical Address” box. Mailing address is needed only if different from Physical address. The Cost Center information references the three-digit code that the business office uses in the public financial system to assign building level costs (may require two codes). Since this is a required field but currently not used for private schools, a value of “001,” “002,” etc. should be entered there to indicate this is an excluded field.

At the bottom, check the box to confirm that all information has been reviewed before signing and submitting the form.

Log in to the NEO information system. Click on Maine Schools. If you do not see this option on your menu, and are a superintendent (for private schools, this is the head of school), technical coordinator, or administrative assistant, please contact the MEDMS Helpdesk at MEDMS.Helpdesk@maine.gov or 207-624-6896.

Staff NEO Module
For security and privacy purposes, all staff information must be entered in the NEO Staff module. The Maine DOE school approval process will include a clearance check for every school employee, as well as appropriate certification checks where applicable.

Guidance for Completing the Annual School Approval Report and Documentation

2018-2019 Approval Reports and requirement checklists are linked below, and also available from the updated Private School Approval  web page. If unsure of which form is appropriate for your needs, please contact Pamela Ford-Taylor, School Enrollment/Approval Specialist.

Changes/Additions/Clarifications:

  • Organization of annual report rearranged to make it clearer for schools meeting differing requirements according to accreditation and funding status.
  • Non-profit status.
  • Grade span may not include Pre-K. The Department does not “approve” private Pre-K schools. These schools are licensed by Maine DHHS.
  • Records maintenance and release policy
  • Schools receiving public funds must report the data that the Department requests, including attendance data for private schools enrolling 60% or greater publicly-funded students, per M.R.S. 20-A Section 2952.
  • Out of state private schools were “grandfathered” on previous approvals through 2017-18. For 2018-2019 these schools are no longer eligible to accept public funds unless they undergo the private school basic school approval process, including Maine fingerprint/background check, curriculum alignment with the Maine Learning Results, and movement toward proficiency-based diplomas.
  • Approval year will mirror the public school approval year – July 1 through June 30.

Please contact Pamela Ford-Taylor, Maine DOE School Enrollment Specialist at 207-624-6617 or Pamela.Ford-Taylor@maine.gov with questions or comments about the school approval.