Recovery High Schools: Bill to provide transportation is now up for Hearing

As we have mentioned in prior posts on this subject (here and here), Representatives Tom Sannicandro (Ashland), Liz Malia (Jamaica Plain), Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (Second Suffolk District), and many other interested legislators have filed a bill – H-1815 – to provide transportation to and from one of the Recovery High Schools in Massachusetts for students who are recovering from alcohol or drug dependence or addiction.

Notice went out yesterday afternoon that the legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse will hear testimony on H-1815 on this coming Monday, June 8 at 1:00 p.m. in Room A2 at the State House. If you would like to support this initiative, letters are helpful and testimony during the hearing offering data and arguments that can carry the message to the members would be great. Bringing the message home with personal anecdotes can make the issue live. The Committee should hear information that substantiates the need for transportation to and from a Recovery High School for kids who have no way to make it to the program and who end up all too often falling back into sub-cultures and patterns at their old school settings, despite having sweated through programs to free themselves of dependence on alcohol or drugs.

We mentioned the RHS initiative in the course of our Commentary on BSEA decisions and rulings that we submitted to the Massachusetts Special Education Reporter for its first quarter 2015 issue (we will soon post our full commentary for that quarter on our website) as follows:

. . . [F]ollowing up on a case we highlighted in the spring of 2014, we take this opportunity to update readers on developments affecting an important resource for students struggling to recover from substance abuse. In a decision at that time (In Re: Billerica Public Schools, BSEA # 1403000, 20 MSER 68 (Figueroa, Feb. 21, 2014)), the hearing officer concluded that the BSEA lacked authority to order a district to provide transportation for a student attending one of Massachusetts’ Recovery High Schools (“RHS”) – schools that were created to address the needs of students struggling with alcohol or other substance addiction. (Such schools are not special education providers per se, although a good number of students who qualify to enroll at an RHS do need specialized instruction and/or related services.) The legislation establishing these schools required that districts pay tuition for students who are eligible for enrollment, but made no provision for transportation. The Billerica decision held that even if a student was eligible for enrollment at an RHS, the BSEA could not order a district to provide transportation without proof that the district’s IEP was inadequate. The case exposed a significant omission in the RHS enabling legislation, since qualified students are left without necessary services and supports if they cannot find a way to get to and from an RHS. A bill is now under consideration in the Massachusetts Legislature to remedy this problem. Sponsored by Representatives Tom Sannicandro (Ashland) and Elizabeth Malia (Jamaica Plain), along with Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (Second Suffolk District) and several other members of the House and Senate, H-1815 would require transportation to and from an RHS for students who need it, with districts to be reimbursed for the cost, subject to appropriation. In these times of increasing attention to the epidemic of problems with substance abuse, we hope to see this initiative enacted. As with so many humanitarian initiatives, a little investment now is sure to save enormous costs later, both in lives and money.

We hope that Massachusetts readers of this blog will alert their Representatives and Senators of the need for this legislation. Information about the members of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse considering the bill can be found here, and the bill can be seen here.

Robert Crabtree is a partner in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

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