The following are answers to Frequently Asked Questions and also suggestions for working with the public/private partnership.
A DISCLAIMER: These are suggestions. We have attempted to check that our suggestions are consistent with DOE rules and regulations. The rules and regulations do change, so make sure to check through DOE if you have questions.
What should I make sure a parent has done before enrolling the child in our school?
It is very important that parents have filed a letter of intent BEFORE leaving the public school. This places them in the system and you can determine if they are eligible for the McKay Scholarship. Have them bring their latest IEP to you. This is also a check that they have a current IEP. Make sure that the parent officially withdraws the child from the public school. Many parents don’t realize that they must officially withdraw their child from the public school. When they haven’t done so their scholarships are held up because the child is showing up on the public school roles.
Should my school have a written contract between the parent and the school?
Yes. All schools should have a written contract between the parent and the school. The contract should outline all of the services and costs which will be provided to the child. The code of conduct and parent participation should be defined. The policy for withdrawal and how the unpaid balance will be handled should be detailed. It is well worth the cost to have a lawyer check your contract and paperwork so that your school has a clear and legally, binding document.
Some of my parents want their children to take the FCAT. How do we handle this?
This is an option for parents of McKay students. The designated school staff should discuss this option with the parent prior to January and whether it is an appropriate assessment tool for their child. The FCAT may be appropriate for some students, especially if they are getting ready to transition back to the public school. However, parents must understand that a private school’s curriculum may not be set up to “teach the format” of the test and the child may be at a disadvantage if they have not had exposure to that type of test. Should a parent decide to have their child take the test, the parent is responsible for scheduling their child with the district and for transporting their child to and from the test site. Since this is a multiple day test, the child will be missing school work. The private school should discuss, and follow up in writing, what actions need to be taken to assist the child in keeping up with their school work.
How can parents help their children prepare for the FCAT if they want them to take it?
Children who are in the McKay Scholarship Program may use the FCAT Explorer, an online tutorial that works on the benchmark requirements of the FCAT. Parents do not have to sign up for the FCAT in order to use the FCAT Explorer. Parents can be assigned a login name and a password by calling 1-888-750-3228. This may be a good opportunity for parents to see if their child is “ready” to take the FCAT.
Our school contracts out for services. Can administrative costs be added to those fees?
When a school contracts out for services, such as speech therapy, the school invests a great deal of administrative time and oversight to these services. Fees for the service may reflect this. For example: Should the speech therapist charge $45 per hour, the school’s fees may be $55 per hour. The extra $10 covers the cost of arranging services, book keeping, reviewing and oversight.
I understand that DOE may have random audits to verify that our school is in compliance. How do we prepare for this?
Random audits are a possibility for every school. DOE’s responsibility is to check that a school has the documentation to verify their compliance form. The best thing to do is to prepare a Compliance Notebook. Have a copy of all the documentation which substantiates that the school is in compliance. If this is done ahead of time, should your school be involved in a random audit, you are prepared. The general documents which DOE will ask for are copies of: 1) Fingerprint report/background clearance letter from DCF or Florida Teaching Certificate of owner/operator; 2) Current Public/Private School Inspection Report (DOH Form 4030) 3) Current Fire Code Inspection Report 4) Mandatory Measurements Non-Residential Radon Measurement Report (DOH Form 1777) for non-exempt counties. The Department of Health website has information on radon and gives a map of the non-exempt counties; 5) Verification of Accreditation if school claims accreditation (certificate, letter of accreditation, etc.).
We had to release a student because the student (or parent) was not complying with our code of conduct and participation rules. The parent complained to DOE and they are investigating the problem. What is the best way to prepare for this?
Occasionally, all schools face students or parents for whom their program does not fit. Sometimes the child/parent refuses to cooperate. It is important to follow up every meeting with a parent discussing a disciplinary action and or concern, with a brief letter stating the concerns discussed and the action to be taken by both school and parent. (This should happen regardless of whether the student is a McKay Scholarship recipient or not.) This documentation is crucial because a school never knows when a “little” problem may escalate or not be able to be resolved to the satisfaction of the school and parent. When that happens, should the parent register a complaint whether to DOE or an outside agency, the school has the documentation to show that they followed procedure.
What can DOE ask for in solving a complaint and what can they NOT ask for?
DOE may only investigate issues related to compliance of state statutes and issues related to utilizing the McKay Scholarship properly (were fee schedules posted correctly, were checks endorsed properly, was a code of conduct published for the parent). They may ask for: 1) All of the documents requested for a random audit (see list above); 2) Attendance records for the student in question; 3) Substantiating documentation concerning the complaint. DOE does not have the right to ask for any non-McKay students’ names, attendance, or other information. DOE does not have the authority to ask for a McKay student’s test records or class records. DOE does not have the authority to determine if a child should remain in a school. DOE does not have the authority to ask for any information not covered on the compliance form or by the statute.
It is sometimes difficult to get answers from DOE. What would expedite this?
Worst Case Scenario
Should a question exist that must be researched, give the DOE representative two working days to get back to you. Should the person not contact you, put your question in an e-mail to The Choice Office with that person’s name referenced and send to the director of The Choice Office. Ask that an acknowledgment of your email be made and an indication as to the length of time it should take to resolve the issue. We do not want to assume an adversarial role, but it is very easy for questions to become “lost” in the bureaucratic process. Should your question not garner a response in a timely manner, send a registered letter with the details and questions to the director of The Choice Office. Should you not elicit a response after this, enlist the aid of the Commissioner office or your legislator to assist you.
Best Case Scenario
Many of our questions are answered quickly and competently by representatives of The Choice Office. We need to make them aware that we appreciate their hard work and dedication to making the system work for our kids. It does wonders for everyone’s morale to hear that “Thank-you” after a question has been answered or a problem solved. On particularly difficult questions, that are answered efficiently, send an e-mail of a letter to the director of The Choice Office recognizing the hard work of the employee by name.
During the spring the district sends out letters to my parents concerning re-evaluating their child. What stance should we take, if any on this?
While the law states that a re-evaluation must occur every 3 years unless the parent and public agency agree that it is necessary.
That means that if the public agency “determines that the educational or related services needs, including improved academic achievement and functional performance, of the child warrant a reevaluation,” but the parent disagrees, the parent must undergo a re- evaluation.
However, in practice how would the public agency be able to “determine” that a re-evaluation is “warranted” if the child is in private school? It’s circular and our legal counsel argues that the public school could only make that determination if they had already re-evaluated the child, and they don’t have the right to make that determination unless they know that the child’s achievement and performance. We would argue that the child’s private school records are not enough to make that determination about achievement and performance.
The bottom line is that if the parent has no intention of placing the child back in public school, and does not want a public re-evaluation, and that given under the McKay law the parent has a right to keep their child in a private McKay school using the current funding level, the public agency has no reason to waste public resources to force a re-evaluation.
If the public agency presses the family, advise parents to tell them, in writing, that they do not agree to a re-evaluation and if the public agency has made the “determination” under the law that one is warranted, the public agency has a right to file due process against them. That should make them go away.
We have been told that several over-zealous districts have demanded re-evaluation and that the private school send all sorts of records and testing as well as attend any IEP meetings with the parents.
The districts have no authority to demand any such testing, records or attendance at meetings. Parents may request records and the school should have a policy to determine which are the general records released without cost and when does an additional fee need to be added if record requests move beyond the standard procedures covered in the tuition. In the same way, policies for any fees for attendance away from the school should also be reviewed and parents made aware of what these are.
Ramifications for Schools Receiving IDEA Part B Funds (Federal Entitlement Grant)
Be aware that for private schools that receive funds through IDEA Part B: Federal Entitlement Grant, this funding can be removed if children are not re-evaluated. Each district decides how this funding is spent for children with disabilities in private schools. Some districts have been student centered and have spent the money on additional services and/or materials for the students. Re-evaluation allows the district to keep the IEP current and to continue to receive the monies. Since this is a district by district decision, your school may want to contact the district and determine what the ramifications are for parents not opting for the re-evaluation.