Boston Public School students older than the district’s maximum age will be allowed to finish the semester at the end of this month. School committee members are also considering allowing them to finish the school year along with changing its overall policy to “exit” students before their 22nd birthdays.
The move comes after students and teachers from an alternative school serving many immigrants, some of whom are on track to graduate at the end of the year, demanded district officials approve waivers to allow the district's oldest students time to get their diplomas.
“Under no circumstances are we booting children out unfeelingly or unsympathetically,” Interim Superintendent Laura Perille told school committee members. The “line does have to be drawn somewhere and has to be drawn equitably.”
As the district considers what to do with older students, they are weighing the needs, legal rights, and costs of educating two distinct student bodies. There are about 100 students this rule affects. Many of them are in special education, “need significant support” and are not “diploma bound.” While the other students are immigrants new to the country or students who have returned to school after dropping out.
Massachusetts mandates schools to provide a free education until the age of 22. In the 1990s, Boston adopted a policy to stop schooling students the day before their 22nd birthdays. However, the district inconsistently enforced the policy, especially for students in alternative education, according to officials. But this year, the district took a harder stance, telling staff at the Boston Adult Technical Academy, or BATA, that students turning 22 would be “exited.”
Officials described two changes they’re considering. The first amends policy to allow all students who turn 22 to exit at the end of the school year, rather than the day before their 22nd birthday. The policy would have to apply to students in both special education and alternative education.
The second option is to create a program merging services from BATA and Boston Central Adult High School, a two-evenings-a-week program created to help Boston parents learn English and complete GED diplomas. This idea would allow BATA staff to keep teaching BATA students after they turn 22 through the semester or school year. If they receive diplomas, they would come from the Boston Central Adult High School. District officials said they would not offer this program to students in special education.
Committee members expressed concern about any changes to the policy or programs, as they could create an expectation to provide extended services to all students, and asked pointed questions about the costs associated with the changes. They also asked for legal guidance on the district's obligations to students with special needs.
“We run the risk that parents will say I want a school created like this for my child,” said Michael O’Neill, a BPS committee member.
There are 29 students at BATA, another 20 immigrant students sprinkled throughout the district and more than 30 students with special education plans who will age out this year.
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