State Board of Ed. weighs independent school criteria

Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 6:02 AM EST
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MONTEPLIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A public hearing establishing the rules of how Vermont approves independent schools gets underway Friday before the state Board of Education. The proposed changes would require independent schools to adopt the same principles of inclusiveness and anti-discrimination as public schools.

The issue is in response to the 2019 legislation prompting an equity standards group to make Vermont schools more inclusive. It also follows the 2021 Carson v. Makin U.S. Supreme Court decision, which permitted approved religious independent schools to participate in taxpayer-funded school choice.

The new criteria also add language that in-school exclusion of any kind, such as race, ethnicity, skin color, gender identification, and religion, should be rejected.

The public comment period for these rule changes will be until December 5th. The changes would go into effect by July 2025. All currently approved independent schools would have to comply and be re-certified.

“One of the changes that we are bringing into the rules is to have an annual attestation as a condition of a school’s continued approval. So, that has also been brought into the rules, which will hopefully make things easier for schools to understand what they need to be doing as well as members of the public to have that assurance,“ said Vt. State Board of Education member Jennifer Samuelson.

The Education Equity Alliance made up of the associations of school boards, principals, teachers, and superintendents tells WCAX that these standards are weaker than those for public schools and these proposed amendments fail to ensure that students at independent schools will receive the same level of inclusion.

The Independent Schools Association tells WCAX that they support the proposed new annual compliance rule and this process and do not support public funding or approval of any school that is unwilling to abide by Vermont’s regulations, especially those designed to keep schools free from discrimination.

There’s a moratorium from the last legislative session on approving new independent schools, keeping an eye on how public dollars are used when religious schools are involved. But Samuelson says it’s up to the Legislature to lift those changes, and that lift isn’t correlated with the timeline of the proposed new language.

The meeting is on Zoom for public comment Friday morning at 11:30 a.m.

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