The Rhode Island ACLU has sent a letter to Barrington school officials challenging the legality of the town’s proposal to implement a two-tiered plan for out-of-town students to pay tuition fees in order to attend Barrington public schools. As the proposal stands, the school district has indicated it would charge special education students more than four times the tuition rate that would be charged other students. In its letter, the Affiliate asserted that charging special education students a higher tuition rate would be in clear violation of federal laws prohibiting public schools from discriminating against students with disabilities. The letter follows up a previous one sent by the ACLU two weeks ago that questioned the legality of any attempt to exclude altogether any special education students from participating in the non-resident program.
In calling the two-tiered tuition plan illegal, the ACLU cited an opinion issued in 1999 by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights which stated: "The Department cannot envision a situation where charging a higher non-resident tuition to a student with disabilities than to a student without disabilities, would not violateviolate [regulations implementing the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973]. Public school programs, including public school choice programs that utilize non-resident tuition formulae, must ensure that students with disabilities are not subjected to discrimination on the basis of their disability.”
Under the circumstances, the ACLU letter states, there "is no lawful basis for proceeding with an out-of-town tuition program that would treat students with disabilities differently from other applying students. We therefore strongly urge the school district to abandon any efforts to charge disparate tuition rates based on special education status."