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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Regulations on Recovery High Schools, 603 CMR 54.00

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
February 17, 2017

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In November 2016, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to solicit public comment on proposed regulations on Recovery High Schools, 603 CMR 54.00. The Recovery High School statute, G.L. c. 71, § 91 authorizes the Board to promulgate regulations as needed, in consultation with the Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health. These regulations clarify requirements for admission, enrollment, and educational programming in Recovery High Schools. We have refined some provisions in the proposed regulations based on the comments we received. I recommend that the Board take a final vote to adopt the regulations at the February 28 meeting.

Background on Recovery High Schools

Recovery High Schools are programs that provide a structured plan of recovery for students diagnosed with substance use disorder or dependency and offer the students a comprehensive four-year high school education. Recovery High Schools are not autonomous schools or school districts; they are public programs operated by a school district or an education collaborative. Recovery High Schools are educational options for students seeking support for recovery from addiction, combined with a comprehensive high school education.

Recovery High Schools were initially established in Massachusetts in 2006 through a grant program administered by the Department of Public Health. The Department of Public Health's Bureau of Substance Abuse Services is closely involved with these programs and has fiscal oversight for the Recovery High School funding line item, 4512-0211.

In 2009, G.L. c. 71, § 91 was enacted to clarify several issues relating to these programs, including data reporting and fiscal responsibility. Under G.L. c. 71, § 91, Recovery High Schools receive the state average foundation budget per pupil for enrolled students from the students' districts of residence.

There are currently five Recovery High Schools in Massachusetts that have served up to 100 students total in each of the past several years:

  • William J. Ostiguy High School opened in September 2006 in downtown Boston, and is operated in partnership with the Boston Public Schools.
  • Northshore Recovery High School opened in September 2007 in Beverly, and is operated by Northshore Education Consortium.
  • Liberty Preparatory opened in September 2007 in Springfield, and is operated in partnership with the Springfield Public Schools.
  • Independence Academy opened in September 2012 in Brockton, and is operated in partnership with North River Collaborative.
  • Rockdale Recovery High School opened in September 2015 in Worcester, and is operated by Central Massachusetts Special Education Collaborative.

Development of the Regulations

In drafting the proposed regulations, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) worked with the Executive Office of Education, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Mental Health, the five existing Recovery High Schools (referenced above), and leadership from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

At the meeting of the Board on November 29, 2016, the Board voted to solicit public comment on the proposed regulations. The Department received two public comments by the January 17, 2017 deadline: an email from Superintendent Judy Paolucci of the Leicester Public Schools and a letter from Tami Fay, Esq., an attorney from Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane who represents school districts. The comments are attached for your information.

Superintendent Paolucci suggested that the regulations should permit a school district to recommend a student for admission to a Recovery High School and that Recovery High Schools should be required to accept students for 30 days, regardless of their progress in recovery. These comments do not warrant a change in the regulations. Student initiative to attend a Recovery High School and the need to maintain a substance-free environment are both important components for success in recovery. The Department prefers to defer these determinations to the Recovery High Schools, which may choose to accept student recommendations from school districts and to develop their own attendance policies with respect to students who are not actively in recovery from substance use disorders or dependency.

Attorney Fey suggested clarifying the recommendations required for admission to a Recovery High School, the need to transfer the student record prior to a student's enrollment, and the process for determining when a student has ceased attending a Recovery High School program and notifying the home school district. Attorney Fey also noted a clerical error in a citation to a Department of Public Health regulation and raised numerous questions about the provision of special education to students in Recovery High Schools.

In response to these comments, the Department has adjusted some of the regulatory language initially proposed in November. Specifically, for admission to Recovery High Schools, the regulations no longer require a "recommendation." Instead the section on student admission focuses on requiring Recovery High Schools to have written policies that describe the application and admission process and make clear that a clinician must determine that a student has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder or dependency and therefore meets eligibility requirements in G.L. c. 71, §91. In addition, the regulations no longer require the transfer of the student record as part of the admission process and before a student has accepted an offer of admission to a Recovery High School. Further details of the admission process, including the logistics of transferring records, can be addressed in the schools' policies and practices. Also, the Department has clarified the regulation governing the time frame in which Recovery High School programs must notify school districts about students whose enrollment has ceased, and has corrected the clerical error in a regulatory citation.

With respect to the comments on special education, the Department has made no changes to the regulations. Students with their families decide whether to enroll in Recovery High Schools. A decision to enroll in a Recovery High School does not waive the rights of a student with disabilities to receive special education services, nor does it communicate a decision to decline special education services. Such a decision does, however, indicate a choice to prioritize recovery and substance use treatment. The special education provisions in the proposed Recovery High School regulations balance a student's continued right to receive special education services in a Recovery High School with a decision to commit fully to recovery. The special education provisions in the regulations also factor in practical challenges that school districts face implementing the IEPs of students who attend Recovery High Schools, which may be located outside of a student's district of residence. Department staff will explore these issues further this spring, in consultation with representatives from school districts and Recovery High Schools, and then will publish more detailed guidance about providing special education to eligible students in Recovery High School programs. Consequently, the comments on special education require no changes to the regulations.

Conclusion

I recommend that the Board adopt these regulations as presented. Combined with the guidance the Department will publish concerning the provision of special education services to eligible students in Recovery High School programs, the regulations provide a sound framework for meeting the needs of an extremely vulnerable population of students, and a foundation for collaboration and cooperation between school districts and Recovery High School programs.

Attached are the Recovery High School statute, the proposed regulations as revised, copies of the two public comments, and a motion. Senior Associate Commissioner Cliff Chuang and staff from the Department's Center for Educational Options, Center for District Support, and Legal Office will be available at the February 28, 2017 meeting to answer your questions.

Enclosures:

View External Link
Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 91
Download Word Document
Proposed Regulations on Recovery High Schools, 603 CMR 54.00 - clean version
Download Word Document
Proposed Regulations on Recovery High Schools, 603 CMR 54.00 - strikethrough version (redlined version)
 
Copy of Public Comments
 
Motion


Last Updated: February 27, 2017
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