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Sen. Mark Kolterman

Sen. Mark Kolterman

District 24

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Area school districts are supporting a bill introduced by District 24 Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward.

LB 759 would require the Department of Health and Human Services to consult with school districts before establishing guardianship or making an educational placement of a child in a district, specifically with regard to children in the foster care system.

The bill is designed to ensure the district receiving the child is equipped to handle any specific educational or behavioral needs and to determine who is responsible for the cost of those services.

“It’s not that we’re opposed to placing kids anywhere in the state. The problem is HHS doesn’t let people know when they’re coming,” Kolterman said. “Some of our districts don’t have the resources to go out and hire a para.”

Two area superintendents, Dr. Josh Fields of Seward and Kevin Wingard of Milford, and Educational Service Unit 6 Administrator John Skretta testified in favor of the bill in late January.

The bill is now being looked at after years of frustration among school districts that haven’t been notified in advance of new students entering their district because of foster care placements.

“It came out of some frustration from superintendents across the state of Nebraska about the lack of communication from the Department of Health and Human Services,” Fields said.

Brad Best, superintendent at Heartland Public Schools, gathered stories from other districts and presented them to Kolterman, asking him to champion the bill.

“It is any student in the foster care system or wards of the state. Some of these stories are of students that have extreme needs or high needs, maybe coming with a police background or a sexual assault,” Fields said. “Not knowing those things before placing them in a school is very detrimental. If they’re not safe at the time to be in the school, it would be nice to be able to have those conversations.”

Wingard said the schools want to work with DHHS to create a better transition for both the student and the school district.

“We’re not trying to question or put down DHHS workers or case workers. What an unbelievably hard job to find foster homes and placements, and we understand there’s emergency placements,” Wingard said.

He said schools are ask-ing for the student’s background information ahead of time so they know if they need to provide staff with certain skills or coordinate transportation. Some need a full-time, one-on-one paraprofessional, while others are transported to an alternative school location if the district doesn’t have such staff available.

Wingard said that history, called an Education Core Report, is provided to a judge when a student is involved in a court case. Then, the record is sealed because the case involves a juvenile and the schools are not given access.

The Education Core Report includes information about the student’s past attendance, academic performance, health factors and special needs, as well as the child’s interests and what activities they’d like to be involved in.

“We’ve worked with foster students in the past for years, and I think we do a great job with foster students, but there needs to be some input so we’re ready for those students,” Wingard said. “They’re already going through trauma. Let’s be prepared for them and let’s not take a week to figure it out. In no way are we questioning the foster program or foster parents. Many kids get adopted in our district, so it’s been great. We just need earlier communication.”

“The input of the receiving school district regarding the best educational placement of the child shall be considered regarding the difficulties in providing or hiring personnel necessary for additional educational programming services, such as specialized personnel or the placement of such child at a specialized facility, which may result in a substantial financial burden for the resident school district and the receiving school district,” the bill says.

Wingard said with one student who may be coming to the Milford district, he’s heard from other agencies that the student would require hiring two or three staff members and coordinating transportation.

“But DHHS hasn’t confirmed that,” he said.

According to the superintendents, DHHS has opposed the bill, though a call to DHHS was unreturned at press time.

“DHHS opposed it, but said they need to get better at communicating with schools,” Fields said. “They felt they didn’t need a bill for this, that they could get better at doing it themselves.”

Fields and Wingard both said by law, school districts can’t deny a student based on educational or behavioral needs. They’re just looking for a bit of a heads up.

“It would be great if it was 48 hours to be able to have that communication,” Fields said.

Skretta said the Educational Service Unit is not directly involved in student placement, but it does provide specialized educational services, like school psychologists and special education resources, which are available to students with what Skretta called “multiple adverse childhood experiences.”

“They need additional mental and behavioral health services,” he said.

Not giving the school a heads up means potentially making the student’s transition more difficult, Skretta said.

“It puts the school behind the eight ball. By that time, you may have already had any number of turbulent experiences in transition for that student,” Skretta said. “There’s a shared responsibility here. Public schools are inclusive environments, and they absolutely want to include every student.”

Skretta said some DHHS opposition revolved around “constraints” created by the bill.

“The criticism of the bill really is that there shouldn’t be any constraints on this because their number one priority is getting the young person into a foster care placement,” Skretta said. “The bigger element is finding qualified personnel who can meet the needs of that student, especially if they’re placed in a small rural district, it’s less likely they have those people already in place.”

Kolterman said he wasn’t sure if the bill would go anywhere, but that most of the feedback he has received has been positive.

“There’s some things we’re going to look at,” Kolterman said. “DHHS is open to it. They are open to the conversation.”

Sen. Mark Kolterman

District 24
Room #2004
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2756
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