Requirements Under ESSA
- If a change in schools is being considered, the LEA and the CWA must collaborate to conduct a best interest determination.
- All factors relating to the child’s best interest must be considered and documented, including the appropriateness of the current educational setting and the proximity to the student’s residence.
Federal guidance recommends that LEAs and CWAs work collaboratively to develop a clear policy or protocol on how to make best interest determinations. The policy or protocol should:
- Include making every effort to gather meaningful input from relevant parties.
- Establish a well-informed determination process that takes into consideration student-centered factors, including the preferences of the student, the number of previous transitions, proximity of the school to the student’s current residence, specialized services that are available to the student at either school, or any special relationships with staff that the student has formed at their current school.
Cost of transportation should not be considered when determining what is in the student’s best interest.
Steps to Best Interest Decision-Making
Decisions regarding school selection should be made on a case-by-case basis, giving attention to the circumstances of each student. LEAs work with local child welfare agencies on how to make best interest determinations. This process should include making every effort to gather meaningful input from relative parties, in addition to required child welfare and school representatives, in deciding what school placement is in the child’s best interest.
The following information will be helpful when determining whether or not it is in the youth’s best interest to remain in their school or origin:
- Input on the academic social and emotional impact that transferring to a new school may have on the youth.
- If the youth has special education needs, input on the impact that changing schools may have on the youth’s progress and services. If a school change is indicated, ensure that evaluations and/or services are not interrupted.
- Input on which programs at the two schools are comparable and appropriate for the youth.
- Information about the commute to the schools under consideration in terms of the distance, mode of transportation, and travel time. Caseworkers work to develop transportation plans.
- Information about the immediate and long-term educational plans for the student, and information about the youth’s permanency plan as it relates to school stability.
LEAs are required to keep records of best interest decisions. All reviewed information should be notated and/or included within the record. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Report cards
- Progress reports
- Test scores
- Attendance data
- Individualized Education Programs or 504 Plans
- Emails from people who were consulted
Key Considerations when Making a School Selection
Several student-centered factors should be considered; however, a variety of factors should be considered when making a well-informed decision. Specific factors may vary depending on the situation; however, a variety of factors should be considered when making a well-informed decision. See “Best Interest in School of Origin Decisions: A Checklist for Decision Making.”
Additional factors may include:
- How many schools has the youth attended over the past few years? How many schools has the youth attended this year? How have the school transfers affected the youth emotionally, educationally, and physically?
- What school does the youth prefer? Why?
- Does the youth have anxieties about the upcoming move or changes in his/her life?
- What school(s) do the youth’s siblings attend?
- Would the timing of a transfer coincide with a logical juncture, such as after testing, end of semester, or end of the school year?
- How would changing schools affect the student’s ability to earn full academic credit, participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, proceed to the next grade, or graduate on time?
- Is the current school in Program Improvement? If so, how are the students who are demographically similar to the student performing academically?